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August 16, 2000


Pasteurized Juice; Risk and Paranoia; Genetic Divide; On



Thanks for your contributions to this list-serve regarding biotech and
organic agriculture. I have one small detail to address regarding fruit
juices as mentioned in your most recent posting on ABC and John Stossel.
One should not conclude that unpasteurized juices are "organic" or unsafe.
In fact, the large majority of commerical unpasteurized citrus juices
produced in the U.S. are not from organically grown fruit and would not be
considered "organic" for labelling purposes. You ask "...when was the last
time someone got salmonella from pasteurized orange juice..." The last
documented Salmonella outbreak from heat-treated orange juice was 1989
when an asymptommatic food handler shed S. typhi into reconstituted OJ at
a restaurant in NYC. Heat-treated OJ was also implicated in disease
outbreaks in 1962, 1993 and 1994 although the causative agents were not


Mickey Parish, Ph.D.
Professor of Food Microbiology, University of Florida Citrus Research and
Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL USA
From: John McCarthy
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Risk Assessment and Confirmation Bias

Andrew Apel has identified many of the aspects of the anti-biotech
ideology. However, there are two additional important aspects.

1. History. Greenpeace has been in business since the 1970s with
essentially the same attitudes. Other environmental organizations are even
older but with changes in attitudes in the 1970s. The previous issue was
Western nuclear weapons followed by attacks on nuclear energy - in my
opinion no more rational than the attacks on biotech. These organizations
have a long institutional tradition. If an activist in one of these
organizations changes his mind he has to quit, as some Greenpeace leaders
have done. (See www.greenpiece.org - note the spelling of the url.).

2. The enemy. For most activists, corporations are the enemy and so is
capitalism. This has been somewhat softened by the fact that it is
possible for organizations to get money from corporations.

From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Risk Assessment and Paranoia


Dr. McCarthy was quite correct, I believe, in suggesting that what I said
about risk assessment and confirmation bias in the context of anti-biotech
activism could be generalized to cover activism directed against other
technologies or against social policies or institutions.

If it is true that (anti-biotech) activism is based on claiming the
existence of a risk in the absence of objective evidence while feeling
victimized (subjective risk assessment), and insisting on the existence of
the risk in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (confirmation
bias), then it is quite possible to generalize this to cover many forms of
activism by acknowledging it as paranoia, along the lines of standard

From my earlier remarks, one might be inclined to conclude that
anti-biotech activism is simply the result of wrong-headed thinking. If
one explores their approach from the perspective of psychology, which has
remarkable parallels with risk assessment and confirmation bias, one might
be inclined to take a more generous, therapeutic approach to their

I have excerpted the following from a booklet produced by the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the U.S. Government agency that
supports and conducts research to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and
prevention of mental illness. My remarks appear in brackets [ ].

* * *

An unmistakable sign of paranoia is continual mistrust. People with
paranoid personality disorder are constantly on their guard because they
see the world as a threatening place. [Such a world is filled with
dangerous foods and chemicals, multinational corporations bent on world
domination, scientists running amok, etc.]

They tend to confirm their expectations by latching on to any speck of
evidence that supports their suspicions and ignore or misinterpret any
evidence to the contrary. [This appears merely to be a restatement of the
definition of “confirmation bias,” though perhaps on stronger terms.]

They are ever watchful and may look around for signs of a threat. [Witness
the Stossel saga and countless other episodes, along with their relentless
search for the slightest slight which might be magnifiable into a threat.]

People suffering from paranoia cannot abandon their fears. [This is of
course a feature of confirmation bias in favor of establishing or
expanding the magnitude of a risk.]

They continue to expect trickery and to doubt the loyalty of others. [This
is an important feature of the anti-biotech movement; note their constant
harping on such things as whose payroll a person is or has been.]

Because persons with paranoid personality disorder are hyperalert, they
notice any slight and may take offense where none is intended. [Insisting
on playing the role of the innocent victim is a cornerstone of the
anti-biotech movement, especially its foods contingent.]

As a result, they tend to be defensive and antagonistic. [Actually, they
even riot and destroy greenhouses.]

When they are at fault, they cannot accept blame, not even mild criticism.
Yet they are highly critical of others. [This contributes to the “double
standard” some have spoken about, most recently in the context of the
Stossel incident. Activists distort and misinterpret, while reacting
strongly to the slightest contradictory mis-statement.]

They may seek out social niches in which a moralistic and punitive style
is acceptable, or at least tolerated to a certain degree. [Indeed, they
may seek membership in an activist group.]

Psychiatrists make a distinction between the milder paranoid personality
disorder described above and the more debilitating delusional (paranoid)
disorder. The hallmark of this disorder is the presence of a persistent,
nonbizarre delusion without symptoms of any other mental disorder.

The most common delusion in delusional disorder is that of persecution.
While persons with paranoid personality might suspect their colleagues of
joking at their expense, persons with delusional disorder may suspect
others of participating in elaborate master plots to persecute them. They
believe that they are being poisoned, drugged, spied upon, or are the
targets of conspiracies to ruin their reputations or even to kill them.
They sometimes engage in litigation in an attempt to redress imagined
injustices. [I.e., multinational corporations or government agencies are
colluding to poison them with GMOs--and as for anti-biotech litigation,
there has been plenty of it.]

Paranoid people’s mistrustfulness makes treatment of the condition
difficult. [Something like overcoming confirmation bias, perhaps.]

Psychotherapy Reports on individual cases suggest that the regular
opportunity to express suspicions and self-doubts afforded by
psychotherapy can help the paranoid patient function in the community. [It
is entirely possible that the anti-biotech and other movements afford
individuals an opportunity to work through their angst.]

[In conclusion, I would note that the anti-biotech contingent, indeed, the
eco-reactionary movement, makes up only a small proportion of the total
population. The same holds true for the fraction of the population which
is estimated to be suffering from paranoid personality disorder. While
surveys tally those who are concerned about groceries, those surveys make
no effort to count those who believe genetic engineering is a dangerous,
sinister government plot to destroy the environment and set loose viruses
and allergies or exercise a fascist hegemony over agriculture, etc. It may
on this account be reasonable to consider that these movements are
essentially ‘magnets’ for those who deserve therapy, rather than scorn,
and that they should be treated with kindness and offered help, rather
than engaged in public discourse as though their difficulties were true
public issues.]
From: "Henry I. Miller"

Subject: Bruce Alberts, Heed Your Own Advice

Bruce Alberts' admonishes in his article in HMS Beagle that, "Scientists
in every nation must take action to ensure that policy makers and the
public make their decisions based on the best available information." If
only he had followed his own advice during the Academy's preparation of
the scientifically flawed and internally inconsistent analysis of proposed
US regulations for gene-spliced plants. Ironically, as described in the
analysis below (published in The Scientist in May 2000), Alberts and the
NAS panel offer a veritable primer on "How NOT To Provide Advice to Policy

Henry I. Miller, Hoover Institution, Stanford University {For the article
entitled "Unwisdom from the Academy that Dr. Miller has authored, please
visit our archives at
Developing Nations Should Formulate Policies On Gene Revolution-- Experts
Financial Express (Chennai, India) 7th August, 2000. www. expressindia.com

The developing nations will face a 'genetic divide' unless they formulated
appropriate policies to become genuine partners in the ongoing gene
revolution, which is embarking upon sequencing of human and other genomes,
according to experts. Speaking at a National workshop on gene revolution
here on Friday, they said the sequencing of human, animal, plant and
microbial genomes was certain to cause a serious `genetic divide' that
will separate those with the capacity to use information derived from
sequencing of genomes and others. "The genetic divide is sure to be much
wider than the digital divide that followed the Information revolution
unless the developing countries placed technological innovation at the
core of their development strategies," Harvard University director of
science (technology and innovation programme) Calestous Juma said.

Juma and a host of other experts also called for placing of DNA sequence
data in the public domain so that all those who were interested in using
such data for researches beneficial to the people. Presently only a small
number of developing countries could make use of such data and more work
was needed in these countries to promote local capacity in scientific and
technical research, it was pointed out.

The experts also highlighted the need for a fundamental view of the role
of universities and their relationship with government, industry and civil
society to benefit from the genomics revolution. "Science must find its
proper and central place in society so that each country could make best
use of the DNA sequence data that are available," the experts said.
Concern was also expressed on whether the poor sections of the society
would once again be excluded from being benefitted by the outcome of the
gene revolution as had happened with the green revolution which, according
to some participants, benefitted only the rich farmers. Well conceived
policy initiatives and legislative measures at National levels to avoid
such eventualities.

Guy Sorman, advisor to french President, in his presentation, said that
the public associated genomics with multinationals and USA with the result
that there was an ongoing global war of words against genomics and a
widespread hostility. "This was perhaps due to the fact that there are no
more ideological or political debates in the present globalised scenario,"
he added.

Sorman also said that at the same time it was also true that the leaders
of the gene revolution and scientists spearheading it had failed to
counter this notion through the media with convincing arguments. Later
there was an interaction with the experts and mediapersons which was
moderated by Frontline editor, N Ram. The workshop was organised by the MS
Swaminathan foundation here.
High Yielding Rice Varieties Spark 30-Year Rise In Production And Benefits
For The Poor http://www.futureharvest.org

Despite drought conditions in two of India's major rice-producing states,
government officials in New Delhi are struggling with a problem that a
only generation ago would have seemed like a dream come true-bumper crops
and the possibility of a 5 million ton surplus. Sparked by high yielding
varieties, India's farmers recently harvested the country's largest rice
crop in history-88 million tons, nearly 20 percent of the world total.

A new study by Yale University economist Robert Evenson and a team of 15
international collaborators, has confirmed what India's farmers and
government officials already know: widespread use of improved rice
varieties since the 1960s has reduced food prices for the poor and
prevented millions of cases of childhood malnutrition. The study points
out that without the development of the high yielding varieties, prices
for developing country consumers would likely be as much as 40 percent
higher than they are today. The report also notes that the new varieties
have reduced costly food imports by almost 8 percent and have eliminated
the need to convert millions of hectares of forestland to agricultural
uses as would have otherwise been required had yields remained at 1960

Although critics say that use of high yielding varieties has led to
genetic uniformity, Evenson and his colleagues note that the availability
of high yielding varieties has prompted many of the world's poorest
countries to invest in plant breeding programs and produce varieties
suited to local environments and markets. The new plant types have also
prompted massive government investments in agricultural infrastructure
such as irrigation and fertilizer delivery systems.

Supporting these efforts, Evenson notes, is an organization of scientists
located in more than 60 countries who test the most up-to-date genetic
material available to agricultural science. Over the past 25 years, it has
helped the world's developing nations to evaluate and exchange more than
21,000 breeding lines and release more than 500 new varieties. The
organization is known to plant breeders as INGER, the International
Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice.

While most people think of rice only in terms of Asia, economists note
that significant production increases have also taken place in Latin
America. Over the past 35 years, rice production in the region has
doubled, leading most Latin American countries to self-sufficiency.
According to scientists at International Center for Tropical Agriculture,
modern varieties now account for 80 percent of Latin America's rice

While scientists consider the breeding of improved varieties to be
fundamental to agricultural development and diversification, until now,
there has been no comprehensive measurement of the impact of new rice
varieties, especially in the developing world. "These study results
reaffirm the continuing value of research to increase rice yields and to
breeding plants adapted to high-stress environments and resistance to
disease and insects," Evenson says. In an earlier study, Evenson
calculated the net worth of the varieties released through INGER to be
about $725 million per year.

INGER is coordinated by scientists at the world-renowned International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. According to IRRI
economists, average rice yields in South and Southeast Asia rose by more
than 83 percent from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. Improved yields were
offset, however, by an 85 percent increase in population. During the same
period production rose 120 percent while the land planted to rice
increased only 21 percent.

"Farmers will have to produce 40 to 50 percent more rice with improved
quality to meet consumer demand in 2025," says Ronald Cantrell, IRRI's
director general. To help meet that goal Asian farmers may soon begin
planting a new type of rice that could raise global output 15 percent by
2004. IRRI has worked to perfect the new rice plant type since 1990 using
conventional breeding techniques. Each of the new plants has six to ten
productive stems that can hold upwards of 250 grains. Conventional
varieties have just 14 to 15 productive stems that only hold about 100
grains. The new plant type should be suitable for 80 percent of India's
rice growing area and about half of China's. India and China account for
more than 50 percent of the world's total rice production.

For a country such as Indonesia, the availability of higher yielding
varieties can't come too soon. According to a recent news report, the
Indonesian government plans to open up 2 million hectares of new paddy
fields. Indonesia's 210 million people consume an annual average of 135
kilograms (297 pounds) of rice per person. Officials fear that if
production fails to meet demand, the country may be in danger of becoming
the world's largest rice importer.

That's a lesson that government leaders in Africa are watching closely.
While many people don't think of Africa as a rice-consuming area, the
crop's popularity has grown considerably over the past thirty years.
Throughout the continent, rice is taking on an increasingly important role
as population grows and as government tries to stimulate economic growth.
Regrettably, the high yield varieties developed for Asia did not produce
good results under African conditions. As a result, major investments are
now being made to produce plant types that can be grown successfully under
African conditions. If Asia's experience is anything to go by, it's an
investment that will likely pay high dividends. ####
Future Harvest gratefully acknowledges the editors of PlanetRice, an
interactive website for the rice industry, which provided some of the
material contained in this report. For more information see

From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Testing GM


There have been suggestions in this group that realistic consumer tests of
genetically modified foods would consist of labeling them and offering the
consumer the label vs. cost choice.

The notion can be paralleled, if not improved upon. A bold entrepreneur
could put together a seed catalogue for home gardeners, offering seeds for
modified produce which the gardener would not have to spray with

Personally, I'd rather eat genes (which are everywhere anyhow) than spray
poisonous stuff around. Professional farmers know how to handle plant and
insect poisons, but the average consumer buying chemicals and then feeding
their kids from that garden...well, that seems like an iffy proposition.
Many gardeners may feel (as I do) that chemicals are a last resort and
would assert a preference.

I'd place an order