Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





August 31, 2000


Public Attitude to Biotech: Radio Call-In in US Today and a


(Science Friday is a popular science program from the US National Public
Radio and you can listen to this program also on the Internet through
streaming audio. Today's discussion focuses on public attitudes towards

Bioethics and Biotechnology. September 1, 2000. Hour One. Radio: Science
Friday with Ira Flatow,


Who decides whether or not new technologies are a good idea, and at what
point in the development of new technologies do those decisions occur?

Our listener call-in number is 1-800-989-8255 (1-800-989-TALK).

Several new surveys published this week in the journal Nature
Biotechnology take a look at public attitudes about biotechnology research
around the world. A US survey found a rise in uncertainty about biotech in
the US, although a majority of citizens remain supportive of the
technology. Contrary to common wisdom, very few respondents to the US
survey were neutral, undecided, or felt uninformed. Most of the US
citizens surveyed had a clear position on the use of biotechnology and
genetic engineering, and few respondents felt that more consultation with
the public about the use of genetically modified foods would be "a waste
of time."

Other surveys found similar declines in support for biotechnology in
Europe and Japan. Japanese public support for biotechnology remains
stronger than in the U.S. or Europe. A Canadian study found that attitudes
towards biotechnology in general may track public attitudes towards the
idea of cloning.

We'll talk about the surveys, about the larger issue of who makes
decisions about the direction of scientific research -- and about your
feelings on biotechnology. Call in. Our number is 1-800-989-8255.

Plus - scientists at Rockefeller University and Yale University believe
they have identified a human gene linked to pheromones, messenger
chemicals that can convey information and produce a response at levels
below a smellable level. Pheromone-receptor genes have been detected
before in mice, however, the discovery of the V1RL1 gene is the first to
be reported in humans. The researchers believe it encodes for a receptor
in the mucous membranes lining the nose.

The behavior of insects and other mammals is heavily influenced by
pheromones, particularly when it comes to sex. One 1998 study on humans by
Barbara McClintock and co-workers found that a substance in underarm sweat
could make women synchronize menstrual cycles -- but other information
about human pheromone sensation is limited. We'll talk a neurologist who
helped discover the new receptor gene about the team's work, and what it
might mean.

From: "Shane.Morris" Subject:
Media Event to discuss public agrobiotechnology concerns in Europe

To all: This event will take place between 3pm and 5pm, on October 26th
2000, at Wageningen International Conference Centre, Wageningen, The
Netherlands. It is part of a larger meeting, details of which will follow.

Media Event to discuss public agrobiotechnology concerns in Europe

''Confidence in scientists is what will help move the debate on
agrobiotechnology forward. Public concern is a cornerstone of democracy,
public confusion leads to hysteria'' Prof. Richard Braun, Chairman,
European Federation of Biotechnology

The European Plant Biotechnology Network (EPBN) is hosting a media event.
The event entitled:'Plant Biotechnology meets society: critical issues for
the 21st Century', hopes to provide a fruitful platform for the
informative discussion of the significant implications of
agrobiotechnology today. Representatives from the scientific research
community, industry, funding groups, consumer organisations and the media
will gather to express and discuss their views on the subject.

Plant biotechnology is rapidly maturing in Europe. As it does so, various
concerns are emerging in different fields of its application. The general
public has strong emotional views and can sometimes find it difficult to
evaluate information presented to them by the media. The EPBN recognises
the importance of communicating accurate information regarding plant
biotechnology to the public, in language that can be easily understood.

Four invited speakers will attend the event. All speakers have direct
experience and knowledge of the social issues that accompany plant
biotechnology. Confirmed speakers are:

*Richard Braun: Chairman, European Federation of Biotechnology,
(Task Group on Public Perceptions).
*Klaus Ammann: Director of the Botanic Gardens, University of Bern,
*Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at Europabio,
*Gunther Neuhaus, a founder-member of Greenovation, Germany-involved in
the collaboration with the inventors of 'Golden Rice'.

Topics for discussion will include;

-the public understanding of plant biotechnology

-separating scientific fact from fiction,

-the role of NGO's and Corporations in this debate,

-The Europeans' concerns about GM foods,

-the potential for aiding humanity in the developing world,

-education and acceptance of plant biotechnology

-possible solutions and the way forward.

The media event will take place as part of the EPBN's 'Industry Contact
Meeting', whose mission is to further strengthen links between academia
and industry. The media event will take place between 3pm and 5pm, on
October 26th 2000, at Wageningen International Conference Centre,
Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Contact: Ciara O'Shea, EPBN Publicity, Manager, Tel: 00 353 17062800 Fax:
00 353 1692016 Email:ciara.oshea@ucd.ie http://www.epbn.org

Subj: How to cut Greenpeace off at the knees
From: Gordon Couger

If respected member of the scientific community will approach the
cooperation and individuals that fund Greenpeice et. al. I believe that we
can substantially damage their ability to do business.

The food fight is not an issue that the core members brought up it was
shoved down their mouths buy the leaders. Greenpeice's current fincacal
problems show that they don't have the backing that they had to save the
whale or to hug trees.

Following advice I recive at an early age when in a fight always kick a
man when you have him down. Our foes are stubling it is time to try to
pull the finiancial rug from under them. It seem we are winning the fight
in the press and have gained ground on the political level. Now jump on
them with both feet.


Subj: Re: Funding Cuts for Plant Biotech in Europe
From:Gordon Couger

I know where I would send recruiters if I need scientist. If they loose
their seed of researchers they will be buying their planting seed from who
ever has the will, vision and control to advance these sciences.

Just because they don't like it it just moves to those that do. If I were
running the programs in China I would be promising them the sky and enough
money to keep them. The best will go to the work regardless who is the
From: Gordon Couger Re: Labeling
I am in a position to initiate a small experiment in labeling of food.

To make it a valid experiment the food needs to be all the same so in the
case of labeling tomatoes GM, organic, Hydroponic or no label at all would
be deceptive because GM and organic are mutually exclusive.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this.


From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: labeling of GM foods

Dr. Jones has an excellent idea. If we can embrace "organic" labeling, why
should we not be equally affectionate of other labels? We could have food
products proudly proclaiming that their ingredients are "organically
engineered" to require fewer pesticides and help farmers use safer
herbicides, resulting in fewer chemicals sprayed on butterflies and on our
food, along with reduced levels of fungal toxins and 'foreign' matter from
weeds, some of which produce powerful poisons and carcinogens which are,
as some say, "untested and unregulated with unknown consequences."

Sure, many in the industry oppose the notion of putting labels on food
which have nothing to do with consumer health, so to appease them we could
have a "sunset clause" on labeling regs: have the regs last, say, five
years. After five years, labeling regs regarding information irrelevant to
consumer health would expire and the use of such labels would then be
declared an illegal burden on commerce.

No wonder the organic contingent attacks biotech. The benefits to the
consumer and to the environment are so obvious that biotech is an
obviously dangerous competitor.

But the organic folks say...let the consumer decide. So why not? If
biotech had its own label, would the organic folks stick by their campaign
to label foods made from modified crops? My guess is, they'd launch an
anti-labeling campaign of their own, thereby exposing their hypocrisy as
completely, say, as what you find at http://www.nomorescares.org or

>From: Mary Ellen Jones

>e: labeling of GM foods
>What about short circuiting the demand to label GM foods as though they
were poisons to be >voided by using proactive labeling as a marketing

From: Andrew Apel
Sub: Mae-Wan's fear

Dear Roger and all,

Take heart! Mae Wan Ho is mending her ways. Regarding the new promoter
technology, she wrote: "Until there is evidence from the biotech companies
that the line is really stable . . ." This suggests that she is amenable
to truth from such a source. (The comments referred to the PssuAra gene
from A. thaliana and the PTA29 gene from N. Nicotiana tabacum.)

From: calestous_juma@harvard.edu
Subject: Technology Update



Precaution and the survival threshold

The precautionary principle has always been a part of survival algorithms
of small farmers in developing societies, particularly in mountainous and
forested regions and those areas prone to flood and drought. However,
using a portfolio of meticulously mastered strategies, the farmers manage
to avert risk in certain markets by taking extreme risks with other
resources. Households survive by taking risks and coping with the
consequences, even while improving their capacity to deal with
uncertainties in the future.

Risk-taking that builds capacity to deal with bigger uncertainties
requires a different way of thinking from planning for a minimal threshold
of survival. To define a survival threshold, one can take the analogy of a
plimsoll line. If a ship tilts beyond the boundary of this line, it may
sink. But within this line's range, the ship copes with turbulence. The
survival threshold is the limit within which risks are taken. Occasionally
farmers gamble, just as countries and corporations do. To learn whether
the gamble is worthwhile, one must understand the possible consequences
for human life, health, dignity, and ultimately for the health of the

In the middle sixties, Indian planners decided to gamble by importing bulk
quantities of seeds from Mexico, to herald the green revolution in India.
There were many risks from diseases, weeds and pests. Indian scientists
went to Mexico and inspected the fields from which the seeds were
collected. Within two years, the entire operation transformed total food
production from 67 million to 110 million tons.

Once known as a 'basket case,' India moved toward food self- reliance,
today producing more than 200 million tons. But income disparities
increased initially, while sustainability eventually decreased.
Productivity of inputs declined, and the soil and water quality
deteriorated due to excessive chemical use. The agro-bio- diversity
declined drastically during the same period, entirely due to public
sector-driven dissemination of high yielding seed varieties.

Can we argue therefore that biotechnological risks have to be analyzed by
the principle of a reasonable trade-off between known risks and social
benefits derived from sufficient institutional capability to deal with the
consequences? We must learn the right lessons from the green revolution
experience. Without appropriate tuning of institutions (credit,
irrigation, insurance, prices, etc.), India's green revolution technology
could not have shown the results that it did. Biotechnological
interventions need to be supported by simultaneous development of
infrastructure, to manage risks and unforeseen consequences, and to ensure
proper precautions.

How do we confront the trade-off between known and unknown negative
externalities? Is it necessarily ethical to avoid taking risks and subject
societies to suffer deprivation, merely because of some not completely
quantifiable risks? Should we reduce the risks by getting
location-specific testing done in each country under rigorous conditions,
with all risks fully disclosed? Each country should have the choice to
decide whether the risk is worth taking. Once the level of risk is
mutually agreed upon, the responsibility of the global community is to
ensure that a proper support system is available to safeguard the
interests of technologically backward countries, if such a need arises.

The precautionary principle is a valid means of generating responsibility
in taking risks. Once the risks are calibrated, specific socio-economic
conditions and the cultural milieu will have to determine how much risk is
acceptable, at what stage of economic development, and with what
consequences. Currently, concern with unknown risks is not matched with
responsibility for the known consequences of chemical pesticides and other
environmental drawbacks, such as excessive extraction of ground water,
decline in biodiversity, etc.

In this debate, there are several issues that have remained obscure.
First, ethical agendas for poverty alleviation are seldom linked with
bioethical concerns about the environmental impact of new technologies.
Second, there is the question of known, but inadequately managed risks
(like adverse effects of chemical pesticides). In developing countries,
farm workers are seldom taught how to use chemical pesticides safely, or
how to deal with present or potential adverse effects. Third, what is the
ethical basis for differential norms of disclosure of product risks by the
same corporation in developed, versus developing countries? Fourth, how do
we justify not allocating sufficient research resources to tackle the
problems of low productivity in rain-fed regions? Finally, what about
anxieties generated by larger corporate control of biotechnological
research, which has not been the case in conventional research?

To solve these problems, an approach is needed to evaluate risks on
ethical, economic, equity and environmental grounds. This process must
take into account the prior experience of a given society, in dealing with
different kinds of technologies. The question is whether the precautionary
principle is better used as a tool with which to stop uncharted action, or
as a motivation by which to chart those actions contemplated or taken. My
preference is for the latter alternative.

Professor Anil Gupta
Indian Institute of Management
Ahmedabad, India.

Precautionary politics and biotechnology in Africa
<http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/comments/comments99.htm> John
Mugabe, Ph.D. Executive Director, African Centre for Technology Studies
Nairobi, Kenya

An old biotech case study on the precautionary principle
http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/comments/comments97.htm> Mark
Cantley Life Sciences Advisor
Directorate-General for Research, European Commission Brussels, Belgium

Field trials in the UK: The precautionary principle in action?
<http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/comments/comments96.htm> Brian
Johnson, Ph.D. Director, Biotechnology Advisory Unit
English Nature
Peterborough, United Kingdom

Introducing agricultural biotechnology to developing countries
<http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/comments/comments95.htm> Richard J.
Tapper, Ph.D Environment, Business & Development Group
Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, United Kingdom


**September 22-23, 2000
Biotechnology in the Global Economy: Science and the Precautionary
Principle <http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/bioconfpp/>

**October 16-17, 2000
Raising Agricultural Productivity in the Tropics: Biophysical Challenges
for Technology and Policy <http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidbiotech/ag>


Subj: Steven Milloy and junk science
From: "Fred Powledge"

Subscribers to this list who celebrate the musings of Steven Milloy on
what he calls "junk science," some of which have found their way to this
discussion, may be interested in the following dispatch, received by me
today from E-wire and the Environmental Working Group. Could it be true
that Milloy is not a wholly disinterested chronicler of what is, and
isn't, believable science?

--Fred Powledge

Environmental Working Group Reports: Give Us a Fake II: Tobacco, Pesticide
Lobbyists Disguise Attack On Public Interest Groups as a 'News' Conference

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 -/E-Wire/-- A coalition of lobbyists and hired guns
for the tobacco companies, as well as the chemical, pesticide, plastics,
chlorine and other industries, today released a fake report attacking
public health and safety activists for their efforts to protect people and
the environment from toxic chemicals and other health threats. The report,
which specifically insulted Fenton Communications and the Environmental
Working Group (EWG), did not disclose the financial backing of its
purported front group headed by discredited former tobacco lobbyist Steven

"Our clients and Fenton's clients are the families who have been poisoned
by pesticides, the industrial workers exposed to toxic chemicals, and the
people who can't breathe because the air is so polluted," said EWG
President Ken Cook. "We've always been upfront about who we are and what
we do. We don't represent multi-billion dollar chemical companies and
corporate polluters. This attack on Fenton Communications and EWG is
really an attack on public interest groups like ours for fulfilling our
mission to protect the public."

"I'm calling on Mr. Milloy to reveal where he gets his money, so that we
can measure the profit motive behind this fake report," added Cook.

EWG and Fenton have been at the forefront of advocating more stringent
safeguards on pesticides and other toxic chemicals, especially in relation
to children's health. This advocacy has drawn particular attention from
the chemical industry because their products are coming under increasing
scientific scrutiny. In May, the EPA moved to ban Dursban, the nation's
top selling home use insecticide, because of concerns about its effects on
a child's developing nervous system and other potential problems. The EPA
is expected to make a similar decision within a month about the nation's
#2 home use bug killer, Diazinon.

As documented by John Stauber, the Director of PR Watch, in his upcoming
book, Mr. Milloy is a long time tobacco lobbyist who has worked for Philip
Morris (since 1992) and Brown and Williamson. In 1997 he was named head of
the Philip Morris-created group The Advancement of Sound Science
Coalition. This was based at Milloy's lobbying firm, EOP, where clients
also included the Nuclear Energy Institute, Dow Chemical, The American
Crop Protection Association (pesticide manufacturers), the Chlorine
Chemistry Council and the American Petroleum Institute.

Mr. Milloy has routinely attacked respected scientific journals like
Lancet, Science, Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal
of the American Medical Association and others on behalf of tobacco
companies. Upon the recent death of Dr. David Rall, who ran the National
Institute of Environmental Health Science and the National Toxicology
Program, Mr. Milloy wrote on his web site: "Scratch one junk scientist."
In response, one of Milloy's employers, the Cato Institute, publicly
disassociated itself from his offensive comments.

SOURCE Environmental Working Group