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September 4, 2000


On Mae-Wan's 'Theory of Everything; Addressing Biotech


Thanks for publicising Mae-Wan Ho's latest "Theory of Everything". On face
value, it is of course vacuous New Age nonsense. But hang on a minute,
maybe things are not quite as they seem. I mean, this article is so
obviously daft that I half wonder if something else is going on. Could it
be that "Mae-Wan Ho" is really the nom de plume of an Alan Sokal*-style
hoaxer? Or an undergraduate prankster perhaps? No other explanation seems
feasible. For the alternative possibility - that her stuff is for real and
that a serious academic institution in the UK saw fit to grant her tenure
- is surely too far fetched to believe. I think we should be told!

* see: http://physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/

Dr Tony Jackson,
Department of Biochemistry,
University of Cambridge.
problem. Certainly, full absorption of
that message would mean that no-one would do anything for fear of
upsetting the functioning of nature. Organic farmers would not till or
weed or try to control bugs or pathogens, nor would they plant entire
rows-- much less fields-- of a single plant type.

What I REALLY don't understand about Ho's rant, though is the logic behind
the claim that all life on earth is threatened with destruction: "Biology
was taken back down the road of mechanical reductionism, to culminate,
today, in a genetic engineering technology that has the potential to
destroy all life on earth and to undermine every spiritual and social
value that makes us human." Even a nuclear holocaust would be unlikely to
destroy all life on earth; spread of a few genes, on the other hand would
be VIA life-- by nature, not life-destroying.

Weird logic, indeed. Maybe there is too much ergot in the organic


Date: From: Intsoil@aol.com
Sub: Vandalism and FBI

<< Colleagues, Dr. Metz is absolutely correct in suggesting that law
enforcement should be the focus < about 40 attacks on biotech research over the last couple < resulting in millions of dollars in damage and the loss, in some
instances, of more than a >>


I am concerned about the idea of having the FBI take a very affirmative
response to these obvious crimes. FBI involvement, especially if high
profile or extremely public, would likely only spurn greater protests and
a rift in public opinion. Plus, what do you propose doing to these folks
when you catch them. Jail? Fines? The most effective means of ridding
yourself would be if you could tie the individual to a group and a judge
was authorized to fine the group out of existence. Now that would be
effective. Local police would be far more effective from a public
relations standpoint and it would not be hard to get them involved
especially if jobs or tax base was at stake (after all, an attack may
cause me to move my facility).

From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Precautionary Principle and Substantial Equivalence

I thank Andrew Apel for posting his thoughtful comments about the
precautionary principle and substantial equivalence. I believe Mr. Apel
has provided keen insights into the deeper conflicts about
agrobiotechnology as these relate to how a society should think about
"unknown" risks. I want to add a few brief comments that fill less than
two screens.

Mr. Apel's comments that "unknown risk" is at the core of opponents
attacks on agrobiotechnology is correct, in my opinion. Unknown risk
serves opponents' goal of driving agrobiotechnology from research, public
funding, field trials, and commercialization regardless of the
consequences for the poor, malnourished of the world and regardless of the
consequences for food security for the developed world. Unknown risks
serves this goal of demonizing agrobiotechnology in two different ways.

First (and of lesser importance in my opinion), opponents use unknown risk
to undermine the credibility of science and the scientific method. Mae-Wan
Ho's writings particularly fall into this category. She uses unknown risks
to attack science. Once she has made her case that science lacks
credibility because science does not know everything, she introduces her
"holistic" vision of farming as a poetic interchange between Mother Gaia
and the farmer communicating through biological harmonies pulsating in the
interconnections of life.

Second (and of greater important in my opinion), opponents use unknown
risk to generate fear among the great majority of people who are simply
confused and who are trying to make fair and sensible judgments. Opponents
know that fear is an emotion which, if properly tapped, lets the purveyor
of fear (environmental groups) capture media attention, societal
leadership in setting agendas, and political power over governmental
resources. For this reason, environmental groups will fund no scientific
studies and will in fact oppose scientific studies -- as is true in the
United Kingdom where field trials are regularly destroyed, and as is true
of the Sierra Club's caustic and negative reaction to the Canadian
government's announcement of a 12-year study of the environmental impacts
of agrobiotechnology.

I cannot attribute the following quote precisely (because my memory is not
sufficiently accurate) but someone recently said (and I think that someone
was a Canadian provincial minister who is pro-agrobiotechnology) that the
public does not want to know about biotechnology in an educational sense;
rather the public wants someone to address their fears.

I make two suggetions about addressing fears:

1. Fears are addressed by showing that the fear did not come true. In that
sense, scientists should continue to do research not just to create new
crops but to show that the fears preached by environmental goups did not
occur. Think more broadly than agrobiotechnology; think of the Y2K
non-event; think of the Club of Rome completely-off-the-mark predictions
about oil shortages and other resource shortages. At some point the
environmental fear-mongers, like end-of-the world fundamentalist religious
leaders, lose credibility with the general public but not with their true
believers. Ignore the true believers except to convince the FBI and law
enforcement to take seriously their vandalism and threats.

2. Fears are addressed by discussing counter-fears or more realistic
alternatives about the future. By counter-fears and realistic
alternatives, I mean the following (which are my own "predictions", that
you need not share, of what will happen if we do not use our intelligence
to develop agrobiotechnology):

a. If we do not act to feed the poor people of the world through
technological innovations (including biotechnology), the world will be a
less safe and more dangerous world because desparate people struggling to
survive are prone to ethinic hatred, territorial disputes, and war. Lack
of agrobiotechnology will not just mean starvation for millions but will
mean death through violence and wars as peoples' instinct for survival
because a vicious struggle for survival. In an interconnected world
through travel, media, the Internet, etc., ethnic hatred, territorial
disputes, and war in one part of the world spills over quickly to affect
much of the world, possible all of the world.

b. If we do not act to use our intelligence to develop agricultural
technology for developed nations, developed nations put themselves at risk
of food insecurity because insects, pathogens, and weather conditions also
plague the agricultural sector of developed nations. Professor Anthony
Trewas has several times on this list made this point explicity. If
developed nations think they can reject agrobiotechnology because
developed nations do not need the food, these developed nations should
think again because agricultural production is always struggling against
environmental risks that work to undermine food security.

Which is the more realistic fear or future? Which is the risk that
ordinary people are more willing to take?

Frankenfoods roaming the world destroying nature like a science-fiction
slime IF we, as a world society, accept and sensibly regulate
agrobiotechnolgoy; or Starving people in developed nations and developing
nations creating political instability, hatreds, personal violence, and
governmental violence (war) IF we, as a world society, reject, stop, or
significantly retard the human creativity called agrobiotechnology.

I believe that if proponents of agrobiotechnology calmly, clearly, and
respectfully communicate these alternative futures that the general public
will conclude that the second alternative is a more realistic future and a
more frightening future and, consequently, choose to accept the risk of
the first alternative, an alternative that I predict will not come true.


Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law

(From Plant Breeding News: PBN-L@MAILSERV.FAO.ORG)

Answers to 10 frequently asked questions about GMOs

Matthew Feldmann, Michael Morris, and David Hoisington Economics Program,
Applied Biotechnology Center, International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) February 7, 2000

See http://www.cgiar.org/cimmyt/ for the full ten pages of text.

The Introduction At the threshold of the 21st century, global agriculture
finds itself gripped in an acrimonious debate over genetically modified
organisms (GMOs). This debate, which features a volatile mix of science,
economics, politics, and ethics, is taking place in research laboratories,
corporate boardrooms, legislative chambers, newspaper editorial offices,
Main Street coffee shops, and private homes-in short, nearly everywhere
people grow, process, consume, or even just talk about food. In Britain,
Prince Charles publicly and repeatedly states his opposition to GMOs,
commonly referred to by the British press as "Frankenstein food." In
Mexico, hooded activists scale the Angel of Independence monument in the
capital and hang banners protesting imports of transgenic corn. In India,
protesters storm agricultural experiment stations and uproot test plots
containing genetically modified plants. In Italy, naked protestors
drenched in red paint to simulate blood hurl genetically engineered
tomatoes at the visiting US Secretary of Agriculture to demonstrate their
opposition to imports of transgenic corn and soybeans.

What explains these widespread and highly publicized protests? Why have
GMOs suddenly become a lightning rod for public debate? Are proponents of
GMOs justified in saying that genetic modification of plants and animals
is nothing more than the latest in a long series of productivity-enhancing
technologies that have helped the world's food supply keep pace with
global population growth? Or are the critics correct in arguing that GMOs
are fundamentally different from other types of organisms-so different
that they must be banned immediately, with no further testing to determine
their safety? In this article, we attempt to shed light on the controversy
by addressing 10 basic questions about GMOs. We conclude that GMOs could
potentially generate substantial benefits, but we caution that public
opposition is likely to continue until questions are resolved concerning
their safety for people, animals, and the environment. In addressing these
questions, it will be important to foster an open, inclusive public
dialogue based on scientifically validated information and to avoid
getting sidetracked by politically motivated rhetoric.

The ten discussed questions 1. What is a GMO? 2. How are GMOs produced? 3.
Why are GMOs so controversial? 4. Who produces GMOs? 5. Where are GMOs
currently being grown? 6. What are the potential benefits of GMOs? (a)
Increased productivity (b) Enhanced quality 7. What are the potential
risks associated with GMOs? (a) Human health (b) Animal health (c)
Environmental impacts 8. Why do attitudes about GMOs differ so much around
the world? 9. Are GMOs appropriate for developing countries? 10. What are
the long-term prospects for GMOs? Nine recent papers are cited at: