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November 8, 2000


Your Help Needed: Petition in Support of Biotech in Italy!


Dear Friends:

May I request you to please endorse the petition that appears below by
forwarding it to (see note below from Anna
Meldolesi) and help save the Italian science from its minister of
agriculture. Several Italian scientists including a Nobel laureate have
already endorsed this. I appreciate your help with this.

- Prakash
From: Anna Meldolesi

I’m asking for your help to circulate a petition by several leading
Italian scientists against the Italian minister of agriculture. Maybe you
remember my piece in Nature Biotechnology, but now the situation is even
worse. In fact the green minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio is holding
public agbiotech research to ransom, denying funds to already approved
projects if researchers don’t agree to eliminate any experiments involving
GMOs. This petition was published last Sunday in a financial newspaper (Il
sole 24 ore) and everyone can sign it by writing a mail to this address:


Unfortunately the minister made the decision without any public debate and
the Italian government is not showing any reaction to this petition, so we
are hoping to gain some press coverage collecting as many signatures as

Many thanks for your help and best regards

Anna Meldolesi
compromised by the current Agriculture Minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio.
After having waged a long campaign against the use of modern day genetics
in agriculture, he is now attempting to close down any research involving
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Agriculture Ministry is using
its power to repress publicly funded research. Scientists from all the
major institutions have been told explicitly that if they expect to
receive funding from the Ministry they will have to voluntarily eliminate
any experiments involving GMOs. The pressure imposed on scientists is
worsened by the fact that many programmes already approved since 1996 will
no longer receive funding. National projects at risk include Plant
Biotechnology, Animal Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Floriculture. Worst
of all, projects being performed in the 10 national institutes of the
Ministry of Agriculture, such as resistance to pests and drought, and
improvement of nutritional value, will no longer be supported. Scientists
are therefore being asked to negate their professionality and intellectual
identity and abandon their research of the last 4 years which, ironically,
had been funded by the same Ministry. To give up on these projects means a
huge loss of intellectual and financial investment and further compromises
any prospects of job and wealth creation through new commercial ventures.

Basic research into how plants work is the foundation for rational plant
breeding and for a modern sustainable agriculture. Without it, Italy will
lose out to its European and international competitors, with the result
that the rich products of Italian agriculture will be lost to bland high
yielding varieties produced by the multinationals. In a country such as
Italy, famous for the uniqueness of its cuisine, the government should be
actively supporting local, national-level research aimed at conserving and
improving this resource. It is therefore incomprehensible that the present
Minister of Agriculture is choosing to persecute science and innovation.

Nowhere else in Europe is basic research being penalized as a consequence
of public concerns over biotechnology. In Germany, the BML
(Bundesministerium fuer Ernaehrung, Landwirtschaft und Forsten) recognizes
that "production methods aimed at protecting the environment and livestock
wellbeing does not mean the exclusion of modern technologies such as
genetic engineering. If anything, the opposite is true: that it is
essential to achieve a modern, sustainable and environment-friendly
agriculture". In France, publicly funded research is investing heavily in
GMO-derived technologies such as plant genomics to guarantee the nation a
leading role in agriculture in the near future. Hence, even though France
and Germany have an official policy of caution, like Italy, with regard to
the commercialization of transgenic plants, they recognize that investment
in basic plant research is of extreme strategic importance.

The Italian scientific community should not accept the intimidation
tactics of the Minister of Agriculture, which are based on purely
ideological prejudices. This message is aimed at scientists and members of
the public with the hope of re-establishing conditions in which the
freedom of scientific thought is championed. Should this not be a cardinal
right of all modern societies?

Renato Dulbecco, Nobel Prize;
Roberto Defez, IIGB-CNR, Napoli;
Angelo Spena, Università di Verona;
Edoardo Boncinelli, San Raffaele, Milano; Riccardo Cortese, Presidente
Pablo Amati, Università di Roma;
Silvio Garattini, Istituto Mario Negri, Milano; Luigi Lania, Università di
Paolo Costantino, Università di Roma;
Enrico Bellone, Direttore di ´LeScienze’; Francesco Sala, Università di
Andrea Cavallero, Università di Torino;
Chris Bowler, Stazione Zoologica, Napoli; Antonio De Flora, Direttore PF
Biotecnologie del CNR, Genova; Angelo Vescovi, ricercatore di cellule
staminali, Milano; Andrea Ballabio, TIGEM, Milano-Napoli;
Tullio Regge, fisico;
Carlo Alberto Redi, Università di Pavia
Francesco Salvatore, Facolta' di Medicina, Napoli.