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April 4, 2000


Multiple Postings Combined


- http://www.agbioworld.org. http://agbionews.listbot.com

From: Alex Avery

I have created a "Myths Debunked" section at our website
(www.cgfi.com) for use as a resource and depository of well written
articles and discussions on food safety, biotechnology and farming
issues which address topics typically and repeatedly appearing in

As an example, the first section I will post, for which I have several
articles (if I can only find them in my files), will be on
L-tryptophan and the myth that the poisonings were the result of
genetic engineering.

Please send me articles on relevant topics. They will be posted to our
website according to topic, with room for many articles on each topic.
We plan to leave this as a permanent fixture of our website and these
articles will remain at the "Myths Debunked" section for as long as
these topics are misunderstood or misrepresented. Years if necessary.

Your help with this effort is greatly appreciated.
From: "Jose B. Falck" Subject: Reduction
in area planted of biotech cotton

Looking the Prospective Plantings report from NASS/USDA, area planted
to herbicide resistant cotton varieties for major states (Arkansas,
California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) decrease from 28% in
1999 to 20% in the year 2000. Any ideas why this is so?.

Note:Prospective area planted to insect resistance and the stacked
genes remain constant, the drop in the HT varieties bring down the
area planted to all biotech varieties down.


Josť Falck Zepeda

From: Andrew Apel Subject: Re: Further on
Bioethics by Gary Comstock

What I also said was:

"What we need is reasoned scientific discussion, one which results in
an understanding of the science. When people understand the science,
and discover that it can help them get things they like, i.e., cheap,
nutritious, plentiful food, the matter will be solved."

This is most patently not urging a values-free discussion, which would
in any event be impossible. It is urging a discussion based on whether
or not biotechnology can give people things they want/like, without
further complicating things through the intrusion of even more
constellations of morals and values and ethics.

It is clear, even from Dr. Comstock's description of the morals and
ethics bound up in the current debate over biotechnology, that those
who have brought such issues into the debate have worsened it, not
improved it.

Beyond a doubt, however, the biotech debate is fertile territory for
the philosopher-ethicist.

If ethicists are to take part in this fiasco, what would be the best
thing for them to do? There are several options:

a) solve the ethical issues in the debate and make the solution freely
available to the general public;

b) conduct a public debate with representatives of Greenpeace, Friends
of the Earth, Earth Liberation Front, Lodi Loppers, Cropatistas and
Mothers For Natural Law and demolish their arguments with cogent
reasoning and occasional appeals to Aristotle and Kant;

c) pass out leaflets at supermarkets warning of the dangers of not
thinking critically about ethical matters; or

d) petition Congress to pass an "Ethics In Activism" law.

Doubtless there are other things which ethicists might do; the real
question is, in a real-world sense: what do we imagine ethicists could
actually do that would make a difference?

Bear in mind that many players in the "biotech controversy" have a
financial stake in prolonging and worsening the controversy. This
includes activist groups which rely financially on contributions from
the fearful, and organic farmers and retailers who stand to profit
considerably by cultivating the controversy. And it is these groups
who have raised the ethical issues which ethicists propose to solve.

Naturally, these groups would not cooperate in any sort of effort to
clarify things. Furthermore, I am not sure either they, or the public
in general, are equipped or prepared to engage in the degree of
critical thinking that such an effort would demand.

Finally, much of the uproar is the result of plain old misinformation
and lies. As long as activists rely on such tactics, it will take a
scientist, not an ethicist, to counter them.

There may be, nonetheless, a contribution ethicists can make: They can
band together, sign and circulate something on the ethics of activism.
It should be clear and simply-worded, and written to appeal primarily
to liberals. It should be a document which will give citizens a cogent
set of tools to evaluate the ethics of the activist groups which
purport to represent their interests.

Naturally, applying any such ethical guidelines to activist groups
would demonstrate their greed, hypocrisy or outright lunacy. Their
movements can easily suffer many setbacks, but few things would be
more damaging than embarassment.

This would also hamstring them in debate, and curb their excesses. In
addition, and this would be a tremendous benefit, it would make it
unnecessary to confront the activists using their own methods and
become engaged in an internecine conflict which, due to the adoption
of their crude methods, would necessarily spiral downward towards the
lowest common denominator.

Such a document would likely impose something like the following
ethical constraints and duties upon activists:

1. Full disclosure of all financial or other interests the activists,
or the people they purport to represent, have in the debate which
might amount to a conflict of interest.

2. If the activist group purports to represent the interests of the
public, the group must disclose the size of their membership or use
other reasonable means to quantify the size and interests of the group
they purport to represent.

3. If the activist group relies on scientific or other facts to
justify for its position, the group must immediately and publicly
retract any errors or misrepresentations of fact it has made when such
errors or misrepresentations become apparent.

4. The activist group must eschew, and refuse to take part in, any
acts of violence against persons or property or in breaches of law
duly enacted by a democratic government.

5. The activist group must eschew, and refuse to take part in, any
campaign which disrupts the activities of domestic, democratically
elected public bodies or international public bodies appointed by
groups of governments.

Doubtless the ethicists out there could come up with far more duties
than these which, reasonably, ought to apply to an activist group
which purports to represent human interests generally.

I offer this as a challenge.

> From: Gary L Comstock > Subject: on values in
the GMO controversy
From: Bob MacGregor Subject: Re: Hearts and

Jim: You forgot to mention fewer mycotoxins/lower cancer risk...

From: Bob MacGregor

Chuck, You said, "..."Does anyone on this list know of a scientific
reason/logic why one would hypothesize that a variety experiencing a
pleiotropic effect like boll drop would be less likely to manifest

From what I have read, you are jumping to conclusions. Previous
postings have indicated that comparison of boll drop in
isogenic/parent lines hasn't been done adequately to assess
differential propensity to boll drop. Secondly, if we are talking
about RR cotton, this comparison would have to be done without
herbicide treatment in order to assess whether heat stress made RR
beans more susceptible to herbicide damage, that is, herbicide
resistance is incomplete and may be affected by this set of stressors.

It is premature to suggest that insertion of RR genes has activated
unexpected adverse effects elsewhere in the genome.

From: Bob MacGregor Re: on values in the GMO

I'm not in full agreement with Gary when he implies that we might all
agree that, " Ethically justifiable to: develop GMOs that will allow
more efficient use of arable land; provide nutrients and vitamins to
malnourished people; reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in
agriculture. Ethically unjustifiable to: develop GMOs that will
produce superweeds (canola genes moving into and wild brassicas);
produce nut proteins in soybean products; produce varieties of
superfish that will colonize marine systems and streams."

I think a difficulty here is the tendency not to see that there might
be a need to prioritize one's ethical rankings. Indeed, I think it
might be fair to say that different ranking of ethical considerations
is at the root of a lot of the GMO controversy (along with profound
disagreement about risk assessment, of course). For example, we may
agree that a change that makes life less miserable for the downtrodden
is desirable and ethically-defensible, but what if doing this entails
accepting some risk of environmental damage? I think it is becoming
increasingly clear that many first-world environmental organizations
tend to put nature first and humanity second (after all, WE are the
scourge, n'est-ce pas?).

As an example of environmental risk attitudes, look at biological
control. In general, organic farmers tend to be supportive of
biological control methods. However, these very often involve the
introduction of exotic organisms (frequently to control exotics
pests). This is certainly every bit as dangerous and "unecologic" as
GMO-tinkering, yet seems not to attract the same vehement opposition.
As for the matter of ecological impact of exotics, what proportion of
organic acreage in the US and Canada is planted to native crops? I
read recently that approval documentation for introduction of kiwi
fruit to Canada took one standard page whereas documentation for
approval of Flavr Savr tomato took up 6 feet of shelf space.

If I consider it unethical to mess up ecosystems by introducing
exotics, discussing it with people who do not share my philosophy will
not be particularly productive; none of us is likely to change our
mind, since "facts" are not an issue. I think Abel was closer to it;
there aren't any absolutes in ethics, just shades of gray. There is
always a caveat when someone claims a universal "ethically-justified"
or "ethically-unjustified". The arguing then is like a pointless and
unverifiable "angels on the head of a pin" discussion. It is important
to recognize the points of view of others, just as it is important to
be sensitive to our own, individual, prejudices/biases, but, in
matters of belief or blind faith, I don't see how this leads toward a
consensus position. This wouldn't matter if we were just agreeing to
disagree, but it does matter when each side of the matter feels its
rights (and the proper/ethical thing to do) are endangered (eg, public
and environmental health vs. improved crop production techniques and
better medicines).

R. Macg