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December 31, 2000


Seers of Doom; High Anxiety and Biotechnology; Nutrition


Dear Agbioview Subscriber:

I wish you the very best for the coming New Year!

- Prakash

Humankind: heel!
It is arrogance to assume humanity can destroy nature -- it still has us
on a short leash, says historian Felipe Ffernandez-Armesto

December 29, 2000 Globe and Mail (From Agnet)

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, who teaches in the faculty of modern history at
Oxford University and is the author of 10 books, including Millennium: A
History of Our Last Thousand Years, writes in this opinion piece that
ecological anxiety is the apocalypse du jour. In a secular, humanist era,
we no longer expect God to destroy our world. We think we can do it on our
own. We can smother the planet with overpopulation, gut its useful
resources, poison it with pollutants, desiccate it with dams and burn life
out of it by turning the atmosphere into a solar magnifying glass.

Fernandez-Armesto says that some or all of these prophecies may come true.
Part of the unpredictability of the future is that the wildest
imaginations sometimes picture it accurately. Pessimism is good: It alarms
us against danger and indemnifies us against disillusion but
Fernandez-Armesto says it is being perverted by arrogance and ignorance:
anthropocentric arrogance and historical ignorance.

The seers of doom have a fundamental, disabling vice in common with
prophets of progress: Both overestimate the power of humankind. The
pessimists expect us to wreck nature, the optimists believe we can perfect
it. Really, all we can do is cause minor damage or tiny improvements at
the margins. Take the relationship of our species to the most powerful
known force for change on Earth: the evolutionary imperative. So far,
humankind has made two startling interventions that have bucked
evolutionary trends. The first started in the Neolithic period, when
people in some parts of the world began, on a large scale, to develop new
breeds and strains by domestication and farming. The results have included
new creatures: mutations induced, and selections made, by men.

This is an impressive achievement; but pre-historians now see it as a
phenomenon of "co-evolution," indebted more to the normal processes that
bring species into close ecological relationships than to human
initiative. The world humans craft to suit themselves remains a minuscule
part of nature: Our domesticates are a statistically insignificant
proportion of biota. The cycle of mutation and extinction goes on
regardless. And the environments we have created since the "Neolithic
Revolution" -- our farms and towns -- have been of greatest significance,
from the perspective of natural history, as eco-niches for the evolution
of new species unaffected by man.

Our second big intervention began about half a millennium ago with the
initiation of long-range ocean voyages that transferred biota from
continent to continent. Much of the transfer was unintended. Seeds and
bugs travelled in the folds and pockets of clothing or the twists of
rigging; microbes made their ways inside humans and livestock.

Fernandez-Armesto goes on to say that evolution will always outclass our
revolutions as a force for change. Most of the diseases we eliminate, for
instance, microbial evolution will replace. Changes we engineer in the
species we eat will, like all our previous interventions in the
environment, expose us to unforeseen consequences or weaken us in
unexpected ways.


From: NABC 2001

National Agricultural Biotechnology Council Conference (NABC 2001) High
Anxiety and Biotechnology: Who's Buying, Who's Not, and Why?

WHEN: May 22-24, 2001
WHERE: Wyndham Chicago 633 North St. Clair Street Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone: 312-573-0300

Agro-biotechnology has been offered to the world in terms of its promised
benefits. As science moves closer to fulfilling this promise, society
remains concerned about the safety, ethics, environmental, and other
impacts of biotechnology. NABC 2001 will explore the biotechnology-related
issues of concern to consumers.

NABC 2001 Highlights: The conference will serve as a forum to bring
together representatives of agricultural biotechnology research and
teaching institutions and industry to discuss issues with far-reaching
impact on the future of agricultural biotechnology.

Key Topics:
· How Food Technologies Get Accepted
· How You Say it Counts
· How the Consumer Gets Influenced
· Divergent Lenses: The Producers, The Scientists, The Consumers, and The

Two workshops will provide an opportunity to share viewpoints and make
recommendations concerning topics discussed

You can register online at

Pre-Conference: Getting Ahead of Issues in Biotechnology WHEN: May 22,
2001 8:30 a.m. -1:30 p.m. CST WHERE: Wyndham Chicago Three highly focused
interactive panel discussions that will define key consumer, producer, and
public policy issues facing the agricultural biotechnology industry
internationally and their impact on the US agriculture.

For more information contact: The National Soybean Research Laboratory,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 170 National Soybean Research
Center 1101 W. Peabody Urbana, IL 61801 USA (217) 244-1706 email:
nsrl@uiuc.edu or visit

National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, a not-for-profit consortium
of more than 30 leading agricultural research and teaching universities in
the U.S. and Canada, continues to provide all stakeholders the opportunity
to speak, to listen, and to learn about the issues surrounding
agricultural biotechnology. For more information visit
or email to NABC@cornell.edu


Current issues in nutrition Videoconference: Our changing food supply:
Choices for the 21st century (from Agnet)

Current Issues in Nutrition Videoconference originating from Iowa State
University will be held on April 26, 2001 and will feature
nationally-recognized experts who will discuss factors which influence
food choices for today and in the future. Advances in biotechnology,
economic changes in farming, and greater understanding of nutrition and
health all play important parts in defining what is considered “wholesome
and nutritious” foods for the 21st century.

The five hour program is carried live with time scheduled for questions
from the satellite viewing audience. Participants can fax or e-mail
questions to presenters. Application has been made for continuing
education units for Registered Dietitians, Dietetic Technicians, Certified
Family and Consumer Scientists, Registered Nurses and Physician
Assistants. The program is appropriate for the following audiences:
nutritionists, registered dietitians, nurses, dietetic technicians,
physicians, physicians’ assistants, family and consumer scientists, health
educators, food scientists and food development specialists, and other
health care professionals.

For more information about the conference, visit

Program content: Kathy Hanson 515-294-4247 kbh1@iastate.edu Registration:
Janet Gardner 515-294-5366 jrgard@iastate.edu Downlink Information: Roger
Brown 515-294-0702 rhbrown@iastate.edu

Speakers and topics confirmed are:
Dennis T. Gordon, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Cereal Science, North
Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota. Functional Foods Are the
Nutrition of the 21st Century.

Susan Pitman, M.A., R.D., Director of Health Communications Programs,
International Food Information Council, Washington, D.C. Seeing It Through
Their Eyes: Consumer Perspectives on Food Biotechnology.

Kathleen M. Delate, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Departments of
Horticulture and Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Consumer
Perspectives on Organic Food

Patricia A. Murphy, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Food Science and Human
Nutrition, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. The Health-protective
Effects Associated with Dietary Phytoestrogens.

Aubrey Mendonca, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science
and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Probiotic
Bacteria: Potential Health Benefits for Humans

From: Bob2698@aol.com
Sub: Need Advice on education in genetic ethics

My name is Robert and I'm am looking into the career field of a genetic
ethicist. But less on human aspect and more on the
environmental/biological aspect of it. But I am having trouble finding out
what schooling I would need to accomplish this goal. If you can help me
with this problem in any way it would greatly appreciated.

Robert Putnam


From: Francis Wevers

Organic falsehood repeated in New Zealand

A major scientific falsehood by organic agriculture supporters has been
repeated in New Zealand.

The Canterbury Digest, in its 12 December issue, published a table
claiming that Rutgers University scientists had proved that organic food
was more nutritious than conventionally grown food. The table was
published alongside an article by Bio-gro Technical and Certification
Manager, Segar Mason, about the growth of organic agriculture in New

“The table, and the website articles it was based on, are a totally false
representation of a study undertaken 50 years ago and may therefore be a
deliberate fraud on the public,” New Zealand Life Sciences Network (Inc)
Chairman, Dr William Rolleston said today. “It is utterly reprehensible
that the media should publish material without checking its accuracy.

“The published table grossly misrepresents the work of scientists who are
now deceased and unable to defend their research. More seriously, the
information is false and misleading to readers of Canterbury Digest and
users of the internet as a source of information. These people will not
have an opportunity the check the data presented against results given in
the original, 52-year old research paper. “This paper is titled “Variation
in mineral composition of vegetables” by F.E Bear, S.J. Toth and AL
Prince, published in 1948 in the Proceedings of the Soil Science Society
of America Volume 13: pages 380 – 384.

“I have attached an analysis by a reputable New Zealand scientist of the
content of the table in Canterbury Digest. The analysis shows clearly that
someone has seen fit to totally distort valid science to some other
purpose, which could not have been in the scientists’ minds when they did
their study. “Deliberate misrepresentation of scientific evidence is a
sign of the desperate state the organics movement has reached in its
efforts to prove something no science has yet established – that food
produced by the organic method is more nutritious than food produced

“For many years the organics zealots have tried to make us believe organic
food is better. It has yet to be proved scientifically that it is. Now,
desperately, they have to invent scientific results to support their case.
These are the same people who reject all modern scientific advances in
agriculture, including genetic modification of crop plants to make sure we
can grow them successfully without pesticides and herbicides. “The
deliberate misuse of scientific information in this way is also a very
serious concern in that it undermines public confidence in science.

“It is vitally important when scientific frauds are perpetrated on the
community they are identified and speedily corrected. At this point in
time there is no scientific evidence which supports claims made by organic
growers about comparative nutrition levels of organically and
conventionally produced food. “The paper has taken responsibility for
publishing the table and has said it may publish a correction. As this
can’t happen till April the Network felt it was imperative to publish the
background to this issue to ensure a scientific lie was not allowed to

“We are also concerned about the impact of such a falsehood while a
Parliamentary Select Committee and the Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification are considering issues to do with organic agriculture in New

Organic food nutrition claim

Detailed comments from Dr Denis Curtain, Soil Scientist with Crop & Food
Research on the data in the published table are detailed below. These
comments are based on a review of the table and the paper by Bear et al
the table was claimed to have been derived from.

The claims in relation to this table are inaccurate on several counts:

1. It is claimed that the researchers “set out to disprove the claim that
organic is better”. Not so. The stated purpose of the paper was to examine
the effects of variation in environmental factors (principally soil type
and climate) on mineral concentrations in vegetables. At no point in the
paper were the terms “organic” and “inorganic” production used or implied.
In fact, there were no comparisons were between vegetables grown in
“organic” and “inorganic” systems. In essence, the study was a survey of
the mineral contents of five vegetable crops sampled in ten US states with
widely differing climatic conditions and soil types.

2. It is claimed that the “researchers purchased selections of produce at
supermarkets and health food stores.” Not so. The paper clearly states,
“Samples of cabbage, lettuce, snap beans, spinach, and tomatoes were
obtained from commercial fields of these crops.” Management practices used
to grow the crops were not specified.

3. The results in the paper of Bear et al. were summarized in the form of
Tables showing the lowest and highest values recorded for each crop. The
table misrepresents these results by indicating that the highest values
were obtained for organically produced crops and that the lowest values
came from crops grown by inorganic methods. There is absolutely no
justification for this. As pointed out above, vegetables representing
“organic” and “inorganic” production methods were not even included in the

4. The summary remark that “… organic foods are 3 to 100 times more
nutritious (than inorganic food) …” bears no relation to the contents of
the paper published by the Rutgers scientists. It is certainly ridiculous
to claim, “Many essential elements were completely absent in the
commercial (i.e., inorganic) produce”. Plants just will not grow in the
absence of essential elements!

5. The labels on columns of data are transposed, the molybdenum column has
been left out and some other transcription errors are apparent. This means
that the ash content is reported as phosphorus, the calcium column as
sodium, etc. all the columns are wrongly labeled except for cobalt.

Further points to note are:

A comprehensive review of international literature undertaken by Dr Diane
Bourn and Associate Professor John Prescott of the Department of Food
Science, University of Otago in April 2000 (currently in press), concludes
t “With the possible exception of nitrate content, there is not strong
evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of
various nutrients”.

In Britain, in May 2000 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld
four complaints against the Tesco and Iceland supermarket chains for
claiming in brochures that organic food is tastier, healthier and better
for the environment and animals. They ruled that the supermarkets had not
been able to provide convincing evidence and that the claims were
“misleading” and “unsubstantiated”.

In a February 2000 interview with ABC NEWS 20/20 Kathryn Di Matteo of the
US Organic Trade Association, in answering the reporters question, “Is it
(organic food) more nutritious? replied “It is as nutritious as any other
product on the market” This has been widely taken as an acknowledgement
that the US organics industry admits organics are no more nutritious than
other food.