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Date:

February 4, 2001

Subject:

Conway Deabtes Rifkin; Check Biotech; Mad Cow's Impact;

 

We would like to tell you about a new web-site devoted to agricultural
biotechnology that was launched today. Called
?http://www.checkbiotech.org? it is dedicated to timely, concise and
balanced reporting of agricultural biotechnology news and issues. It
is our hope that this web-site will become the site of reference for
people throughout the world with a particular professional or personal
interest in biotechnology.

As a vitalsource of information on biotechnology and agriculture,
checkbiotech.org will contribute to open debate on controversial
issues. It can also be an important communication channel for people
on both sides of the debate on GMOs. checkbiotech.org is sponsored by
Syngenta, the world?s leading agribusiness company. However,
information provided on the site comes from different sources and does
not necessarily reflect the opinions of Syngenta. checkbiotech.org is
independently operated.

Visitors to the site can subscribe to a free newsletter that is
delivered daily or weekly by e-mail. In order to deliver the most
relevant information to the user, the newsletter can be tailored to
the subscriber?s personal interests. A search function will permit
targeted access to site?s extensive database. You and your colleagues
are invited to visit checkbiotech.org and to subscribe to the
newsletter. We hope you find the information both valuable and
relevant to the ongoing debate on genetic modification and
agricultural biotechnology.

Sincerely, The Web Editor, checkbiotech.org
--------
(Note from Prakash: I found this site to be fairly comprehensive in
its content and similar in format to Monsanto's Knowledge Center. It
has daily news on GM food issues, a webcast of Dr. Ingo Potrykus
talking about his golden rice and a collection of documents on various
subjects such as Research & Development Animals, Field Trial...,
Products Plants - Agronomic Traits, Benefits & Risks, Economics,
Environment,... Developing World Agriculture, Food, Society &
Economics Consumer Choice, Ethics, . Safety & Regulations and
Biodiversity. )

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From: Katie Thrasher

Future of biotech food hotly debated
By BONNER R. COHEN FEB 2, 2001
http://earthtimes.org/jan/featurefutureofbiotechjan31_01.htm

DAVOS--The promise and perils of genetically modified crops and foods
stood at the center of a debate in Davos Monday that underscored the
gap of opinion that exists over the role biotechnology will play in
feeding the hungry of the world. Gordon Conway, president of the
Rockefeller Foundation and a leading proponent of the Green
Revolution, stoutly defended food made from genetically modified
organisms(GMO) as a key component in the battle to alleviate famine
and malnutrition in the world's poorest countries.

Conway emphasized that there is no evidence GMOs pose health hazards,
although he allowed for the possibility of long-term risks that may
surface as we learn more about the subject. For this reason, he said,
governments should closely monitor this emerging sector, but he
maintained that in the absence of compelling evidence of risks to
public health and the environment, we should use GMOs to help feed the
hungry. Thanks to GMOs, Conway argued, vitamin A rice can deal
effectively with vitamin A deficiencies in children, a serious problem
in developing countries.

But Jeremy Rifkin, founder and president of the Foundation on Economic
Trends, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of GMOs,
maintained that putting exotic genes in organisms without knowing how
this will affect the environment is "the most radical experiment ever
carried out." Rifkin said GMOs were distinct from classical breeding.
There is "no science at hand" to measure the effect these activities
will in nature, Rifkin maintained. Conway countered by noting that 70
percent of the cotton produced in the United States is grown with
genetically modified organisms. Indeed, he pointed out, moving genes
from one species and inserting them into the genetic code of another
species is an extension of practices that have been carried on in
agriculture for thousands of years.

What's more, he said, with 1.5 billion people facing hunger in the
world, we should use GMOs as a way to feed them. Rifkin responded by
saying GMOs are not needed to deal with famine and malnutrition.
Farmers in industrialized countries are paid not to produce certain
crops, he pointed out. He urged governments to end such subsidies and
send the food that then would be produced to those who need it, he
recommended. To that Conway responded that Rifkin wanted to turn the
clock back to the 1950s and 1960s when the US sent food to India to
avert mass starvation there. Fed up with being dependent on the US for
its food, India, in the 1970s, embraced the Green Revolution and
started feeding its own people with miracle rice and other products
grown by its own farmers. If the two men agreed on anything, it was
the importance of keeping close tabs on the handful of companies who
are the leaders in GMOs. They agreed that moving too rapidly into the
world of GMOs could be risky and would put too much power into the
hands of a few industry giants.

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MONSANTO BEANFEAST AS BSE CRISIS BITES

Feb. 4 2001 UK Independent Geoffrey Lean (From Agnet)
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/UK/Environment/2001-02/monsanto040201.shtm


According to this story, the Europe-wide ban on feeding meat-and-bone
meal to animals is leading to a huge increase in imported GM soya to
take its place. The beleaguered company's share price is soaring, and
analysts who once shunned its stock are advising investors to buy.

The ban on feeding animals to each other, imposed at the beginning of
this year, has left farmers across Europe scrambling to find
alternatives. Fish meal is also banned for cattle and other ruminants,
because of fears that it may be contaminated by meat-and-bone meal.
This leaves soya, and imports of the beans are expected to jump by
about 3.5 million tons this year. Virtually all of this will be
genetically modified, says the UK Agricultural Trade Supply
Association, because almost all unmodified soya has been bought up to
meet demand following campaigns by environmental groups.
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From: calestous_juma@harvard.edu

BSE crisis sinks German public biotech programme

REGINA KRAMMER. Nature 409, 549 (2001) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

The shockwaves of the BSE crisis in Germany are now being felt beyond
the meat industry, with agricultural biotechnology experiencing a
knock and medical biotechnology a paradoxical boost.

Schröder: looking to science for answers? Concerned about further
damage to consumer confidence, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has
unexpectedly cancelled a governmental research and monitoring
programme on genetically modified (GM) crops. The programme had been
brokered by Schröder only last year, when he had urged the German
agricultural biotechnology industry to participate in a joint research
programme with the government to determine the environmental impact
and potential risks of genetically modified organisms. Its aim was to
reassure distrustful consumers about the safety of transgenic crops
(see Nature 405, 986; 2000).

This does not mean the end for agricultural biotechnology in Germany
as a whole. But the loss of governmental goodwill is a blow to the
industry in a country that is particularly hostile towards plant
biotechnology. "The government programme would have certainly helped
increase public acceptance of GM food," says Andreas Thierfelder,
spokesman for the German subsidiary of agrochemical company Monsanto
in Düsseldorf. "Its cancellation is a substantial loss of image to our
business."

Industry hopes that once the dust settles on the BSE crisis, open
debate about the risks and benefits of GM crops can resume. "The
current state of uncertainty among consumers is understandable," says
Heinz Breuer, spokesman for Aventis CropScience in Frankfurt, "but it
would be fatal if plant biotechnology was swept away in the furore of
the BSE crisis." Environmentalists, however, have welcomed Schröder's
move. "This is an unambiguous invitation to the agro-industry to alter
its course," says Christoph Then of Greenpeace Germany, who predicts
that commercial cultivation of GM crops will be delayed for at least
five years.

But things are looking brighter for medical biotechnology after the
recent cabinet reshuffle precipitated by the BSE crisis. Ulla Schmidt,
the new Social Democrat health minister, is committed to a more
liberal approach to controversial areas of biomedical research, such
as pre-implantation diagnostics and therapeutic cloning.

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From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Neo-Nazis?

If the greens succeed at stifling agricultural innovation they will
have far more deaths on their hands than Hitler ever dreamed of. It
appears it may well start in Germany where a green has been appointed
head of the agricultural ministry. He openly pushing for the country
to switch to organic farming. It should be interesting to watch.

If the anti-science groups succeed in dictating the path of science
and governments I see a dim future for this world. They are good
people with their hearts in the right place and have a deep commitment
to what they believe but they are following a leader that has an
agenda that may or may not be well meaning but their methods not that
much different than those of Goebbels'.

When I see scientist not trusting the work of other scientist and
falling it with these groups I am really worried.

Gordon Couger, gcouger@couger.com, Retired Farmer www.couger.com/gcouger

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From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Royal Society

Colleagues,
According to many news reports, the Royal Society of Canada, Canada's
national academy of science, has issued a report condemning Canada's
regulatory process. Apparently, the report adopts the precautionary
principle, while rejecting the doctrine of substantial
equivalence--making "unknown dangers to consumers" a nearly foregone
conclusion, regardless of the science or the quality of the regulatory
oversight. The report was compiled by 15 "experts" assembled by the
Royal Society. Does anyone know who these "experts" are, and what
their affiliations may be? Naturally, the fearmongers are having a
field day.

------------

From Prakash: You can get this report at
http://www.rsc.ca/foodbiotechnology/indexEN.html
This is a huge 265 page report which addresses practically every issue
related to food biotech and I highly recommend a download. There has
been intense media activity in Canada based on this report as evident
by Agnet. See one piece below.

The expert panel consisted of:
Spencer C.H. Barrett, Ph.D., FRSC, Professor, Botany, University of
Toronto; Joyce L. Beare-Rogers, CM, Ph.D., FRSC, Ottawa, Ontario;
Conrad G. Brunk, Ph.D., Academic Dean and Professor, Philosophy,
Conrad Grebel College, University of Waterloo. Panel Co-Chair; Timothy
A. Caulfield, LL.M., Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and Faculty
of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta; Brian E. Ellis, Ph.D.,
Associate Director, Biotechnology Laboratory, Professor, Faculty of
Agricultural Sciences and the Biotechnology Laboratory, University of
British Columbia. Panel Co-Chair; Marc G. Fortin, Ph.D., Associate
Professor and Chair, Department of Plant Science, McGill University;
Antony J. Ham Pong, M.B., F.R.C.P.(C) Paediatrics, Consultant in
Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Ottawa; Jeffrey A. Hutchings, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Biology, Dalhousie University John J. Kennelly,
Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Agricultural, Food and
Nutritional Science, University of Alberta; Jeremy N. McNeil, Ph.D.,
FRSC, Professor, Biology, Université Laval Leonard Ritter, Ph.D.,
Executive Director, Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres and
Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Environmental Biology,
University of Guelph; Karin M. Wittenberg, Ph.D., Professor and Head,
Department of Animal Science, University of Manitoba; R. Campbell
Wyndham, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, Carleton
University Rickey Yoshio Yada, Ph.D., Professor and Assistant Vice
President Research, Agri-Food Programs, University of Guelph
--------

CANADIAN CONSUMERS THREATENED BY GM FOODS February 5, 2001 CBC.ca
http://cbc.ca/cgi-bin/templates/view.cgi?/news/2001/02/05/Consumers/gmfoods_canada010205


OTTAWA - The Royal Society of Canada is condemning the way the federal
government regulates genetically-modified foods, saying consumers
aren't being well-protected.

The scientific report talks about government secrecy and the close
relationship the government has with biotech industries. "The public
interest is...significantly compromised," says the report. The Royal
Society is Canada's national academy of science. It gathered 15
experts to compile the report. Canada is the third-largest producer of
GM crops and the government has approved more than 40 varieties of
corn, tomatoes, potatoes and other plants.

The report came up with 50 recommendations, among them: companies can
no longer hide behind commercial confidentiality and must open up
their processes an independent auditor to watch every step of federal
regulation compulsory regsitration for transgenic animals, such as
pigs with human genes a ban on using antibiotic resistant genes in
transgenic plants

The report also criticizes what it calls the "co-opting" of
biotechnology science in universities by commercial interests. It
concludes federal regulators have approved transgenic plants without a
full assessment of its risks to consumers.

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From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Re: Professor Anne Clark is at it again!

Professor Anne Clark is at it again with unsubstantiated claims as
shown from the following quote from an article posted on FSNet;

>Ann Clark, associate professor of crop science at the University of
>Guelph, was quoted as saying, "The Walkerton tragedy was not caused
>by pathogenic E. coli and certainly not by the unfortunate farmer
(whose cattle produced it), nor even by the regrettable mismanagement
of the water treatment system.'' It was caused, she said, by the
"pervasive practice'' of feeding grain to beef and dairy cattle to
augment their growth. Clark based her comments on a study undertaken
at Cornell University in upstate New York first reported on the
university's Web site on Sept. 10, 1998, at
http://www.news.cornell.edu/U_Search.html . It says most types of E.
coli bacteria won't harm humans because they are killed by human
stomach acids. But E. coli O157:H7 has developed an immunity to such
> acids, an immunity acquired in the colons of grain-fed cattle.

Tom DeGregori's response:

Alex Avery and others on this newsgroup have more than adequately
responded to the substance of the claim made in the above quote and
may care to join in once again. Since this claim is being repeated
over and over again, we cannot afford the luxury of refuting it once
and then forgetting about it. A few other observations are in order.

1) Why is it a consistent practice of the pro-organic myth makers to
cite a press release (which the above citation is) or a news article
(including a news article in Science that refers to an article in that
issue) instead of the research article itself? Interesting question,
isn't it or is it possible that some, including professor Anne Clark
do not know the difference?

2) Is professor Anne Clark (and others of her persuasion) aware of the
fact, that in scientific inquiry, rarely is one research study
conclusive nor does it close out inquiry with finality. A critical
element of scientific inquiry is replicability where others go out to
try the same or similar experiments to see if they get the same
results. If one goes online to the peer reviewed article in Science by
the Cornell researchers, one will find that following it, there is a
list of subsequent articles that cited it. This is a clear recognition
by Science of the importance of replicability. And if one follows the
subsequent research articles, one finds not only a failure to
replicate but in fact one research article came to the exact opposite
conclusion. On what basis, do the believers in the grain fed cattle/E.
coli 0157:H7 connection select between the two peer reviewed research
efforts? Does not professor Clark have an obligation to let her
audience know of the contradictory research and let them choose for
themselves? Since, professor Clark has recently join others in an
article in which a regular member of this newsgroup, Henry Miller was
accused of telling a blatant "lie," I wonder how we should
characterize her omission. I prefer not to engage in name-calling but
would like to note the less than stellar performance (and the
re-writing of the history of the Walkerton water crisis in the article
quoted above) by one who engages in it.

3) Since this study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(or at least according to the release, they were involved in the
research), why hasn't the USDA acted on it? Certainly, if it closed
out all further inquiry, then surely they have an obligation to
protect the public by ordering feedlots to finish off the cattle with
a diet of hay? The Science news article that refers to the research
report, specifically mentions the concern of feedlots that they might
have to do that. If the USDA is being negligent in not ordering a
feedlot diet of hay, why are not our litigious champions of the
consumer filing suit against the USDA to force them to do that? Why
keep repeating it without acting on it unless they are afraid that
competent scientists would expose them in court? Since another
contributor has used the phrase put up or shut up, may I be less blunt
but respectfully say that professor Clark ought to act on her
convictions and join a suit against the Canadian Government to force
them to require the use of hay in feedlots and then encourage her
fellow believers in the U.S. and elsewhere to do the same with the
appropriate authorities in their country. It would be interesting to
see Dr. Clark testifying in the U.S. as an "expert" witness.

4) Normally, I am against the frivolous litigation by Rifkin and
others but in this case, I would welcome it. Any takers?

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.,University of Houston
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From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Nazi quote

In two previous posting of mine, I made reference to a scientist with
a London Hospital comparing genetic engineering of plants to Nazi
eugenics as an example of the all too frequent comparisons of modern
sceientific endeavors to the Nazis. To be honest, I had lost the
citation and had forgotten his name.

In an exchange of emails with a contributor to this newsgroup , I
found out the name of the person, Dr Michael Antoniou of Guy's
Hospital in London who made the Nazi comparison and was then able to
find the posted article that included it.

Here is the posted piece witht the Antoniou Nazi quote:

http://www.plant.uoguelph.ca/safefood/archives/agnet/2000/8-2000/ag-08-09-00-02.txt


A GENETICISTS VIEW OF THE DANGERS OF GM
August 8, 2000 Ethical Consumer Magazine June/July 2000 edition

GM food issues are likely to be in and out of the news, but what other
genetic experiments should we be worrying about? Sarah Irving talks to
Dr Michael Antoniou, genetics researcher at Guy?s Hospital in London
and commentator on genetic engineering issues. As a scientist studying
genetics daily, Michael Antoniou is very well equipped to comment on
the dangers of genetic experimentation: "I took the initiative to
raise my concerns publicly on GM food because I thought that what was
being claimed was simply not representative of the truth...if you move
genes around in the very imprecise way that gene technology does,
you?re simply going to disrupt normal gene function and you?re going
to bring about unpredictable outcomes that are far greater than the
intended changes. I felt that what was being put out by the government
and industry scientists about the technology was simply inaccurate."
Taking such a stance has not necessarily been easy: "I?ve had quite a
lot of sympathy from my colleagues. But I know from the pro-GM side,
especially from the research institutes, they think I?ve broken
rank...What really offends me is that if you read the scientific
journals they?ll openly acknowledge the imprecision in the technology
and the difficulty they have producing the desired outcome. Yet when
they?re trying to sell it to the government or the public, this is the
most precise and predictable thing that?s ever come around."

Dr Antoniou attributes part of the failure to acknowledge the problems
of GM to the commercial interests behind much of the research: "GM and
agriculture have become so commercially driven that the applications
of the technology have become severed from their basic science roots -
it?s moving forward at a tremendous pace to produce all these crops
for commercial use, but at the same time it doesn?t heed the warnings
of our deepening understanding of biology, ecology and genetics." He
also questions the arguments used to justify GM crops: "Golden Eye
rice has been engineered by a Swiss researcher to have genes from
daffodils to make the rice have vitamin A in it, because there are all
these people in the world who eat mainly rice so they?re deficient in
vitamin A and they suffer from blindness; sounds great - we engineer
the rice to have vitamin A in it, so now at least they won?t suffer
from blindness. The question not being asked is WHY are these people
having to live only on rice? Firstly, there are natural varieties of
rice what are rich in vitamin A, but they?ve been displaced by the
so-called high-yielding, ?green revolution? rices. In addition,
because of the high chemical inputs in rice production, they can?t
grow anything but rice in paddy fields, whereas before they used to
have quite a diverse agriculture...What is the cause here? It?s using
genetics to try and cover up world problems that we need to face up to
now. It?s the demands that the North puts on the developing world that
is depriving some of these local cultures. Because we want cash crops,
they?re producing things for us and not for themselves."

The great danger that Dr Antoniou sees for future GM is the
manipulation of human genes. Highly emotive issues such as hereditary
illness make the debates on this subject difficult and complex, but
Antoniou draws the line at any GM which would affect future
generations. He sees public regulation as vital in restricting abuses:
"...given the very consumerist society we live in, the temptation to
select and do genetic manipulation to enhance certain characteristics
is, I think, there, especially if this kind of technology gets into
the private sector and is offered on a commercial basis. If you start
thinking that genes = life and start selecting for this gene or
discarding that gene and imposing your desires on your child and
future generations, you?re reducing life to a commodity product. It?s
like going to the supermarket and picking one brand or another of
breakfast cereal."

Antoniou also expresses his fears of the potential eugenic uses of
human GM, allowing traits perceived as ?undesirable? to be totally
eliminated from society: "What we need to make sure is that things
remain very, very tightly controlled and regulated, because very soon
we?re going to have a total human genome map which means that you will
be able to screen for any gene you like. People have tried to do it in
the past - the eugenics programmes in Nazi Germany or the US or in
other parts of the world earlier this century were aimed at that sort
of thing - the elimination of undesirables, selecting for what you
thought were the prettiest or smartest people. And this issue is going
to affect everyone; I think what we learnt through GM food can be
applied equally here: we need to make our voices heard if we?re
concerned." http://www.ethicalconsumer.org

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From: Red Porphyry
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Are Critics of Biotech Imperialists?

Well, it appears that at least one science writer might be reading
this list. Mr. Andrew Pollack, in his 2/4/01 NYT article "Critics of
Biotechnology Are Called Imperialists", shows encouraging signs of
putting forth a more honest assessment of the benefits of ag biotech
research. Take this paragraph, for example (all emphases are mine):

"Biotech backers, and many other food experts, say that for SOME
farmers and SOME regions, absolute shortages of production are a
problem. And while early efforts were indeed aimed at crops for rich
countries, there are now numerous projects to develop third world
crops that are resistant to pests, drought or poor soil. Such crops
COULD lessen, not increase, the need for expensive inputs like
pesticides and water..."

The prominent use of words like "some" and "could" is a heartening
sign of a pullback from previous absolutist statements. This is a
recognition of the fact that ag biotech research is very high-risk in
terms of its return on investment, at least as high risk as investing
in a pure play dot.com company. :-) The public really needs to see a
more honest portrayal of what the costs vs. benefits of ag biotech
research, particularly since it is the public who's paying for much of
this research.

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From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: Solution to the GM debate?

On 15 January the UK's 'Independent' newspaper ran its main front page
story on Monsanto's GM Wheat as it moves closer to the market place
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/UK/Science/2001-01/bread150101.shtml

Below is our response to the editor. Sadly this letter (or any others
on the subject as far as we know) was not printed, but it may be of
interest to others. This matter takes on added significance given the
posting by Craig Sams to AgBioView of the Soil Association's recent
position statement on marker assisted breeding - 'MAB' (see list
message 970, Feb 1, "Organics is not 'anti-science'").

The Soil Association's MAB position statement can be more easily read
as a formatted web page at
http://www.biotech-info.net/marker_assisted_breeding.html .

In effect this recognition of the value of MAB offers the possibility
of a clear way forward for the biotechnology sector to play a widely
respected role in all forms of agriculture, including organics. It
represents an opportunity to take recombinant DNA out of the current
debate concerning the future of applied global agriculture, leaving it
to play a more appropriate role as a powerful, but subservient,
laboratory diagnostic tool.

NATURAL LAW PARTY WESSEX
nlpwessex@bigfoot.com www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex
------
Letters Editor, The Independent

Sir,

GENETICALLY MODIFIED WHEAT

The real irony of Monsanto pressing ahead with its GM wheat programme
is that the use of such technology is unnecessary. Last year
Monsanto's own global head of plant breeding largely admitted this in
an interview with Farmers Weekly. He confirmed that the future of
wheat breeding does not lie with genetic modification but rather with
the use of modern genomics-assisted traditional plant breeding methods.

Monsanto's Tom Crosbie stated: "Genetic transformation is just one
particular wrench in the biotechnology tool box. We have lots of other
tools to accelerate the development of new wheat varieties....It's a
numbers game and ultimately non-transformation biotech offers the
greatest potential". The application of this type of marker-assisted
approach means that conventional plant breeding programmes can be
dramatically accelerated without the use of recombinant DNA (i.e.
genetic modification). Crucially the integrated bio-regulatory systems
inherent in the sexual breeding progress are not by-passed with this
method.

The introduction of recombinant DNA in world agriculture is
unnecessary. With the advent of marker-assisted conventional plant
breeding, so is most of the debate about it as well. The only reason
Monsanto are proceeding with their existing GM wheat programme is that
they have already spent too much money on developing it.

As we have already seen with the 'dot-bomb' fiasco, whatever toys the
technocrats might prefer to play with any business which is primarily
technology rather than consumer driven is doomed to failure.

Mark Griffiths BSc FRICS FAAV

Natural Law Party Wessex
----
Footnote for editor: More information including complete Farmers
Weekly article below for reference. Solution to the GM debate?
http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/GMdebatesolution.htm