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March 4, 2001


16 statements, Nutrition, FAO, Human genome, Vaccines,


Colleagues, I think you might find this little exercise to be interesting:
In the sentences below, replace “X” with the words “organic farming,” and
then with “genetic engineering,” and evaluate the relative truth or
falsity of each statement that results.

1. X offers very little benefit to the consumer.
2. X is done mostly for the benefit of farmers.
3. One effect of X is to reduce the amount of chemicals in the environment.
4. There has been no independent, widespread testing of the safety of
consuming foods produced with X.
5. There has been no independent, widespread testing of the environmental
safety of producing food with X.
6. The market share of foods produced with X has grown dramatically in
recent years.
7. The people who sell the products of X do so for profit.
8. X is poorly understood by consumers.
9. Foods produced with X have fewer chemical residues.
10. Buying food produced with X is a good way to promote a healthy
11. With X, genes in crops could escape into neighboring crops or into the
12. X uses technology that is not completely understood by scientists.
13. The regulation of X is lax.
14. Advocates of X want to tell people what they should eat.
15. People who use X in food production cannot prove that their products
are completely safe.
16. Foods produced with X are not required to be labeled.

Date: 4 Mar 2001 00:05:56 -0000
From: Red Porphyry Address Book
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Nutritional enhancement


From the responses to your questions so far, I think it's reasonable
to conclude that the answer is basically no, there are no
"nutritionally enhanced GM foods that, like Golden rice, could
potentially be on grocery shelves in the U.S. and Canada within the
next 3 to 4 years". The fact that Bt-corn has lower mycotoxin content
than conventional or organic corn, while interesting, is not likely
to significantly lower the cancer risk in people who eat it, for the
simple reason that current milling and grinding processes already
reduce mycotoxin levels in grains to levels that are far, far below
what anyone really needs to worry about. It's also important to keep
the issue of mycotoxins and cancer in its proper perspective. The
laboratory animals that developed cancer only did so when fed
extremely large amounts of mycotoxins (sort of like the lab rats who
developed cancer after consuming saccharin that was equivalent to
people drinking 700 cans of diet soda per day--so you can go ahead
and sweeten that morning coffee of yours with saccharin without fear.
Watch out for that aftertaste, though. :-) ). The basics about
mycotoxins can be found at


At the present time, the only possible "selfish" reason for consumers
in developed markets to consume GM foods is one of price: in
principle, if GM crops are demonstrably and consistently cheaper to
produce than conventional or organic crops in the fields of a
*typical* farmer, then GM foods should show a clear price advantage
relative to conventional or organic foods. Unfortunately, GM crops
and conventional crops aren't segregated well enough to make this
comparison--the box of corn flakes you buy in the local supermarket
most likely contains a mixture of conventional and GM corn in it.


Date: Mar 03 2001 08:20:07 EST
From: ngin
Subject: Re:'FAO report reveals GM crops not needed to feed the world'
and puffed rice

Regarding Roger Morton's effort in response to the posting 'FAO report
reveals GM crops not needed to feed the world'

Recently the FAO's Director-General was reported as saying, "Faced with
the needs of the 800 million people who are suffering from hunger, we
don't need GMOs". Roger Morton, on the other hand, refers to sections of
the report in question that apparently sing the praises of GMOs. Either
which way, this misses the point of the commentary.

The sections of the report from which Roger Morton quotes are purely
discursive (the only hard quantitative data involved being acreages
planted) and there are no GMO-related quantitative elements built into
the FAO mathematical model on which their prognosis is based. So whether
or not the authors tell us GMOs are a good thing, their report still
demonstrates that we are able to feed the world without them.

Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2001 22:37:02 +0000
From: NLP Wessex
Subject: Multi-dimensional genome

GE fantasy shattered by human genome project

"In everyday language the talk is about a gene for this and a gene for
that. We are now finding that that is rarely so. The number of genes that
work in that way can almost be counted on your fingers, because we are
just not hard-wired in that way."

Craig Venter, Celera Genomics, 12 February 2001


Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2001 16:21:50 -0500
From: Ghose.Monalisa@ic.gc.ca
Subject: DNA Vaccines

I have some questions about DNA Vaccines and would like to pose my
questions to this AgBioView Forum. Firstly, are DNA vaccines being
developed to prevent or treat diseases? Examples and references would be
appreciated. Secondly, are DNA vaccines still in clinical trials? I
understand the first DNA vaccine for AIDS was granted permission for
clinical trials from the FDA in 1996. Thirdly, what is the status of DNA
vaccines today? Lastly, are there any DNA vaccines on the market?

My contact information is below. I would like to thank everyone in
advance for their time and consideration in this matter.

Monalisa Ghose.

Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2001
From: Mary Murphy
Subject: Greenpeace lies affecting journalists

Despite the fact that Ingo Potrykus has recently claimed that the numbers
offered by Greenpeace were wrong, journalists still continue to offer
these numbers as fact (below). I refer to the Greenpeace statement about
people having to eat 15 pounds of Golden Rice in order to get a full day's
supply of Vitamin A.

And I used to consider the NY Times a respectable paper!


The Great Yellow Hype

New York Times
By Michael Pollan
March 4, 2001

Unless I'm missing something, the aim of the biotechnology industry's
audacious new advertising campaign is to impale people like me -- well-off
first worlders dubious about genetically engineered food -- on the horns
of a moral dilemma. Have you seen these ads? Over a speedy montage of
verdant rice paddies, smiling Asian kids and kindly third-world doctors, a
caring voice describes something called golden rice and its promise to
''help prevent blindness and infection in millions of children'' suffering
from vitamin-A deficiency. This new rice has been engineered, using a
daffodil gene, to produce beta-carotene, a nutrient the body can convert
into vitamin A. Watching the pitch, you can almost feel the moral ground
shifting under your feet. For the unspoken challenge here is that if we
don't get over our queasiness about eating genetically modified food, kids
in the third world will go blind.

It appears that biotechnology, which heretofore had little more to offer
the world than plants that could shake off a shower of herbicide, has
finally found a ''killer app'' that can silence its critics and win over
journalists. It's working, too: Time magazine put golden rice on its
cover, declaring, ''This rice could save a million kids a year.'' Even
Greenpeace has acknowledged that ''golden rice is a moral challenge to our

Yet the more one learns about biotechnology's Great Yellow Hope, the more
uncertain seems its promise -- and the industry's command of the moral
high ground. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether golden rice will ever
offer as much to malnourished children as it does to beleaguered biotech
companies. Its real achievement may be to win an argument rather than
solve a public-health problem. Which means we may be witnessing the advent
of the world's first purely rhetorical technology.

If that sounds harsh, consider this: an 11-year-old would have to eat 15
pounds of cooked golden rice a day -- quite a bowlful -- to satisfy his
minimum daily requirement of vitamin A. Even if that were possible (or if
scientists boosted beta-carotene levels), it probably wouldn't do a
malnourished child much good, since the body can only convert
beta-carotene into vitamin A when fat and protein are present in the diet.
Fat and protein in the diet are, of course, precisely what a malnourished
child lacks.

Further, there's no guarantee people will eat yellowish rice. Brown rice,
after all, is already rich in nutrients, yet most Asians prefer white
rice, which is not. Rice has long had a complicated set of meanings in
Asian culture. Confucius, for example, extolled the pure whiteness of rice
as the ideal backdrop for green vegetables. That works fine so long as
you've still got the vegetables. But once rice became a monoculture cash
crop, it crowded the green vegetables out of people's fields and out of
their diet.

Proponents of golden rice acknowledge that persuading people to eat it may
require an educational campaign. This begs a rather obvious question. Why
not simply a campaign to persuade them to eat brown rice? Or how about
teaching people how to grow green vegetables on the margins of their rice
fields, and maybe even give them the seeds to do so? Or what about handing
out vitamin-A supplements to children so severely malnourished their
bodies can't metabolize beta-carotene?
As it happens, these ridiculously obvious, unglamorous, low-tech schemes
are being tried today, and according to the aid groups behind them, all
they need to work are political will and money.


More than $100 million dollars has been spent developing golden rice, and
another $50 million has been budgeted for advertisements touting the
technology's future benefits. A spokesman for Syngenta, the company that
plans to give golden rice seeds to poor farmers, has said that every month
of delay will mean another 50,000 blind children. Yet how many cases of
blindness could be averted right now if the industry were to divert its
river of advertising dollars to a few of these programs?

Which brings us to some uncomfortable questions about the industry's
motives. In January, Gordon Conway, the president of the Rockefeller
Foundation - which financed the original research on golden rice -- wrote,
''The public-relations uses of golden rice have gone too far.'' While
genetically engineered rice has a role to play in combating malnutrition,
Conway noted, ''We do not consider golden rice the solution to the
vitamin-A deficiency problem.''

So to what, then, is golden rice the solution? The answer seems plain: To
the public-relations problem of an industry that has so far offered
consumers precious few reasons to buy what it's selling -- and more than a
few to avoid it. Appealing to our self-interest won't work, so why not try
pricking our conscience? (Do I hear an echo? Eat your peas -- there are
children starving in Africa.)

Ordinarily, evaluating a P.R. strategy in terms of morality rather than
efficacy would seem to be missing the point. But morality is precisely the
basis on which we've been asked us to think about golden rice. So let us
try. Granted, it would be immoral for finicky Americans to thwart a
technology that could rescue malnourished children. But wouldn't it also
be immoral for an industry to use those children's suffering in order to
rescue itself? The first case is hypothetical at best. The second is right
there on our television screens, for everyone to see.

Bioengineered Rice Loses Glow as Vitamin A Source
Golden Rice is years from market and, as a practical food source for the
poor, may not meet nutritional goals.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Tina Hesman
March 4, 2001

When Swiss researchers announced last year that they had engineered rice
grains to combat vitamin A deficiency, world health officials, biotech
advocates and others hailed the development as a major advance in solving
nutritional problems in the developing world.
Many in the biotechnology industry touted the rice - called Golden Rice
for its color - as a savior for the beleaguered industry: a symbol of
genetic engineering's promise.

But the rice may not be all it's puffed up to be. The product, designed to
make beta-carotene, is at least five years from market.
Moreover, some critics say that the amount of rice a person would have to
eat to get the nutritional benefits promised is more than humanly

Their estimates equate to a child having to eat 27 to 54 bowls of rice a
day to get the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. However,
scientists involved in the project insist they can achieve some
nutritional benefits with the equivalent of just two to four bowls a day.

Now, both sides in the debate over Golden Rice are playing a numbers game,
with no clear winner yet. But it's obvious from another set of numbers
who's losing. Consider these statistics provided by Gurdev S. Khush, the
principal plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in
the Philippines:
* About 400 million people are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, 124
million of them children.
* 1 million to 2 million children die every year because of a lack of
vitamin A in their diets.
* About 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency.

Many of the people at highest risk of developing a vitamin A deficiency
live in Southeast Asia, where rice is a dietary staple. Normal rice grains
don't contain vitamin A, or any of the chemicals, such as beta-carotene,
that can be converted to vitamin A.

So when researchers led by Ingo Potrykus at the Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology in Zurich came up with a way to get rice to produce
beta-carotene in the edible parts, the innovation seemed like a potential
nutritional boon for the developing world.

Companies that owned licenses on the technology used to create the yellow
rice quickly offered up duty-free rights for humanitarian uses. Monsanto
Co. of Creve Coeur was one of the first agriculture biotechnology
companies to get on board.

"This was an admirable project and a beautiful piece of science," said
Gerard Barry, the head of rice genomics for Monsanto.
Five other companies also gave up their technology licenses to allow
humanitarian development of the rice.

Biotechnology industry representatives quickly seized on the companies'
generosity and held Golden Rice up as a model for the way genetically
modified crops could help feed the world. It was a badly needed positive
message for an industry under fire, said Adrian Dubock, an executive at
European biotech giant Syngenta Ltd.
"The biotech industry has come under exceedingly virulent attack," he
said. "There was not a day that went by last year that there was not a
huge wad of rubbish being published on the front page of the tabloid

Amid the controversy about genetically engineered food, Golden Rice was a
brilliant flash, something slick U.S. marketing firms could sell to a
skeptical public in television and print ads, Dubock said.
But not everyone bought the soft-focus television images of mothers
frolicking with their children while a smooth announcer discussed the
potential benefits of Golden Rice and biotechnology.

"This whole project is actually based on what can only be characterized
as intentional deception," said Greenpeace campaigner Von Hernandez in a
prepared statement. "We recalculated their figures again and again. We
just could not believe serious scientists and companies would do this."

Golden Rice won't be ready for widespread use in developing countries for
another five or six years, rice breeder Khush said.

Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute have just planted
Golden Rice seeds and are waiting for the plants to grow and flower, a
process that will take about three months, Khush said.

Then, about two years of breeding experiments will be required.
Environmental safety studies, nutritional studies and seed propagation
will take two to three years more.

"We can't just start crossing and growing plants in the field without
serious analysis to confirm that everything is fine," said Paola Lucca,
one of the developers of the rice.

Activists are questioning the nutritional value of the rice as well.
By the most conservative estimates of nutritionists, a 4-year-old would
have to eat nearly 4 pounds of Golden Rice, which would fill about 9 cups,
to meet the entire recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. And that's 4
pounds of uncooked rice.

Cooked, the rice would fill more than 27 bowls - well beyond the amount of
rice any child could be expected to eat in a day.

A new report by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of
Medicine, which is associated with the National Academies of Science,
indicates that the situation could be even worse.

Previous nutritional calculations were based upon data that indicated that
the body needs 6 micrograms of beta-carotene to produce 1 microgram of
vitamin A. More recent studies suggest that it takes 12 micrograms or more
of beta-carotene from food to make 1 microgram of vitamin A in the body.

Based on the new estimate, a 4-year-old would have to eat 54 bowls of
Golden Rice to get all the vitamin A in the recommended daily allowance.

Supporters of the technology say it's ridiculous to expect Golden Rice to
supply all of a child's vitamin A needs. Having any vitamin A in the diet
is much better than none, they say.

The inventors of Golden Rice never intended it to be more than a dietary
supplement, Lucca said. The developers aimed for a daily allowance of 100
micrograms of vitamin A, a level that should prevent night blindness, she
said. A child could get that much vitamin A by eating two to four bowls of
Golden Rice each day.

But the nutrition board says that a 4-year-old needs at least 150
micrograms of vitamin A every day to prevent night blindness. That would
require three to six bowls of Golden Rice.

But at that level of vitamin A in the diet, 50 percent of children would
still suffer night blindness. The board said that in order to achieve
complete alleviation of night blindness, children need at least 210
micrograms of vitamin A per day - four to eight bowls.
But the truth is, no one really knows exactly how much Golden Rice a
4-year-old would have to eat to keep from going blind, said Allison Yates,
director of the Food and Nutrition Board.

That's because no one knows how much beta-carotene Golden Rice will yield
to the body, Yates said. And a number of variables, including the fat
content in a child's diet and whether the child has an infection, could
influence how much beta-carotene the child could absorb.

"One would assume there's been lots of studies on this, but there's really
just a handful," she said.
How Golden Rice adds up

The calculations used in this story for the amount of Golden Rice a
4-year-old would have to eat are based on some assumptions:

* The recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for children 4 to 6 years
old is 500 micrograms.
* Golden Rice contains 1.6 micrograms of beta-carotene per gram of rice.
* The body needs 6 micrograms of beta-carotene to make 1 microgram of
vitamin A.

* To get 500 micrograms of vitamin A, a child needs to consume 3,000
micrograms of beta-carotene.
* To get 3,000 micrograms of beta-carotene, a child needs to eat 1,875
grams (4 pounds) of Golden Rice.
* Considering that one cup of uncooked rice weighs about 7.1 ounces, 4
pounds would be equal to 9 cups of uncooked rice.

* When cooked, rice expands to about three times its volume. So 9 cups of
uncooked rice would make 27 cups - each equivalent to about one bowl - of
cooked rice.

Source: F. Jack Francis, University of Massachusetts; Paola Lucca, Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology; Post-Dispatch research


Mar. 3 2001
Barbara Fairchild

Farm Journal


From the pages of the March 2001 edition of Farm Journal magazine.
Cotton growers in the desert West are breathing a collective sigh of
relief. The Arizona Bt Cotton Working Group announced recently that pink
bollworm is not developing resistance to Bt cotton as rapidly as had been
predicted--thus extending the availability of a highly successful tool in
an ongoing battle with the insect.

Researchers who are part of a team that monitors intensively for
Bt-resistant pink bollworm are finding many fewer than anticipated, says
University of Arizona entomologist Bruce Tabashnik, who is part of the
monitoring program.

Five years after its commercial introduction, researchers are finding
resistance in less than 1% of the insects rather than the much higher
percentage that had been expected. "Based on the history of insect
adaptation, there is a general sense that insects will become resistant,"
Tabashnik explains. "Some 500 insect species have adapted to one or more
pesticides--it's an established pattern."

A surprise. While Tabashnik and other scientists are surprised by the lack
of resistance that has developed, Arizona cotton growers are delighted.
They have embraced Bt cotton with open arms, using it for more than 50% of
their production. The biotech tool has helped them get a firm handle on
controlling an insect that has been a devastating pest in Arizona and
California for the past 35 years.

Growers in those states have applied more than 72 million acre-equivalents
of pesticides at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, says Larry Antilla of
the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council, a major player in the
Arizona Bt Cotton Working Group.

"In the past without Bt cotton, many growers had to spend more than $100
per acre to control pink bollworm. Now, more than ever, the economics are
to the point that it's not how well can we survive without Bt cotton, but
could we survive at all," he says.

So, tracking resistance to preserve the Bt tool is essential. It involves
a multilevel approach that relies on close cooperation among the Arizona
council, the University of Arizona, growers, industry and other
stakeholders. The effort includes:

* Population monitoring, which provides insight into the suppressive
effects of Bt cotton on pink bollworm.
* Paired field studies that sample pairs of adjacent Bt and non-Bt fields
to measure the efficacy of Bt in areas of high pink bollworm pressure.
* Embedded refuge studies, which look at a single-row embedded non-Bt
refuge strategy as an effective alternative to external refuges.
* A Rapid Response Team, which sends trained personnel to investigate
reported cases of inadequate performance of Bt cotton.

The program builds on the work of Tim Dennehy, director of the Extension
Arthropod Resistance Management Laboratory at the University of Arizona.
He has been monitoring resistance development since the early '90s. "The
strategies in place when Bt cotton was released commercially were largely
based on computer modeling--we didn't have any field studies," Antilla
says. "But when the commercial acreage of Bt cotton jumped dramatically in
1997, we knew we had to get a system for monitoring in the field and a
database in place."

In addition to documenting the lack of resistance, the monitoring system
is showing the value of the embedded refuges. There is agreement that a
refuge strategy is vital to delaying development of resistance in insects,
but the amount and placement is up for debate.

"There was some talk about increasing the mandated refuge size," Antilla
says. "The theory is that if a teaspoon is good, a tablespoon would be
better. Our monitoring system indicates that current requirements are more
than adequate and that the embedded refuges are effective."

GM Plants Will Not Survive In Wild

Canberra Times
By Simon Grose
March 3, 2001

Genetically modified canola plants which self-seeded after trials in
Tasmania have as much chance of survival as 'Chihuahuas released into the
wild', according to a visiting biotechnologist. In early February,
inspections by the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator found
that GM canola plants had self-seeded at 11 sites where trials of at least
two herbicide-resistant varieties had been conducted up to two years ago.
The companies responsible, Monsanto and Aventis, were issued with an
action plan to clean up the sites which involved hand-weeding and spraying
of the trial areas.

The head of IOGTR, Liz Cain, said yesterday that the companies had
complied with the plan. No risk to public health and safety had been
identified and that any risk to the environment was negligible. Speaking
in Canberra at a briefing sponsored by the United States Information
Service, Dr C. S. Prakash, director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology
Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama, said it was 'completely
normal' for seeds to escape during the harvest of agricultural crops. 'A
few seeds are going to fall off and they don't germinate immediately, they
germinate later after the winter is over,' he said.

'This is called a volunteer crop and it happens on all farmed land. 'What
is important to recognise is that this is not unique to GM crops.' Dr
Prakash, who gained his PhD at the Australian National University, said
the self-seeded plants were very unlikely to spread into surrounding

'Without human care most of them will die out,' he said.

Shiva's Little Green Book (Book Review)

The Times Higher Education Supplement
By Fred Pearce
March 2, 2001

Fred Pearce argues that visionary green thinking can lead to disaster.

Tomorrow's Biodiversity. By Vandana Shiva. Thames and Hudson 144pp, Pounds
6.95. ISBN 0 500 28239 0. THES Bookshop Pounds 5.95

Earth Summit 2002. Edited by Felix Dodds. Earthscan 336pp, Pounds 18.95.
ISBN 1 85383 712 1 THES Bookshop Pounds 16.95.

Managing the Planet. By Norman Moss. Earthscan, 224pp Pounds 16.99. ISBN 1
85383 644 3. THES Bookshop Pounds 14.99Tel: 020 8324 5104

Vandana Shiva is the Chairman Mao of the green movement. Her long
intellectual march on behalf of peasants and plants, and against what she
sees as the dominance and destructiveness of reductionist science and the
industrialisation of technology, is enervating, brilliantly expressed,
intellectually beguiling and ultimately crackers. It contains within it a
recipe for as much potential for famine and social dislocation as Mao
Tse-tung's Great Leap Forward. Luckily, she has no country to try it out

Shiva is an Indian physicist and philosopher, one of a generation of
social and environmental radicals inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. She has been
building her guru status for many years now, through books, articles in
journals such as The Ecologist and the salons of a few green thinkers
round the world. At each stage, she has hooked her thesis to prevailing
western concerns, whether feminism or, as here, fears over the various
ecological and health threats posed by genetically modified foods. And her
star continues to rise, up to and including a Reith lecture on the BBC
last year.

She takes no hostages. "Reductionism destroys biodiversity," she says.
Why? "Because it reduces our complex, diverse and dynamic world into a
fragmented, atomised and uniform construction. This in turn leads to the
intensive manipulation of ecosystems and species to increase partial and
fragmented production."

She chastises technology for its reliance on "a crude, mechanical paradigm
based on competition rather than cooperation, monocultures rather than
diversity, control rather than self-organisation". Industrial farming and
fisheries, forestry and medicine, she says, have all been shaped by this
reductionist world view. It is a view that destroys cultural as well as
biological diversity "because non-reductionist systems of indigenous
knowledge have been discounted and discarded as unscientific".

Much of this is no doubt true. It is an inescapable fact that global
standardisation has wiped out a lot that is local. And that the lands
where there is greatest cultural diversity are also the lands with the
greatest biological diversity. Look at the Amazon rainforest, or the
island of New Guinea. But equally, much more of what survives of the
world's linguistic, cultural, biological and technological diversity is
available locally, whether on the internet, in Sainsbury's or among the
exotic shrubs of an English country garden.

Shiva is right to see science moving in her direction, and to spot that
there is a growing tension between the reductionism of much technology and
the anti-reductionist trends in much science. "Scientists round the world
are challenging the dominant paradigm of genetic reductionism and evolving
a science based on gene ecology," she says. "They show that complex,
self-organising, dynamic living systems are not reducible only to
constituent genes. Sciences of processes are replacing the reductionist
science of mechanics and objects, sciences of qualities are replacing the
science of Cartesian quantity."

She rails against the commercialisation and industrialisation of nature.
For her, the development of a resource in the modern world is its
commodification and, in effect, its theft from the poor of the planet. She
has much to say that is useful on the way corporations use and abuse the
advances of science and technology. And coming from India, she sees
clearly how the resources of that country are hoovered up, patented,
repackaged and sold back. But in emotional terms she too often feeds off
the West's visions of a golden age of pre-industrial idyll when the
peasants lived in mystical harmony with nature.

And her prescriptions are deeply worrying. She would sweep away the green
revolution of the past half-century -a revolution that doubled world food
production faster than world population could double. She is right that
the revolution reduced crop biodiversity. Yes, the gains in grain
production tonnages were often at the expense of other crop products such
as straw and green manure; and yes, the revolution required huge and often
unsustainable inputs of chemicals and water. But without it, would the
world's stomachs be anything like as full as they are today? It seems
unlikely. The warnings of the early 1970s that billions could be dying of
starvation before the 20th century was out could indeed have come true.
And, in this dogmatism in the
face of the world as it is, her world view does bear comparison with Mao's
madder phases. It is all too easy to imagine Shiva, transported back in
time to the dawn of cultivation, raging against the loss of genetic
diversity and the commodification of food caused by clearing land for
planting crops rather than simply picking fruits from the forests.

Her book is full of name-calling and provocative phrases. Some are
borrowed from the tabloid press, "frankenstein foods" for instance. Some
are self-coined such as the "monoculture of the mind". She talks usefully
of the "genetic mine" as being the predominant metaphor of genetic
engineering. On this view, genes are simple encoders for certain
characteristics, to be mined and used as we think fit. They are apparently
divorced from the organisms from which they come, and the ecosystems
within which those organisms live. In taking this view, the engineers are
no doubt simplifying the world. And perhaps as a result they will have
some nasty shocks when, transposed into new organisms in a new
environment, genes start coding for things we had not bargained for. But
what is new? Humanity has always made
sense of its surroundings by simplifying and reducing complexity to the
bare essentials. When our simple views fail to work for us, we change them
for ones that do. And science, reductive or not, has been a superbly
successful tool for doing that.

Moreover, Shiva herself, in telling her simple and compelling story of the
appropriation and industrialisation of nature, is engaging in her own form
of reductionism. It is a defining characteristic of mankind. It is what
our brains do.

At the other end of the environmental arena from Shiva and her visions sit
the environmental diplomats. They have been in trouble lately. The failure
of the climate conference in The Hague in November to deliver a completed
Kyoto Protocol was a serious blow. Initial claims that fatigue and
shortage of time had scuppered the deal were undermined when subsequent
informal talks failed to break the log-jam between Europe and the United
States. Now George W. Bush is in the White House. And there is a growing
fear that the
task of reining in climate change, perhaps the most vital global project
for the 21st century, is in serious trouble. If that proves to be the
case, then the only substantive outcome of the Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992 will have foundered. And that in turn will throw a burning
spotlight on the follow-up to Rio, scheduled for South Africa in 2002, and
what it will do to rescue the world's climate.

How sad then that the first pre-summit reader, Earth Summit 2002, should
contain just two passing references to climate change. Written before The
Hague meeting, the book blithely assumes that the Kyoto Protocol is a done
deal, and that, with climate targets set, the South African summit should
move on to other topics. How wrong can you be?

The book seems mired not simply in the pre-Hague world, but also in a
mindset where even planetary salvation can appear a mundane,
committee-bound, jargon-ridden pursuit. The contributors, many respected
figures in their fields, are mostly regurgitating things they have written
too many times before. Those people already deeply bound up in the
pre-conference diplomacy will no doubt feel they must read it. The rest of
us might do better to take a look at Norman Moss's racy Managing the
Planet, subtitled The Politics of the New Millennium. Moss covers much old
ground. But, as a journalist of some repute, he covers it well. This is
the story of how, for the first time in history, mankind is acting in a
significant way on key planetary processes. We are responsible for ripping
holes in the
ozone layer, taking over the sulphur and nitrogen cycles and tweaking the
carbon cycle on a scale that within a few decades will be as profound as
the planetary wobbles that swing us into and out of ice ages.

Unlike Shiva, Moss does not shrink from this responsibility. Shiva tells
us to stop worrying the sheep and get back in our kennels. Moss says that,
having created mayhem across the hillside, we have to get out there and
round up the sheep. If we are in charge of the planet we had better make a
go of it. We are apart from nature, he concludes. "Humans have the right
to impose their moral values on the rest of nature because they are the
only creatures with moral values." Having invented biotechnology we have a
near-duty to use it. By taming nature, we may find a way to live with her.

Fred Pearce recently wrote (with Paul Harrison) the commentary to the
Atlas of Population and Environment, published by the American Association
for the Advancement of Science.