1.Seeds of ignorance
2.Science blase on terror
This article from China (item 1) is hugely important.
Ignore all the hype that clearly emanated from GM proponents about "magic seed", "a nice technology", "farmers just can't wait" etc., and what you're left with is an unambiguous confirmation of how this technology is being introduced into our fields and our food supply with a ruthless disregard, and even contempt, for biosafety, for the interests and concerns of society at large, and even for the law.
According to the article, "Mainland farmers are continuing to grow GM rice against both Chinese law and the advice of concerned critics, due in part to the efforts of an eminent scientist."
The article indicates clear collusion between GM scientists and a commercial company to sell farmers GM seeds without informing them either that the seeds were genetically engineered or that it was illegal to plant them. This apparently started some five years ago and the man at the centre of the scandal is Zhang Qifa, who is described as "China's leading biotechnology scientist". According to the article, "Most investigations identified Professor Zhang - who works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Huazhong (Central China) Agricultural University - as the source of the illegal grain."
Testing has shown that the GM traits in the illegally grown rice are identical to those researched by Professor Zhang. And Zhang cannot claim to have been unaware of what was going on - the investigations and testing only started after he himself referred in Newsweek to how GM rice was being grown commercially in China. He told the magazine, "A local company got some of the GM rice seed and began selling it to local farmers". Zhang used this cultivation and consumption of the GM rice as the basis of a claim for its safety.
If Zhang has been the man behind this illegal proliferation of GM rice over the last five years, what could be his motivation?
According to the article, Professor Zhang's national plant gene centre has received major funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology. This scale of investment, according to James Keeley, a British researcher studying China's biotechnology policy, "puts pressure on scientists" to make sure their products are used - otherwise, spending on biotech research could dry up.
Scientists quoted in the article also suggest that what is occuring is part of a wider international strategy in which GM scientists have been complicit. As one scientist puts it, "In some countries, popularisation happened before there were standardised regulations."
What this means is that scientists are deliberately colluding in the illegal proliferation of unapproved GM seeds in order to force governments to approve them. This strategy has proven effective as a means of forcing GM legalisation in a series of countries, including most noticeably India and Brazil.
The example of India is quoted in the article. "Indian authorities had long refused to commercialise anti-pest GM cotton, but scientists deliberately gave the cotton seeds to farmers and it was soon widely grown across one province." From there the seeds "quickly spread out of control". For the government, as one expert puts it, "it looks embarrassing, given that you can't enforce regulations, or you're persuaded that since farmers want it, you should just let them have it."
Imagine the outcry if pharmaceutical scientists were found to be encouraging the illegal proliferation of unapproved drugs to the point where governments have either to confront the patients who've become reliant on them or to back down and give the drug approval. GM scientists are acting in an equivalent fashion.
This article (item 1 below) has just gone out on CS Prakash's AgBioView e-mail list. AgBioView - the list-of-choice for many GM scientists - has continually railed against those with concerns about GM crops, often in the most extreme fasion. When it comes to those who have taken any form of non-violent direct action to protest or oppose the release of GMOs, AgBioView has labelled them criminals and terrorists and applauded any resort to the criminal courts in an effort to punish them. Recently, it prominently reported the use in Denmark of anti-terrorism laws, introduced after 9/11, against Greenpeace after some of the organisation's campaigners had gone into a building and hung up a banner as part of a protest against GM.
This article from China which suggests an eminent GM scientist may have colluded in not just serious illegality but something which could have seriously unpredictable consequences for the safety of China's main staple food crop - truly an act of bio-terrorism was given pride of place in the AgBioView bulletin with no accompanying commentary or expression of concern about its content.
If that seems extraordinary, then the second article below suggests that a dangerous and uncaring arrogance and disregard for the possible consequences of scientists' behaviour may be an integral part of the current culture within the life sciences.
The article suggests that even researchers working with the most deadly infectious diseases are likely to view with resentment efforts to make them conform to a Hippocratic-style oath stressing the need for "rigour, respect and responsibility" in their actions.
Interviews with 600 life scientists suggested that the majority failed to taken into account the possible consequences of their research and even believed that if their research was made use of for purposes of terrorism that was, "not their problem".
No wonder Winston Churchill was of the opinion that "scientists should be on tap, not on top".
1.Seeds of Ignorance
South China Morning Post
'Mainland farmers are continuing to grow GM rice against both Chinese law and the advice of concerned critics, due in part to the efforts of an eminent scientist.'
Tian Zihai of Zhongzhou village in Hubei province was among the first farmers to grow genetically modified (GM) rice, although China has not approved its commercial release. He bought two kilograms of GM rice see d in 2000 from a sales manager of the provincial seed company who said the new seed would create cost savings on pesticide and labour.
Mr Tian had no idea that the seed was genetically engineered to produce inbuilt pesticide, and that state law forbids i ts sale. All he knew was that the seed did prove effective in resisting pests, so he bought more the next year. Now the Tians grow about 0.7-hectare of GM rice a year, selling some and saving the rest for their own consumption.
Mr Tian dismissed any note of caution about a rice mutation that even pests dare not eat. "Look, I have eaten it for four years with no problem at all," he said, smiling reassuringly. Encouraged by Mr Tian's "success", the local seed station started to introduce the "magic seed" i n 2003.
Also encouraged was Zhang Qifa, China's leading biotechnology scientist, who conducted the mainland's largest field trials on GM rice. When interviewed by Newsweek in December last year, Professor Zhang mentioned that farmers near the GM test are as in Hubei had grown and eaten such rice without any side effects. The scientist was quoted as saying: "A local company got some of the GM rice seed and began selling it to local farmers."
The claim triggered six undercover investigations in Hubei by the environmental group Greenpeace. Until April, when Greenpeace exposed the illegal growing and trading of GM rice in the province, few locals were aware that they had violated the law.
A two-day trip in Wuhan and Xianning made by this journalist in May, a month after Greenpeace announced its findings, found four out of the seven retailers investigated had sold anti-pest rice seed. Most investigations identified Professor Zhang - who works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Huazhong (Central Chi na) Agricultural University - as the source of the illegal grain.
Greenpeace collected rice samples from the Hubei market and sent them to the GeneScan laboratory in Germany for transgenetic DNA testing, which proved they had GM traits identical to thos e long researched by Professor Zhang's team.
But the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) refused to accept the test results, on the grounds that the standards might differ from China's. The ministry said it would rely on the findings of an investigation conducted by the local government.
In response to Greenpeace's appeal for urgent action to stop the spread of GM rice, Fang Xiangdong, vice-director of the MOA's bio-safety office, said: "We have to exercise extreme caution to find concrete evidence, so that serious legal action can be taken." That extreme caution is understandable, given Professor Zhang's prominent status. Among his multiple titles he also serves as vice-chairman of the China Association of Science and Technology, the mainland's highest government -controlled civil scientific organisation.
While awaiting reports from Hubei, the MOA issued a circular on April 27, requiring a nationwide investigation into the status of GM crops in field trials. To date, there are still no reports from Hubei and no sign that the MOA is going to make any more public announcements.
In fact, the local authorities did take action long before Greenpeace's investigation. One industry insider said that as early as last autumn, Hubei authorities had already conducted investigations into violations of bio-safety regulations and "punished some wrongdoers according to law", although they would not give details.
A newsletter, printed one month ahead of Greenpeace's April announcement, by a local agricultural technology centre in Jiangxia district on the outskirts of the provincial capital Wuhan, said that anti-pest rice seed is "a type of crop forbidden to grow by the country, because it may not be good for human health, and farmers must not buy and grow it".
Zhang Li angxing, manager of the centre, said the local government tried to halt the harvesting and sale of GM rice last year, but the ban was difficult to implement because farmers were so much in favour of the seeds.
The manager said Professor Zhang initiated the field trials of GM rice and that when the seed appeared on the market, it was at higher-than-average prices. "Even if Professor Zhang himself didn't sneak the seed into the market , people around him could have done," the manager said, adding that "as someone working for a state-owned agricultural centre, I would never sell a GM seed before its safety has been proven".
"China has a very strict legal system to regulate its seed market and GM crops, and we are regularly monitoring what's happening in the fields," said the MOA's Mr Fang.
Some, however, find that less than satisfactory. "The Hubei scandal shows that the government failed to control GM rice at the research stage, so how will it regulate large-scale commercialisation?" said Sze Pang Cheung, campaigner for Greenpeace China.
Yang Xiongnian, deputy director of the MOA's science, technology and education department, said: "We cannot guarantee the problem will disappear, given that China has more than 90,000 seed retailers and some profit-driven individuals may want to test the law."
Still, the man at the centre of the storm remains silent, despite repeated media inquiries. Five years ago, Professor Zhang began the process of applying for safety certification for his GM rice seed - a prerequisite for commercial release. He has conducted all the required procedures, such as field trials, environmental release trials, and pre-production trials - large-scale farmer field trials across Hubei's five counties. When final approval for commercialisation will come remains anyone's guess.
Last year, Professor Zhang and 15 other scholars, including the leading biotechnologists in the country, filed a report to the State Council, urging early approval of a commercialisation permit and complaining that "over-strict" bio-safety regulations had slowed the industrialisation of GM technology and contradicted "the strong need for new technology among Chinese farmers".
On June 22, the MOA's bio-safety committee held its biannual meeting where experts were invited to give their views on the safety issues involved in growing GM crops. However, to the chagrin of GM proponents, commercialisation has remained merely a topic for discussion.
China has ploughed millions of yuan into biotechnology, with GM crops at the cutting edge of the research. Professor Zhang's national plant gene centre alone received 15 million yuan from the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2002, in addition to the 56 million yuan he received for research into GM rice.
China's largest investment in biotechnology, however, "puts pressure on scientists to deliver something", said James Keeley, a British researcher studying China's biotechnology policy. "It is a problem when you have this high-level investment, because at some point policy makers are going to ask, 'what are the benefits of spending this money on biotech research if we are not going to use it?'"
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Much of China's rice research funding goes to Professor Zhang." Professor Zhang has signed a contract with the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has set a timetable for the industrialisation of GM crops. It is possible that Hubei is being touted as a "we did it first" model to press for official recognition, as was the case with GM cotton in China.
That could well be the case, according to one Beijing-based scientist. "In some countries, popularisation happened before there were standardised regulations. It's such a nice technology, and farmers just can't wait."
That was also the case for one of China's neighbours, according to Mr Keeley. Indian authorities had long refused to commercialise anti-pest GM cotton, but scientists deliberately gave the cotton seeds to farmers and it was soon widely grown across one province. Due to their popularity among farmers, crops from the seeds quickly spread out of control. "Because it looks embarrassing, given that you can't enforce regulations, or you're persuaded that since farmers want it, you should just let them have it," Mr Keeley said.
Indeed, farmers like Mr Tian are always open to new technology, although he has no idea whether it's legal or not. But a seed retailer in Jiangxia sounds a cautious note: "Our country has not clearly stated whether GM rice can do us any harm or not. Even if we're OK, how about our children, and theirs?"
2.Science blase on terror
Times Higher Education Supplement
15 July 2005
Scientists in the UK are failing to consider potential terror threats resulting from their work and dismissing warnings about bio-weapons, new research reveals.
Group interviews with more than 600 life scientists from 26 universities, presented at a closed meeting of international chemical weapons experts at Oxford University last weekend, indicated that the majority of academics believe that terrorism is not their problem and research should not be restricted because of potential misuse.
Such a stance is controversial in light of the London bombings last week.
While no biological or chemical weapons were used in the attacks, some experts predict that it is only a matter of time until terrorists employ them.
Brian Rappert, a sociologist f rom Exeter University who conducted the interviews, said: "Research into infectious disease should prompt security questions. Could that information become useful in spreading disease?"
Dr Rappert, who collaborated with Malcolm Dando from Bradford University's department of peace studies, said that many scientists were insulted to be asked about bioterrorism. Focus groups suggested that the "classic" scientist type saw little indication of threat from bioterrorism and biological weapons, and did not feel that life sciences developments contributed to increased risks.
Dr Rappert said such responses ignored contentious research such as the first chemical synthesis of poliovirus, which was published in 2002.
Although poliovirus is unlikely to be used a s a biological weapon, viruses such as Ebola could in theory be manufactured using the same technique.
One scientist, horrified at the suggestion that research could have a dual use, said: "You're damning technology just because it may be possible to use it to make Ebola in three or four years."
Julia Higgins, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "These findings illustrate why there is such a need for the training and awareness-raising that the Royal Society is advocating."
She added: "Rather than anything too heavy-handed, we believe that extensions of the current systems for applying for funding, assessing risk and getting published in a scientific journal can effectively minimise the potential risks."
But chemical weapons experts at last weekend's meeting suggested that the Government was moving to tighten ethical standards in science.
Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King has begun trialling a seven-point code of conduct for all scientists - an extra layer of bureaucracy t hat is likely to spark resentment in the science community.
The code, a "Hippocratic oath" for scientists, stresses "rigour, respect and responsibility".