1.A still strident "scientific community" supports genetic engineering, or does it? - GM Watch
2.A kinder, gentler Jeremy Rifkin endorses biotech, or does he? - Science
3.The loud voice of Mike Gale - GM Watch
1.A still strident "scientific community" supports genetic engineering, or does it?
The article below from the journal Science reports on the economist Jeremy Rifkin's recent position paper on how the non-GM biotech approach of marker-assisted selection (MAS) is not only eclipsing the crude technology of genetic engineering but offers a way of moving the biotech debate forward. This rather snide Science piece, though, also revealingly encapsulates the difficulty in doing just that.
The article in quoting and referring to criticisms of Rifkin and his position frames the criticism with phrases such as:
"many in the scientific community"
"many scientists suspect"
"like many others"
"scientists and companies... disagree [with Rifkin]"
But when you look at exactly who amongst the "many in the scientific community" the article actually quotes, you discover they're all to a (wo)man ardent GM enthusiasts and all bar one come from a very tightly knit clique of genetic engineers prone to propagandise for the technology.
We're talking about the likes of Roger Beachy, president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, which was established by Monsanto and academic partners with a $70-million pledge from the company. Monsanto also donated the Center's 40-acre tract of land valued at over $10 million.
Then there's Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California's biotech program in Davis. UC Davis is notorious for its multiple financial ties to industry: "You name it, and biotechnology companies help pay for it at UC Davis: laboratory studies, scholarships, post.doctoral students' salaries, professors' travel expenses, even the campus utility bill. Some professors earn extra money, up to $2,000 a month, consulting for such companies on the side," reported the Sacramento Bee. (Biotech industry funds bumper crop of UC Davis research)
Then there are the propagandists. Alan McHughen is a molecular geneticist at UC Riverside and author of the book 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'. McHughen says of Rifkin, "He still twists information to fit his agenda." This is the same Alan McHughen who in 'Pandora's Picnic Basket' happily draws on Dennis Avery's bogus claims and long debunked statistics concerning E.coli and organic farming. McHughen doesn't feel the need to point out that Avery is twisting information to fit his agenda.
Another source for the Science piece is Susan McCouch at Cornell. McCouch is also the main source for the article, "Genetically engineered food could be lifeline for developing world." We learn from it that GM rice offers immediate assistance as a staple food to people in need, according to McCouch. That article was written in 2000 when no approved GM rice existed. 6 years later there is still no proven GM rice crop that could possibly support such a claim.
McCouch, at least, is willing to admit that genetic engineering remains, in the words of the article, "a crude approach like adjusting an intricate watch with a sledgehammer". The frankness of that comment provides a glimmer of the conversation that Rifkin appears to be seeking. But almost the last word in the article is given to Mike Gale, a former acting director of the John Innes Centre (JIC). Gale, who's on record as saying that a GM moratorium would be a serious financial blow to the JIC, has this to say about Rifkin, "Let's just ignore the man."
Needless to say, Gale himself has had no difficulty making his own voice heard (see item 3 below). It's now high time that a greater diversity of scientific voices were allowed to be heard.
For Rifkin's position paper see, http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6668
2.A kinder, gentler Jeremy Rifkin endorses biotech, or does he?
Author: Erik Stokstad
Date: Friday, June 16, 2006
For years, activist Jeremy Rifkin was the bete noire of biotechnology. Beginning in 1983, he filed several lawsuits to block field trials of genetically modified (GM) organisms and grabbed headlines around the world. Rifkin, an economist who runs the nonprofit Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., said such actions were necessary to force an insulated research world to confront pressing ethical questions. To many in the scientific community, however, Rifkin was simply fanning irrational fears about biotechnology. A headline of a 1989 Time magazine profile called him "The Most Hated Man in Science" and captured the prevailing sentiment.
After a decade and a half of protests and campaigns to ban GM crops, Rifkin largely moved on to other topics, such as commerce, European politics, and hydrogen fuel. But now Rifkin, 61, is jumping back into agricultural biotech--this time, as a promoter. "This is an amazing twist for Jeremy Rifkin," says Susan McCouch, a rice geneticist at Cornell University. "I've never seen the man come out in favor of anything." But, like many others, she doubts his support will make much difference, as he is endorsing a biotech approach, known as marker-assisted selection (MAS), that is already well accepted.
In a white paper posted to his organization's Web site this week, Rifkin says MAS offers all the advantages of new genomic science without what he calls the great risks to human health and the environment posed by GM crops. Instead of transferring genes from one species to another, MAS simply speeds and improves traditional plant breeding. Researchers search through maps of a plant's genome for sequence markers that are consistently associated with desired traits such as improved yield or disease resistance. Those markers can then be used to screen breeding stock and the progeny of traditional crosses even before they are grown or planted in the field.
Rifkin touts MAS as a path toward cheaper organic food and more sustainable agriculture. And to ensure that all reap its benefits, he advocates that MAS be used in a patent-free, or "open source," system in which the genetic information and techniques used to assist breeding are freely exchanged. "It's not enough to know what you're against. ”¦ This paper is my effort to try to frame an opportunity to move into a new age for agriculture," says Rifkin, whose immediate goal is to "open a conversation" with scientists, industry, and policymakers about the future of MAS.
Greenpeace and other advocacy groups, which have already come out in favor of MAS, say they welcome the move. But many scientists suspect that Rifkin's newfound enthusiasm for MAS is just a subterfuge for another attack on transgenic modification of crops. "This tract is typical Rifkin material," says Alan McHughen of the University of California, Riverside. "He still twists information to fit his agenda." Rifkin does indeed argue that GM crops should be phased out. He claims that few crops have been improved by transgenic modification--"it's primitive science" he says--and, to make matters worse, contamination of wild relatives by transgenes may complicate the process of MAS, he warns.
As Rifkin describes it, his conversion was gradual. After following MAS for some time, he says he realized last year that it had eclipsed transgenic technology in its potential. MAS certainly has provided an enormous boost to breeders, and the pace has accelerated as ever more DNA is sequenced and as genetic screens have become cheaper and faster. Although scientists and companies share Rifkin's enthusiasm for MAS and predict it will become even more powerful, they disagree that transgenic technology has failed or that MAS has somehow rendered it obsolete. "To say that marker-assisted breeding will replace biotech is simply wrong," says Roger Beachy, who directs the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. That's because of the enormous task facing plant breeders, says Mike Gale, an emeritus cereal geneticist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K.: "If we are going to produce enough food to feed the world, we need every tool in the toolbox."
McCouch agrees that gene splicing remains a crude approach--like adjusting an intricate watch with a sledgehammer. Yet, she and others say, it is the only way forward in some cases--for instance, if a gene for a particular trait can't be found in a crop or its wild relatives. The classic example is Bt, a toxin from a soil bacterium that was added to corn to provide broad and powerful protection against lepidopteran insects. Now companies are working to add genes for omega-3 fatty acids into soybean, to make the oil more healthful. "Those genes don't exist in soybeans at all," says David Fischoff, head of technology strategy and development at the Monsanto Co. in St. Louis, Missouri.
Nor is transgenic technology inherently risky, scientists say. "It is the gene and the management of the crop that make the difference and not the technology used to develop them," says Les Firbank of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, U.K.
Rifkin's concerns aren't just biological. He couples his endorsement of MAS with a few caveats about policy, as well. He wants to be sure the technology is used in a way that meets his broader goals of sustainable agriculture and open-source technology--in other words, no patents. "We've seen too much how the patent system restricts the cooperative nature in science," he says. Charles Benbrook, a scientist with the Organic Center in Enterprise, Oregon, agrees that tight constraints on intellectual property are a concern, as ever more technology and markers are locked up in company labs. "I worry that marker-assisted breeding is not going to be able to deliver on its potential." Although Rifkin stops short of calling for an overhaul of patent law, he predicts that genetic technology and genomic information will eventually make it so easy and cheap to produce germ plasm that companies will have to make profits by selling agroecological consulting to farmers. Rifkin says he plans to start actively hawking his message on the lecture circuit and in his advice to business leaders and governments. "This is what I'm going to hammer away on: MAS should be phased in on the condition of an agroecological approach and open source."
Rifkin's pleas aside, Monsanto and other agribusiness companies contacted by Science don't plan to drop their GM research or stop seeking patents. And several in the scientific community say they don't need Rifkin's help promoting a field that's already flourishing. "Having the endorsement of Jeremy Rifkin means nothing," says Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California's Biotechnology Research and Education Program in Davis. She and others doubt that any conversation with Rifkin would be productive. "Let's just ignore the man," says Gale. "Let's get on with the job we have, which is to feed the world." But whether or not Rifkin succeeds in opening the conversation he desires, he no doubt will keep talking.
3.The loud voice of Mike Gale
Gale was a member of the UK Government's science review panel on GM. He was also one of four JIC scientists who were members of the working group that produced the Royal Society's 1998 report on GM. He was later part of the four man Royal Society team who contributed to a report on GM in 2000 from seven national or international academies of science. He also gave evidence to the working group who produced the Royal Society's 2002 report on GM.
He has also served on the UK Government's Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification. He is a Consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation, a Member of the Board of Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute and is on the CGIAR's Central Advisory Services Steering Committee. He was also a Member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Working Party on Genetic Engineering. As such, he contributed to their May 1999 report, which George Monbiot described as 'perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written. The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation will last for years.' Gale also coauthored the December 2003 Nuffield follow up report.
More on Gale at: