Activism in the time of cholera
2.Killer applications and crimes against humanity
COMMENT from GM-free Ireland: Henry Miller [the author of item 1] is a key figure in the network of right-wing pro-biotech lobby groups in the USA. See his Lobby Watch profile at http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=84.
According to Lobby Watch, the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, where Miller is a fellow, is "a well funded front for corporations that attacks environmental, health and safety regulations." Its sponsors include Dow Chemicals and Monsanto: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=30
The Hoover Institutution promotes "limited government" and "market-based solutions to public policy problems". Members of Hoover's "board of overseers" have included the chairman of grain multinational Archer Daniels Midland, Dwayne Andreas, Texas oilman Robert Bass, David Packard of military and electronics giant Hewlett-Packard, former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mellon oil heir and ultraconservative philanthropist Richard M. Scaife, and free-market guru and former U.S. Treasury Secretary William E. Simon: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=57.
Scientists and NGOs who warn about the dangers of GM food and farming have been accused of being "radical", "anti-science" and "antitechnology, antibusiness fabulists" before. Blaming them for thousands of Cholera deaths in Zimbabwe is a new departure.
Miller claims his proposed GM rice with human genes could not possibly contaminate the food chain "because rice is self-pollinating". Bayer CropScience made the same claim about its "LibertyLink" GM rice before releasing it for field trials in the USA in 1999-2001. The result? The unapproved GM rice contaminated food supplies in 15 EU countries, Russia, Japan and the Middle East without detection until 2006, leading to a collapse of the $1 billion US rice export industry, a virtual shut down of US rice exports to the EU, and massive economic losses for contaminated farmers and food exporters in the USA.
Another GM rice contamination incident, following the discovery that BASF's supposedly non-GM Clearfield131 rice was contaminated with unknown GM genes, caused the US Department of Agriculture to ban all planting of this rice in 2007.
Apropos of Miller's claim that Golden rice is a solution to vitamin A deficiency, see "The Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds" at http://www.i-sis.org.uk/goldenRiceScandal.php
1.Activism in the Time of Cholera
Henry I. Miller
Wall Street Journal (Europe), 29 March 2009
*Anti-GMO groups keep the poor from getting help
The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has sickened more than 100,000 and killed at least 4,500, with more cases reported daily. The disease remains all too lethal elsewhere, too, having killed about 120,000 people in 2007, according to the World Health Organization. But thanks to a simple innovation, those kinds of statistics could soon be a relic of the past, like deaths from smallpox and polio -- if not for the interference of a few influential politicians and activist groups.
Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by contamination of food and water by feces. For those of us who live in industrialized countries, diarrhea is little more than a nuisance, most often involving some discomfort and bloating. But in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia with poor access to health care, clean water and other resources, diarrhea is the No. 2 infectious killer of children under the age of five, accounting for two million deaths a year.
Since the 1960s, the standard of care for childhood diarrhea in the developing world has been a glucose-based, high-sodium liquid that is administered orally and is known as a "rehydration solution." This low-tech product was revolutionary. It has saved millions of lives and reduced the need for costly -- and often unavailable -- hospital stays and sterile intravenous fluids. However, this product has done nothing to lessen the severity or duration of the condition, which over time leads to malnutrition, anemia and other chronic health risks.
The answer may be an affordable innovation that combines high and low technology. It consists of adding two human proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme, which are produced inexpensively in genetically modified (GM) rice plants, to rice-based oral rehydration solution. Studies performed in Peru show that when this is done, the duration of children's illness is cut from more than five days to three and two-thirds. The rate of recurrence also falls. This advance could save many of those who are dying in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
What made this approach feasible was a private company's invention of a method to produce human lactoferrin and lysozyme in gene-spliced rice, a process dubbed "biopharming." This is an inexpensive way to create the proteins necessary to fortify millions of liters of rehydration solution.
Sounds like a great success, right? Not yet; maybe not ever. The company has been trying for more than six years to get the product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has raised no real safety concerns but has dithered over the appropriate regulatory route for approving the product. Because a panel of experts has already deemed the proteins safe, the best guess is that internal FDA politics and lobbying by NGOs and the company's competitors are causing the delays.
Virtually every biotech breakthrough brings the antitechnology, antibusiness fabulists out of the woodwork, and this one is no exception. One radical biotech opponent, Hope Shand, remonstrated, "The chance this will contaminate traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky business."
Nonsense. Rice is self-pollinating, so interbreeding with other rice varieties is virtually impossible. But even in the worst case, "contaminate traditionally grown crops" with what? With two human proteins normally present in tears, breast milk and saliva? The only contamination here is of public discourse, from the lies and misrepresentations of antibiotech activists.
Another miraculous product made with gene-splicing techniques, and which has also had to endure the slings and arrows of wrong-headed activists and regulators, is "Golden Rice." This collection of new rice varieties is enriched by the introduction of genes that produce beta-carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency is epidemic among poor people in the tropics whose diet is dominated by rice (which contains neither beta-carotene nor vitamin A) or similar foods. World-wide, 200 million to 300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, which increases susceptibility to infections such as measles and diarrheal diseases and is the leading cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. About 500,000 children become blind due to vitamin A deficiency each year, and 70% of them die within a year.
The concept is simple: Although beta-carotene is not normally found in the seeds of rice plants because of the absence of two enzymes needed to make the substance, rice plants do make it in the green portions of the plant. When GM techniques are used to introduce the two missing genes, the rice grains become capable of producing and accumulating large amounts of beta-carotene.
Like the protein additives to the rehydration solution, Golden Rice is being blocked from the market by regulatory delays -- both by unscientific, draconian requirements concocted by United Nations agencies and by regulators in several Asian countries.
Despite their vast potential to benefit humanity, and negligible likelihood of harm to human health or the environment, the gene-spliced rice varieties remain in regulatory limbo with no end in sight. Activists have spread wild tales of gene-spliced crops causing illness and baldness, and of giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There is absolutely no evidence for such claims.
In contrast to GM plants, those constructed with older, less precise techniques for genetic improvement are subject to no government scrutiny or requirements -- or opposition from activists. As a result, companies are systematically discouraged from adopting the best technologies, and when feasible prefer to use older, inferior techniques to achieve the desired result.
In an April 2008 editorial in the journal Science, Nina Fedoroff, a plant geneticist who serves as senior scientific adviser to the U.S. secretary of state, wrote: "A new green revolution demands a global commitment to creating a modern agricultural infrastructure everywhere, adequate investment in training and modern laboratory facilities, and progress toward simplified regulatory approaches that are responsive to accumulating evidence of safety." The story of GM rice makes it clear that we do not yet have the will and the wisdom to make that happen.
Dr. Miller, a physician and fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993.
The great GM miracle?
The Ecologist, 23 Jnauary 2008
The man on the phone said he was from the BBC. They were interested in interviewing me about my alleged involvement in crimes against humanity.
Possibly the deaths of millions. I stood accused, it emerged, of holding back the fight against poverty, disease, and hunger.
No laughing matter. Who was my accuser?
The person lining me up for the Pol Pot Award, apparently, was Lord Dick Taverne - the head of the lobby group Sense About Science.
By opposing GM, Taverne had told the programme makers, people like me blocked the products of this life-saving technology from reaching the starving millions. And others the BBC had spoken to had assured them that opposition to GM crops had even resulted in famine relief ships being turned back at sea by a southern African nation in the grip of terrible famine.
Radio 4's Costing the Earth team, I was told, were coming to investigate.
The resulting programme went out last Thursday and it's to the credit of the programme makers that they managed to cut through the hyperbole, peel back the rhetoric, and examine the actual factual basis of the claims being made by GM's promoters.
And once they focused on the facts Lord Taverne and his pals came seriously unstuck. Take for instance, the Government's recently retiring Chief Scientist, Prof. Sir David King, who in the demob-happy period before he finally quit at the end of last year launched a volley of dodgy promotionals for GM, nukes and badger-killing.
Costing the Earth re-ran part of King's interview with Today - Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme - the part where King told the listening millions that given the world's burgeoning population and the impact of climate change, "We're going to need to get even cleverer. More crop per drop. And we need the technology that can deliver that, and in my view we have the technology, it's GM." And Prof. King had the killer application to prove it.
Unfortunately, the high yielding GM product for Africa, which King described in such loving detail to listeners as an example of how GM was transforming agriculture around Lake Victoria, turned out on subsequent examination to be, errr”¦ non-GM! Developed by conventional plant breeding and involving companion planting it had absolutely nothing to do with genetic engineering.
"Can the biotech industry themselves do any better?", presenter Tom Heap wondered. They asked the industry's PR guy in the UK, Julian Little to give his killer application for transforming the lives of the poor. He came up with hybrid rice, which he readily admitted wasn’t GM either, but non-GM biotechnology had had something to do with its development he claimed.
Lord Taverne proffered Golden Rice and banged on about crimes against humanity. Happily, I got the chance to respond and to point out that when it comes to helping deal with Vitamin A deficiency, not only is Golden Rice not all it's cracked up to be but there are a range of other, often more viable, solutions out there which we never hear anything about. Golden Rice, I pointed out, has everything to do with PR for the industry, but that's very different from seriously addressing the issues that drive malnutrition. I also got the chance to puncture the GM promoters' urban myths about what happened when Zambia turned down GM food aid.
It was left to the final contributor to the programme, James Wilsdon from the think tank Demos to spell out why GM's promoters need to cut out the demonizing and other negative rhetoric: "There's a real need to be more open to the very sensible social, political, economic questions that many critics of GM have been arguing about the place that that technology could have within global agriculture and not simply to dismiss these out of hand or to pretend that any objection to the technology is a sign of some luddite anti-scientific ignorance. It's not ignorance that's prompting these questions, it's very sensible concern about who will benefit from this technology, who will control it, who will take responsibility if and when it goes wrong. And it's those questions that remain unanswered."
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, there's a complete transcript available here
Jonathan Matthews is an editor at GM Watch www.gmwatch.org and LobbyWatch www.lobbywatch.org