Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #25 - Spring 2005

The only radical science magazine on Earth

Science in Society 25 cover


From the Editor
The GM Goliath that refuses to fall
Are Transgenic Proteins Allergenic?
Beware Monsanto’s "Vistive" Soybean
Feeding the World or the Corporations?
How PR Poses as Science in Crop Biotechnology
ISP Bid to Stop US Rubber-Stamping Transgenic Contamination
GM Sugar Beet Gone Sour
Europe Holding Firm against GMOs
How Europe is Recolonizing America
Sustainable Food Production Now
Organic Production Works
Are Organic Foods more Healthy?
Increase Mycotoxins in Organic Produce?
Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Agriculture Backfired
Agroecology versus Ecoagriculture
Unpicking GM Cotton
The GM Cotton that People Forgot
Corruption, Hype, Half-truths & Lies
Fiascos Around the World
Australia Adopting GM Cotton?
Pollution Watch
No to Fluoridation
Letters to the Editor
Which Stem Cells?
No Case for Embryonic Stem Cells Research
Bone Marrow Cells Repair Heart Damaged by Chagas’ Disease
Cord Blood Stem Cells Mend Spinal Injury
Patients’ Own Stem Cells Mend Heart
Body & Mind Control Implants
Get Ready for Matrix
Electronic Medical Implants Promises and Perils
Fields of Influence
Mobile Phone Turns Enzyme Solution into Gel
Confirmed: Mobile Phones Break DNA & Scramble Genomes
Food Bubble Bursting
The Food Bubble Economy
Oil Running Out

From the Editor

The GM Goliath that refuses to fall

Monsanto should have toppled, Goliath-like, years ago, if not for the support of the US and other governments and inter-government agencies; and at least some of that support has been obtained through illegal means. Monsanto was caught spending more than $700,000 on bribes in Indonesia in an unsuccessful bid to bypass control of its GM cotton crops in that country, and was duly fined $1.5 million in the US court.

Monsanto remains by far the world’s leading producer of GM seeds, which fills 90% of GM hectares worldwide in 2003. But the company has been hard hit by market rejection of GM produce. Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a financial services firm based in New York, London, Paris and Toronto, has consistently given Monsanto the lowest investment rating for several years now. It says Monsanto is overvalued in the short-term, and its long-term value is at risk. Outside of the US, Canada and a few other developed countries, Monsanto has received little revenue from its GM crops.

Although 95% of the soya planted in Argentina is Roundup Ready, Monsanto was forced to shut down its operations there in 2004 because of the lack of revenue. A string of GM products have ceased to be marketed or developed for the same reason: GM wheat, tomatoes, flax seed, rice and sugar beets. Its GM potatoes were withdrawn in 2001 after companies including McDonald’s, Burger King, McCain’s and Pringles refused to buy them.

North American farmers’ concerns over the marketability of GM wheat caused Monsanto to abandon that product in 2004. And worry over contamination liability led Monsanto to give up its pharm-crop R&D in 2003.

Meanwhile, over 58 countries have enacted or announced biosafety laws to restrict import and commercialisation of GM products and/or require labelling of food containing GM ingredients. More than 100 regions and 3 500 sub-regions in Europe, the most important market, have declared themselves GMO-free, and demanding new European laws to protect them from GM contamination.

Last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) published its report, Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor? stating that GMOs could be the key to solving world hunger, and pushing for more funding. It was roundly condemned in an open letter signed by 650 civil society organizations worldwide. The letter demanded instead, structural changes in access to land, food and political power, to be combined with support for sustainable technologies in farmer-led research.

Increasing market rejection of GM foods has spread within the US. Several polls have shown that a significant percentage of people - up to 58% - would not eat GM food if they were labelled as such. In the past year, 79 towns in Vermont passed resolutions against GMOs while the State government passed a seed-labelling bill, the first of its kind in the US. In California, Mendocino County passed the first law in the US to ban GMO releases into the environment; and other counties have followed suit.

But beware. Monsanto has just bought Seminis, a fruit and vegetable seed company for $1.4bn, and said it would look into the possibility of genetically modifying the produce. Prof. Joe Cummins warns that Seminis was a major player in transgenic plant virus control. It made transgenic papaya resistant to the papaya ring spot virus, which has been released and marketed in US and a few other countries. Monsanto had failed to get involved in transgenic virus control, so acquiring Seminis will considerably strengthen its stranglehold on transgenic seeds.

Seminis was a co-patent holder of the papaya ring spot virus transgenes, and has patents for virus control genes in a wide array of vegetable and fruit crops. It also holds a patent on broccoli with anti sense genes that make broccoli last a long time in the produce stand. "The combined Monsanto-Seminis Corporate Empire may inaugurate a new era of garden spies who rat out their neighbours for saving seeds." Joe says.

All the more reason to reject GM crops now; it is a massive diversion from really feeding the world, especially under global warming.

Before the food bubble bursts

New research just published in the journal Nature shows that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions could have a more dramatic effect on climate than previously thought, and that average temperature could go up by 11C. But the journal does not tell us that the most immediate catastrophe we face under climate change may be the collapse of food production. Lester Brown of The Earth Policy Institute warns in his new book, that the ‘food bubble’ is about to burst, unless the urgent problems of water shortage, overpopulation and rising temperatures are tackled right away in "Plan B".

Plan B involves shifting from a carbon-based energy economy to a hydrogen-based one to stabilize climate change; developing wind-generated energy, solar cells, fuel cells and hydrogen generators. It means phasing out motorcars in favour of bicycles, replacing coal-fired power plants by gas-fired plants and wind farms.

Plan B means stabilizing world population at around 7.5 billion; increasing the productivity of water in agriculture, halting soil erosion by replanting trees, adopting minimum-till, no-till and other soil-conservation practices.

Finally, it means restructuring the entire economy by creating an "honest market" that "tells the ecological truth", that includes the indirect costs on the environment.

Another major reason food production is under threat is that fossil fuel, on which industrial monoculture is highly dependent, is fast diminishing.

At the beginning of 2004, Royal Dutch Shell wrote down a quarter of its oil and gas reserves, amounting to some 4.5 billion barrels. It was the latest and most spectacular in a series of write-downs by oil companies. Crude oil price rose above US$50 per barrel in October 2004.

Oil production may be reaching its peak- the crunch point - when roughly half of all the world’s reserves have been extracted, and production would decline, driving up the price of oil and eventually failing to meet demand.

It takes roughly 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food from field to plate, and industrial monocultures need 6 to 10 times more energy than sustainable farming methods. There are thus enormous potential energy savings in shifting to truly sustainable agriculture systems that include minimizing long distance transport, processing and packaging. These energy savings bring a host of other advantages, such as restoring autonomy to small family farmers, social and financial wealth to local rural communities, alleviating poverty, conserving biodiversity and maintaining and revitalizing indigenous cultures.

A mechanism for mobile phone effect at last?

Prof. William Stewart must be tearing his hair out having to repeat his advice that children should not use mobile phones as a Europe-wide study costing more than 3 million euros over 4 years has once again eschewed any suggestion that mobile phones are health risks. In fact, the study was designed to preclude implications on health risks, as it involved only in vitro investigations on cells and molecules that, the final report on the study said, cannot be extrapolated to whole organisms. And although the study confirmed many biological effects of EMFs far below the current exposure limits deemed to be safe, such as DNA breakages and chromosomal aberrations; it failed, once again, to identify the mechanisms responsible.

There may well have been a minor breakthrough to understanding the mechanism as other scientists found a remarkable tendency of the mobile phone to turn a particular enzyme solution into a gel. And it may have something to do with the collective structure of water. Magical water!

Which stem cells?

Adult stem cells isolated from the patients’ bone marrow or blood have proven successful in mending the heart after a heart attack. But new results also suggest they may help patients with chronic heart damage from Chagas’ disease; and stem cells harvested from cord blood of the newborn may mend spinal injury.

Meanwhile, insurmountable technical and financial hurdles have piled up on the ethical and safety concerns over the use of embryonic stem cells. Isn’t it time to call a halt to ‘therapeutic’ human cloning and embryonic stem cell research? What purpose does it serve other than indulge the whims of scientists who cannot think of doing anything else?

Mind & body control nano-implants coming

Brain and neuro-implants that can help control pain and restore paralysed people’s ability to control their lives and to communicate seem like an unadulterated good. But could this also be the beginning of mind control through virtual reality and Brave New World surveillance through implanted identity tags?

Brain-computer interface is an exciting new area that offers great promises and perils in equal measure. The time to debate this is now.

Article first published 17/02/05

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