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"Capitalism should be Replaced by Something Nicer"

In an ideal world, profit would not influence research. As a banner carried by an anti-globalization demonstrator at an international trade conference in Genoa proclaimed: “Capitalism should be replaced by something nicer.”

However, the socialist alternative, as exemplified by the former Soviet Union, did not prove to be ‘nicer’. By stifling opposition to his ideas,Stalin’s director of biology, Trofim Lysenko, did not promote good science, nor did he benefit the Soviet public.  Profit-pursuing corporations are not the only sinners to disrespect the integrity of science.

Polls show that whereas the public distrusts scientists funded by industry, it respects those who work for environmental non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They are assumed to be objective and public spirited. Yet those bodies also have their own agendas, namely to promote their causes by increasing membership;they know that the most effective appeal is through scare stories. They too ignore and distort evidence, but in their case there is no self-regulatory mechanism. The more sensational the scare — for example, “Frankenfoods!” — the greater the publicity.

Michaels describes how defenders of the tobacco industry exploited the uncertainties of science by promoting doubt: they demanded that tobacco should be positivelydemanded that tobacco should be positively proved to cause harm. Green lobbyists make the equally unjustifiable demand that genetically modified crops should be positively proved to be safe. Reports on transgenic crops by the World Health Organization, by every national academy of science and their worldwide cultivation for more than ten years provide no evidence of harm to human health.Yet environmental organizations ignore this.They constantly recycle discredited findings by Árpád Pusztai in 1999 and Irina Ermakova in 2007 that transgenic crops cause harm to rats, and continue to make long-disproved claims that transgenic maize is destroying monarch butterflies.

The motives of these green activists are ideological not financial, based on fears that science has gone too far and we must go ‘back to nature’, and that transgenic crops benefit only big corporations.More than ten million small-scale farmers have benefited from transgenic crops,mainly farmers of genetically modified cotton,who saw improvements in health and income from the reduced need to spray pesticides. Confident of the virtue of their cause, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association feel no need for peer-reviewed papers and show less regard for evidence than the large corporations they denounce.

Doubt Is Their Product underlines the need for independent regulation. Michaels records how George W. Bush’s administration applied political pressure to undermine the independence of regulators in the United States, and demonstrates the perils of trusting corporations themselves to protect the public interest. In Europe, the threat to science comes from another quarter: the excessive influence of over-zealous green campaigners, who have virtually driven agricultural biotechnology into exile.

The moral is that we must all recognize our tendency to judge evidence with a bias towards our own interests and beliefs. This makes it especially incumbent on those with corporate connections to ensure that respect for evidence predominates in industry-financed research.

Equally, those of us who care passionately about the environment must be on our guard to ensure that green causes do not ignore or distort the scientific evidence on which their success depends.

Dick Taverne is chairman of Sense About Science, a member of the UK House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology andCommittee on Science and Technology and author of The March of Unreason — Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism.

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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
       Approaches to Detect Potential Effects on Butterflies and Natural Enemies

Columns by Dan Gardner

Against the Grains: 'The Terminator Hoax '

Decisions taken in the 84th Meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

Brazilian Health Biotech: Fostering Crosstalk Between Public and Private Sectors

Biotechnology Related Article Appeared on 'Samyukta Karnataka' ( Regional Language )
June 12, 2008.

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Kirit S Javali

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Dr MK Sharma,
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The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

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