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Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 26 January 2005 09:47
Subject: 43: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
This is John Nishio, I'm an Adjunct Research Professor at Chico State in California, USA.
I have enjoyed reading the contributions. Some of what I say will be repetitive, and for that I apologize.
The premise of the forum is how to involve the stakeholders, and an apparent side issue, how much involvement there should be, has arisen. Imagine what would happen if there were a forum addressing the question, "How do we teach creationism in public, rural schools?".
It is an old argument, but it is the phenotype about which we should be concerned. Breeders and growers have been making decisions about desired traits for thousands of years. Such decisions were made without the input of the masses (except maybe when the masses were all farmers). Issues of commerce are important, but they should not be confused with recombinant technology.
In a democratic society, science, medicine, law, education, and the like, in many ways, exist as beneficent dictatorships, with some group of representatives being the collective "dictator"--the notion of the military, political, and industrial elite (Power Elite, CW Mills) aside. While it is wonderful to believe in a true democracy, do we really expect to involve 6 billion people in decisions of the sort being discussed (for those who don't believe children are impacted by the issue, and that their opinions don't count, you may subtract the number of children from the 6 billion).
A truly democratic society should expect its citizens to be educated about issues about which they will be voting. How can we speak of a true democracy when so many are disenfranchised and uneducated? Educating the masses is worthy, but requires political will and money. Does anyone dream of the day when even the educated are willing to share their wealth? Weren't we all told that an education will allow us to be prosperous? What happens when all are "educated"? Will citizens of the global democracy have to pass a test to vote? Until the time occurs when we really have a true democracy, it may be safer to depend on our so-called experts.
Therefore, educating political representatives and their staffs seems like a good thing to do immediately. Involving and educating stakeholders IS important, but depending on them to understand all the issues, including the technical details, so that they can make educated decisions is not presently possible.
Do rural people and growers presently understand the role that ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS), methyl methanesulfonate (MMS), gamma-radiation, colchicines, and NO2 have played in the development of plant releases they are presently growing? Do they appreciate the risks that such releases developed with "classical" breeding technology might pose?
Side bar. In my biochemistry laboratory class, we were doing recombinant work, before the first IBM computers were being sold! Recombinant proteins have been injected directly into humans for more than 20 years. We consider the first IBM personal computer introduced in late 1981 as old technology, should we continue to call recombinant technology "new"?
Thanks for organizing the forum.
John N. Nishio
Biocompatible Plant Research Institute
College of Natural Sciences
California State University
Chico, CA 95929--0555
e-mail: jnishio (at) csuchico.edu
Sent: 26 January 2005 09:52
Subject: 44: Re: Rural farmers - good barometers for the usefulness...
I want to react vigorously to Message 41 of Mallowa Sally Obura. What she proposes is in the field of health the equivalent of leaving sick persons to test new medicines. If they adopt them, it means that they work, according to Mallowa´s argument. This view is a bit short. We know that, in the medium or long term, a medicine can be a disaster because secondary effects have created biggest health problem (look at the recent scandal of the Vioxx and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States) or because their efficiency has disappeared and definitive resistances have appeared (look at the serious issue of many antibiotics). It is true for the health sector but also in industrial agriculture (dramatic effects of intensive nitrogen fertilization or of the use of such or such herbicide or pesticide in general). Another point must be added to that criticism of using the farmers as guinea-pig of innovation. For a poor small farmer, a bad harvest as a consequence of bad innovation could mean a serious disaster, hunger and irreversible dramatic impoverishment.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
Sent: 26 January 2005 14:15
Subject: 45: The consultation process
I am Ashok Seth, a concerned citizen with background in genetics, plant breeding and agronomy, as well as international development. I work as an independent consultant.
First of all, I would like to thank all those who have contributed interesting and thought provoking comments to this important debate. Since I am joining the discussion somewhat late, some thoughts expressed below may already have been said before, for which I apologise.
It seems to me that majority of the people accept the importance and the need for consultation with farming communities before introduction of GMOs. I would add that it is also important to develop national (and, if possible, regional and international) concensus on this subject before pressurising every country to follow the path being charted out by the multinational corporations. The key issues to my mind are: how to do this and what should be the scope and coverage of the consultation process?
The fact that farmers in many countries are uneducated or illiterate is no excuse for not consulting them and taking them into full confidence before introducing new technologies. Farmers are very good judges of the value of a new technology. In fact, they should also be directly involved in helping to target research to their priority needs.
However, it will be unreasonable to expect farming communities to visualise or anticipate national, regional or global consequences of a new ('bad') technology. This is the role for those directly involved in the discovery, development, regulation and dissemination of such innovations. Clearly, capacity to generate relevant information, free flow of unbiased and independent information between interested parties and presentation of this information in a 'user friendly' manner to those likely to be using or be effected by new technologies is all part of an 'informed' consultation process.
Unfortunately, with increasing privatisation of science it is not always possible for the developing countries to obtain unbiased information. The long-term solution to this problem is for global public scientific institutions to be proactive in sharing relevant information and in helping to strengthen national research, extension and regulatory systems to generate needed information locally. This would enable national institutions to provide sound advice to decision makers and organise consultations with farming communities and other interested parties, including the civil society, appropriate to local needs.
ARD Consultants Ltd
98 Whitedown Lane
Hampshire, UK GU34 1QR
AKSth1 (at) aol.com
Sent: 26 January 2005 15:01
Subject: 46: Sceptical towards public participation regarding GMOs
This is from Sonia Blaney. I am a nutritionist following the debate on GM food since three years. I spent many years in Africa, trying to implement a democratic and participative process in development projects and I was thinking that occured to some extent in my own country. Back in Canada, when I first heard about the GM food and how they were introduced in the North America market, I was very disappointed and started to improve my knowledge on that topic.
I am sceptical toward the public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries. This aspect should be debated in a transparent and democratic process in countries where the democracy is not always, and unfortunately rarely, present. Moreover, this process should have been implemented and promoted in developed countries in a better way in the past. Thus, my main question related to this process is on "How can we implement a public participation in this decision making process when it was never or scarcely done in the developed and "officially" democratic countries". In my country, the GMOs just landed on my table without my consent and approval!!!
There is no need to expand on the fact that the impact of GMOs on human health is still unknown. In a paper on the "Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US: The first eight years" (Charles M. Benbrook, BioTech InfoNet, Technical paper No. 6, November 2003), an important finding is that "there is now clear evidence that the average pounds of herbicides applied per acre planted to herbicide tolerant varieties have increased compared to the first few years of adoption". Moreover, "today’s GE crops have modestly increased the overall volume of pesticides applied in the production of corn, soybeans and cotton". Do we still need the GM food and what will be the long term impact on the environment? There is also this very annoying "push" for GMOs which could be the magic bullet to save the poor and hungry people living on our planet! Do we feel guilty? No need again to mention that a better distribution of our precious resources is first indispensable although no government is pushing for that...since there is no money at the end in their pockets!
Is this debate really appropriate? At the end of the day, GMOs will likely land on the people's table living in the developing countries as it was the case for developed countries! Actually, we do not involve enough people in health and nutrition projects implemented in developing countries. So, I wonder how better we will do with the public participation in GMOs decision-making process.
Sonia Blaney, M.Sc.
soniablaney (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 26 January 2005 15:10
Subject: 47: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
This is S.K.T. Nasar and Reshma Nasar, again. This refers to John Nishio's message (no. 43).
Public participation in decision making on GMOs has to be tiered through the various politico-administrative layers of a democratic system. An informed decision is essential. The science and technology of GMOs are not the point of concern in the present context. No one questions the beauty, relevance, expanse and the potential of New Biology. We agree with John Nishio to this extent.
The socio-economics of GMOs is a matter of utmost importance to the end users. Moreover, unlike previous human generations, the farming community of the developing countries is more knowledgeable and wiser by recent experiences in the pursuit of new technologies adopted at their own risk. The seller of a technology, say electronics, medicines, nuclear devices etc., has to conform to the demand of end users. What is, then, the problem with GMOs or recombinant-DNA products?
It needs to be appreciated that ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS)-induced mutations is not the same as transgenic products. Unpatented GM crops with the genomic background of local and established cultivars are likely to be adopted. There is another issue. Even if it is OK that a transgene is patentable, it is difficult to agree that the transgenome should be patentable when the entire back ground genome is 'our' property.
S.K.T. Nasar and Reshma Nasar
sktnasar (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 26 January 2005 16:12
Subject: 48: The challenge of creating awareness // Democracy // Providing unbiased-objective information
I am Shanthu Shantharam, again.
I have noticed that almost all commentaries in the past one week on the subject are going round and round about the importance of rural public participation in decision making on GMOs. So, it seems everybody desires and agrees that somehow rural public must be involved. But, no one seems to know how to go about it. It is too complex.
The crux of the problem is that the public in general is largely unaware of biotechnology and GMOs and lacks sufficient knowledge to make any meaningful contribution to the decision making process. The challenge is how to create that much needed awareness so that everyone who wants to participate can participate. I think one can devise some utilitarian mechanism(s) through which knowledgeable public can contribute or have a say. But, no matter whatever what you do, I bet someone will cry foul. That is the nature of democracy. The real danger is all of us can be easily tied down by this discussion to no end. There is fear of technology paralysis here.
Democracy can guarantee an opportunity, but cannot guarantee that everyone's input will be included in that decision making. It simply cannot. The decision as to whose opinions are valid and would help safe and useful technology transfer must once again be left to knowledgeable experts. That same democracy must also guarantee that the public have an option whether they want to adopt or accept the technology and that is necessarily an individual choice.
In the development of science and technology, only facts and evidence rule, not "majority" opinion or feelings. Opinions and feelings can and must be respected with an option to exercise individual or a like minded group of people to decide for themselves whether they want to accept it or not.
On the question of providing unbiased and objective information about science and technology, the whole area has been muddied and sullied in the past decade of highly polarized debate on biotechnology. It continues even to this day and will for some more time to come. The whole agricultural biotech debate is vitiated. Nobody trusts anybody. It seems anyone who has had an opinion on the "B" word is somehow either bought or paid for by the industry or having sold his or her soul and everybody's integrity has been impugned. Otherwise, he is on the mindless Luddites. The sorry state of the affair is that the entire scientific enterprise in the field of biotechnology has now been painted with a slander brush and their whole edifice has been called to question. For example, for so many people who do not like biotechnology (for whatever reason) peer reviewed science is suspect and many of them reject it out of hand.
I am not convinced that anyone can provide so-called objective and impartial information on biotechnology today. Time has come for all to lower their queering pitch and start listening to the other and not just hear. ["Queering the pitch" means spoiling the chances or success...Moderator]. After all, GMOs have come to this pass only because people are throwing missiles at each other. If there was not this polarization, probably there would not have been an FAO E-forum like this one. There are no soft options for this problem.
Dr. Shanthu Shantharam
Biologistics International, LLC
9800 Old Willow Way
Ellicott City, MD 21042
sshantharam (at) biologistics.us