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Starting a Dialogue Among Biotechnology Proponents, Skeptics and Opponents

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Title: Starting a Dialogue Among Biotechnology Proponents, Skeptics and Opponents


1
Starting a Dialogue Among Biotechnology
Proponents, Skeptics and Opponents
  • Frank J. Kutka
  • Graduate Student
  • Department of Plant Breeding
  • Cornell University

2
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

3
We dont always know our neighbors.
  • What is probably the most numerous vertebrate in
    eastern forests?
  • What threatens it?

4
Our history has many surprises.
  • What is probably the longest inhabited city in
    the United States?

5
The big environmental problem...
  • less than one thousandth (0.1) of Iowa's
    original prairie remains - not enough for viable
    habitat.
  • Drainage tiles from nearby fields further
    emphasize flood events, digging the channel
    ever-deeper causing the water table to drop.
    -Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

6
How can we solve malnutrition?
  • Six determinants concerning malnutrition
  • Production of food
  • Preservation of food
  • Population in a given region
  • Poverty within that population
  • Politics within and outside that population
  • Pathology or population health beyond nutrition
  • Michael Latham, 1997, Human Nutrition in the
    Developing World used in NS 680 - International
    Nutrition Problems, Policy and Programs

7
Midwestern agriculture is productive but
uneconomical. Net losses for corn have been seen
in Iowa in 19 of the last 30 years .
Economic returns from major crops in Iowa, 2003,
from C. Brummer and M. Duffy, Iowa State
University
Per Acre Basis Corn Soybean Alfalfa Cost of
production 400.54 308.18 293.67 Estimated
yield 170 bu 50 bu 4 tons Price (CBOT,
9/03) 2.09/bu 5.19/bu 87.50/t Average
receipts 334.40 271.00 350.00 Net returns
-45.24 -48.68 56.33 Without government
subsidies no subsidies for alfalfa
8
Anne and Eric Nordells Beech Grove Farm, an
average of less than 10 lb fresh weight of weeds
per acre in their fields… The lettuce had been
cultivated, but received no hand weeding.
Organic no-till?
9
Why does this matter?
  • The world is full of surprises that regularly
    challenge our preconceptions and dearly held
    beliefs The truth is out there.
  • To be a scientist in this world requires that we
    remain open to new facts and ideas.
  • We must actively try to refute our null
    hypotheses in defensible and realistic ways that
    are reflective of our complex world.

10
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

11
James George, 2002, Asking for the Earth
  • World Scientists Warning to Humanity, 1992, from
    UCS on behalf of 1600 scientists
  • Humans and the natural world are on a collision
    course. What we must do
  • Bring environmentally damaging activities under
    control
  • Manage resources more effectively
  • Stabilize population
  • Reduce and eventually eliminate poverty
  • Ensure sexual equality

12
WWW.Monsanto.Com
  • As the human race enters the 21st century, we
    face challenges that are unprecedented in the
    history of mankind.
  • Finite and dwindling energy resources. A
    fast-growing world population that will
    inevitably outstrip our capacity to produce
    enough food to meet our needs. Rapidly eroding
    soils that fill our waterways with sediment.
    Fresh water supplies that are limited but facing
    increased demand. The threat of global warming.
    Deteriorating air quality.

13
What lies at the center of our current, big
human concerns?
  • Dealing with the population problem (population
    growth, increasing food supplies, human habitat,
    water supplies).
  • Cleaning up/maintaining/using the natural
    environment around us.
  • Making sure that people have access to education,
    resources, personal liberty, nutritious food, a
    better life, etc.

14
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

15
Paul Raeburn, 1995, The Last Harvest
  • …two technologies are on hand to help alleviate
    some of the problems.
  • One is actually an update of old technology.
    Alternative agriculture, or sustainable
    agriculture, as it is sometimes called, ...is
    designed to be less brutal to the environment…
  • Another technology that could help is genetic
    engineering.

16
Genetic Engineering is the biotechnology of
interest today.
  • Most people accept plant breeding.
  • Most people accept tissue culture.
  • Most people accept artificial limbs and hearts.
  • Many plant breeders, organic farmers and others
    accept marker-assisted selection.
  • The issue appears to be the formation and use
    of transgenic organisms, especially their release
    into the environment. Biotech to most means
    genetic engineering.

17
The Genetic Engineering Dialogue?
  • ISAAA brochures and Informing the Dialogue
    mention a dialogue. Is there really? It would
    be great!
  • Each side may have worthy issues.
  • The Amish Masters of Technology
  • Society needs to arrive at the best answers.
  • AgBioWorld and industry groups are very positive.
    No alternatives or downsides?
  • NGO groups opposed to GE often discuss the
    negative only. No positives?

18
The Message of GE Proponents
  • Genetic Engineering is a powerful tool that can
    solve human problems.
  • It can increase food supplies, reduce pesticide
    use, improve human nutrition, reduce poverty,
    save soil, etc.
  • We need these new products to make needed
    progress in the face of a growing population.
    They are safe and valuable. They represent
    science and progress.
  • Success stories and new developments too.

19
What are the Opponents and Skeptics Saying?
  • We rarely hear more than the angry words of
    extremists presented by journalists.
  • As with proponents, opinions and expertise of
    opponents and skeptics vary widely.
  • We will take a quick overview of their
    perspectives on GE directly from them.
  • Why? To become more aware of these many
    potential issues and how we can address them.
  • Please note Authors speak for themselves.

20
Brewster Keen, 1999, Farmageddon
  • Yes, I am against all biotechnology… I think
    modern biotechnology is a bad attitude… It is
    an assault on life not an altruistic exercise in
    curiosity but a demand to control.
  • This book contains a fairly complete explanation
    of what transgenic technology is and how
    transformation occurs.

21
Strategies of genetic engineering for herbicide
resistance… can also end up creating
superweeds. Vandana Shiva, 1993
Canola volunteers with multiple herbicide
tolerance were discovered in Canada in 2000. (L.
Hall et al. 2000. Weed Science 48688-694)
22
Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS, ACRE speech
  • CaMV 35S promoter, if transferred to human or
    animal cells could…
  • All artificial constructs tend to be unstable,
    so much so that this is a topic in a standard
    text-book… Transgenic DNA is more likely… to
    recombine… This could change the transgenic line
    in unpredictable ways in terms of health and
    environmental risks.

23
WWW.GreenPeace.org
  • Genetically engineered organisms should not be
    released… as there is not adequate scientific
    understanding of their impact...
  • Their release is… a threat because they cannot
    be recalled once released into the environment.
  • Food security will not be achieved by technical
    fixes or even by increasing food production. It
    requires, among other things, access to land and
    money. GE provides neither.

24
The reason organic farmers do not want GE
crops is that they dont need them. We do not
have the same insect and other problems that
conventional farmers do. Mary-Howell Martens
Organic vs Conventional yields and pesticide
use in USA California Tomatoes -13 fewer
pesticides Iowa Corn ns fewer
pesticides Iowa Corn -26 fewer
pesticides Iowa Soybean ns fewer
pesticides USA Corn -6 fewer
pesticides USA Soybean -6 fewer
pesticides USA Wheat -3 fewer
pesticides from Delate et al. 2002, Leibhardt
2001, Temple et al. 2000, Welsh 1999
The situation is complex, but organic methods are
often competitive or even superior economically,
sometimes without the premium.
25
Jack Kloppenberg, 1988, First the Seed The
Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology
  • There is no question that biotechnology holds
    unprecedented promise for plant improvement. But
    we cannot rely upon private industry to explore
    the full range of technological possibilities.
    The research firms are necessarily limited by the
    inescapable parameters of profitability and the
    need to protect their own interests

26
Michael W. Fox, 1992, Super Pigs and Wonder Corn
  • I am not in principle opposed to
    biotechnology... However, I am opposed to those
    who seek to use it only for profit regardless of
    ethical, social, environmental, and
    animal-welfare concerns.
  • ensure that our children and the rest of
    creation will not suffer the legacy of a world
    impoverished by genetic engineering run amok.
  • Billions of dollars are being invested in
    applying biotechnology... even though no cost
    analysis has been done…

27
Michael W. Fox, 1992, Super Pigs and Wonder Corn
  • The costs and consequences, risks and benefits,
    of this new world order need to be rigorously
    evaluated. Such concern should not be misjudged
    as antiscience or antiprogress sentiment.
    Rather, it should be recognized that only with
    greater involvement of an informed public in the
    policy-making process will advances in science
    and technology...be likely to serve the public
    good…

28
Lappe and Bailey, 1998, Against the Grain
  • we believe it is unwise to raise tolerances of
    glyphosate from 6 - 20 ppm simply to permit more
    widespread use of transgenic technology.
  • we… would like to see labeling of transgenic
    products made mandatory in keeping with the
    ethical maxim of full disclosure.
  • Cautious regulation would allow us the
    opportunity to avoid potential risks while
    insuring that biotechnology contributes to our
    social and long term environmental well-being.

29
Wolfenbarger and Phifer. 2000. The ecological
risks and benefits of genetically engineered
plants. Science 2902088
  • Neither the risks nor the benefits of GEOs are
    certain or universal.
  • Our capacity to predict ecological impacts of
    introduced species… has limitations.
  • Additional or unidentified risks and benefits
    may exist.

30
E. Ann Clark, 2000, What is Sound Science?
  • The needs of society are ill-served when only
    two choices are provided - chemical or
    biotechnology. Non-proprietary approaches to
    food production may achieve the same ends, but
    with lesser effects on the environment while
    leaving more profit in the farming community.
  • The current, largely assumptions-based risk
    assessment process confers great power on the
    proponent, both as the sole source of research
    data and as the decisionmaker on what… to
    provide.

31
Miguel Altieri, interview, 2000
  • any integrated pest management program, which
    uses cultural practices such as crop rotations or
    cover crops and releases of beneficial insects,
    saves between 30 and 50 of insecticides.
  • Although glyphosate is considered less prone to
    weed resistance, the increased use of the
    herbicide will result in weed resistance… as it
    has been already documented with Australian
    populations of annual ryegrass, quackgrass,
    birdsfoot trefoil and Cirsium arvense.

32
The 22 jump in glyphosate pounds applied per
acre from 2001 to 2002 was caused by the major
price reductions offered to farmers, the need to
control more difficult sets of weeds, and the
emergence of resistance… in many weed species
that were once fully controlled by one glyphosate
application.
Charles Benbrook, BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper
Number 6, Nov 2003
33
Perhaps the most disturbing result that has
emerged from the commercialization of transgenic
crops is the increasingly common practice of
patenting genes and plant varieties,
notwithstanding that genes exist naturally and
that plant varieties are the product of years of
selection. The use of HRCs per se is not as
large a problem as using them to drive a
fundamentally flawed agroecosystem. Feeding
the world is the most specious reason of all to
support any agricultural technology. Charlie
Brummer, Forage Breeder, Iowa State
34
Current corn yield goes up 1.9 Bu/A annually.
What genes would improve this? John Dudley,
2003 ASTA Meeting
For traits like Bt or herbicide tolerance that
you cannot get except from bacteria, genetic
engineering is fine, but for yield the
technology is bankrupt. Dani Zamir, 2003 PLBR
Seminar
35
One potential hazard in current experiments
derives from the need to use a bacterium like E.
coli to clone the recombinant DNA molecules and
to amplify their number. Strains of E. coli
commonly reside in the human intestinal tract,
and are capable of exchanging genetic information
with other types of bacteria… Paul Berg et al.
1975, NAS report to the Asilomar Conference
Three of seven ileostomists showed evidence of
low-frequency gene transfer from GM soya to the
microflora of the small bowel before their
involvement in these experiments. Netherwood et
al. 2004. Nature Biotechn. 22204
36
Genetic engineering is sometimes very expensive
at both ends
  • Tray Thomas told the 2003 ASTA meeting that it
    cost 80-100 million per trait.
  • Albert Lea Seed House 2004 catalog

Isoline Single Transgene Stacked Traits 8518 -
55 R8519 - 80 7292 - 60 R7291 - 84, W7294 -
126 6901 - 60 BtR6006 - 92 6899 -
57 W6898 - 126 WR6894 - 144 Soybean -
13.25 RRSoybean - 23.50 Mike Duffy, Iowa
State insignificant economic benefits to farmers
37
DuPont brought us tetraethyl lead, Monsanto
brought us PCBs, Syngenta brought us atrazine,
Aventis brought us aldicarb, etc.
  • Have they taken responsibility for these and paid
    for any damages?
  • If there are downsides to transgenic organisms,
    who will be held liable and will the affected
    parties be compensated?
  • In a hungry world, how do you compensate for
    contaminated water and food?

38
Perspectives of GE proponents, skeptics and
opponents
  • There is an enormous range of issues!
  • There is some agreement on the bigger human
    problems that need to be addressed.
  • There is little agreement on the risks and
    benefits of transgenic organisms or our immediate
    need for them.

39
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

40
Lets start the dialogue about transgenic
organisms. How?
  • Many voices must be heard, not just favorites.
  • Lets face the big goals and decide on the most
    appropriate, safe and effective means to reach
    them. Good engineers do this. We should move
    past technophobia and technophilia.
  • Lets be responsible, collegial, honest and clear.
    Lets talk things over open-mindedly and without
    foregone conclusions or prejudice. Lets all set
    a good example.
  • Lets promote well designed studies of issues.

41
Who would we be speaking with?
  • GE proponents I have spoken and eaten with
    some, they were human and I like lots of them.
    Some were reasonable and even intelligent. Some
    were ignorant of some things and I learned from
    all of them.
  • GE opponents and skeptics I have spoken and
    eaten with some, they were human and I like lots
    of them. Some were reasonable and even
    intelligent. Some were ignorant of some things
    and I learned from all of them.

42
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

43
There is a catch...
  • Those of us who are GE proponents must clearly
    show safety and cost-effectiveness for reaching
    the big goals.
  • Those of us who are GE opponents or skeptics must
    present our concerns in defensible ways.
    Alternatives must also be proven safe and
    effective.
  • ALL must try to think across the wider context.
    ALL must listen and be prepared to change their
    minds based on facts.

44
We must also remain aware of the big picture and
big problems.
  • Ultimately human populations must stabilize at
    some number… since there is an ecological
    limitation to the number of any species the earth
    can support. - Robert L. Smith, 1966, Ecology
    and Field Biology
  • Questions What will stop population growth? Why
    wait? What is gained by growing our population
    larger? What is lost? What about our ecological
    footprint? Politics? Equality? Health and
    nutrition status? Poverty?

45
Topics to be discussed
  • Our Complex and Interesting World
  • The Big Problems Facing Humanity
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
  • What are these and how do they fit in?
  • What do proponents have to say?
  • What do opponents and skeptics have to say?
  • Beginning a True Dialogue
  • Context for the Dialogue
  • Parting Thoughts

46
A modest proposal
  • Since there seems to be some agreement concerning
    the problems at hand and on most of the
    biotechnologies available…
  • How about if we work together toward some major
    goals using appropriate tools from the toolkit
    that we all agree upon already?

47
Lets think big and just do it!
They have solutions looking for problems.
Kendall Lamkey, Midwest Corn Improvement
Conference, 2004
Lets not forget that there are a lot of bright
minds there in St. Louis. Shepard Ogden,
NOFA-NY Conference, 2004
  • Perennial grains? Forage-based agriculture?
  • Breeding for organic agroecosystems and wider
    rotations? Explaining why and how they work?
  • Alternative fiber crops, like milkweed?
  • How about relating genes, their expression, and
    environmental parameters ecology and genetics?
  • Even if cooperation begins, we must remain aware
    of the larger issues beyond agriculture and
    production.

48
With great power comes great responsibility. I am
a plant breeder. Spiderman paraphrased
Whatever tomorrow brings Ill be there, with
open arms and open eyes… Incubus, from their
song Drive
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