3) Science is driving modern culture. Alas, most of us haven't even got
By Andrew Marr Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)
Right at the front of the stage, there is a drama. It's about science.
People run about waving their arms. They seem very scared. But what's the
What is the huge backdrop to the GM food affair? It is, surely, that the
final decades of the twentieth century have seen a massive expansion of
human understanding and ingenuity - what we might call the Age of Deep
Science, comparable in its profundity and beauty to the Renaissance or the
I'm not joking. These insights are open to anyone willing to read or
listen. The threats and benefits are ubiquitous. For my part, I feel
extraordinarily lucky to be alive at such a time. Bliss was it in that dawn
- all that. In the life sciences, the adventure is understood by several
millions of educated people who are not biologists, but are being carried
along by gifted writers such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and
They know that our study of genetics, consciousness and the curled
innerness of life is momentous, exciting and, though riven with ethical
dilemmas, is transforming human life - changing medicine, food, drugs, our
understanding of the brain and our environmental behaviour.
Then, not quite as well-known, is the other half, the revolution in
mathematics and physics. This is popularly but misleadingly called chaos
theory. It could be better described as the uncovering of matter's complex
underlying rhythms and forms. It relates to everything from the shape of
clouds to the behaviour of stock markets. Still young, still much argued
about, it can nevertheless be compared to quantum mechanics and relativity,
in that it shatters the old view of the world erected by Newton.
At its most ambitious, it promises a grand theory of everything. I suspect
thisis a chimera. Yet, just as the life sciences have unfurled and spread
across disciplines and into the general culture, so the new maths has
smashed down barriers between academic groups and restarted the kind of
common conversation science has lacked during most of this century.
The new science has returned from the textbook and the reductionist lab.
The biologists are elbowing their way to the front of everything that
matters. The maths people no longer speak only in equations but, thanks to
computer graphics, express many of their most interesting ideas in shapes
and colour - metaphors, perhaps, but metaphors that anyone can enjoy. They
want to speak to us. Mathematicians and physicists are again struggling to
describe useful underlying truths about our world, to create a great single
story about how things are.
There's nothing new in that, of course - Archimedes was up to the same game
in Syracuse 2,200 years ago, ditto Leibnitz in Hanover 300 years ago,
Poincaré in France a century ago, and many more. But there is one character
who is perhaps particularly relevant and requires a special mention.
A reader has complained that in a column last month I failed to point out
that the borderline between mathematics and the natural world - today's
most exciting frontier - was crossed by one D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson in
1917. True enough.
Time for a short tourist excursion, for D'Arcy Thompson is a man who may be
as well known a hero to our children as Einstein is to us. He was an
Edinburgh-born genius in classics, maths and languages who held the chair
of Natural History at St Andrews for 67 years, parading around the town
with a long white beard and parrot perched on his shoulder - somewhere
between George Bernard Shaw and Long John Silver. His work, though, is
curiously up to the minute. It was centred on trying to describe the
mathematical origins of shapes and structures in the visible world -
everything from skulls and jellyfish to wind-patterns.
He wrote: 'Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower, are so many
portions of matter and it is in obedience to the laws of physics that their
particles have been moved, moulded and conformed. They are no exceptions to
the rule that God always geometrises.' And again, he insisted that, in a
mathematician's hands, numbers, order and position 'furnish the first
outlines for a sketch of the universe'.
Sketching the universe and its hidden rules was his aim, and it's what
today's followers are doing too. In his pioneering book Chaos, James Gleick
quotes the great contemporary US mathematician Mitchell Feigenbaum, who is
almost as eccentric as D'Arcy Thompson, using words that sound very like
the old Scot: 'Somehow the wondrous promise of the earth is that there are
things beautiful in it, things wondrous and alluring, and by virtue of your
trade you want to understand them.'
This urge to understand, from maths to biology, provides the ideas that are
shaping today's world. In genetics, in the study of consciousness and time,
the big figures of our age are scientists whose sense of scale and reach
make, let's be honest, pygmies of today's artists, fiction writers,
politicians, economists (journalists are just hopping fleas on the pygmies'
body hair). No, it is the biologists and mathematicians who are the driving
forces, the controlling imaginations of the modern world. They are shaking
our ideas about food and the environment, about our origins. They are
challenging our ethical systems. They are giving us technologies so new and
fast-changing we barely know what to do with them.
Which takes us, seamlessly, I think you'll agree, right back to tomatoes.
Tony Blair has been reading up hard on genetic issues. But he has told
friends he has never come across anything like this genetically modified
food row. In yesterday's Telegraph, he described the experience as being
like standing in front of a stampede.
Now Blair himself, clearly, made a bad mistake by volunteering that GM food
is safe. He doesn't know. As he says himself, he is no scientist; and they
don't know, either. So we rely on 'best advice' from people whose previous
best advice - as on BSE - has been very poor. But the failure of the
democracy to assert authority and speak against the commercial giants and
their scientism is not an anomaly. It is how things seem to be.
Our democracy is struggling, and failing, to catch up with the Age of Deep
Science. And I'm not talking about Cabinet committees only, but about the
rest of us too. You don't need to know about chaos theory, perhaps - though
it will influence economic models and medical judgments that will in turn
affect you. But you certainly need to know about the biological thinking
behind a host of bioethics problems, and have some sense of what you can
believe, and what you should mistrust, when it comes to genetic
engineering. Quite a lot of people understand this. The market for popular
science books is huge. There is a hunger for information. But it's a
Most voters are frankly mere info-peasants, scientific illiterates, vacant
idiots at the mercy of glossy corporate-science propaganda and newspaper
hysterias. They are told a 'government scientist' is an authority, whether
he's spent his life on earthworms or planets. They don't ask about
peer-group review. They don't even have a clear notion of scientific proof,
or the simple big discoveries that lead to the front-page stories that
Between the scientific upper class, the latter-day Leonardos trekking into
the brain or sketching the universe, and the majority of voters and
politicians in all Western democracies, there is now a deep comprehension
gap. After decades of smugly acknowledging the 'two cultures' division
between science and the rest of human life, suddenly we find ourselves
falling straight down the hole.
How did this happen? How did we get to the situation where the most
important and interesting ideas are utterly outside the experience of the
vast majority of educated people? That's one for the historians, the
gravediggers and memorialists of our culture. As I indicated earlier, these
are not difficult or abstruse notions. It is almost as if we have decided
to be stupid. We devote pages and pages to yet more books about Jane
Austen, to pseudo-scientific rubbish about star signs, to psychology, to
conceptual art. But the great beauty and glittering triumph of our age?
Well that passes us by. Tony Blair is puzzled. And he isn't, I tell you,
the only one.
4) 'Frankenstein' drives demand for organics
Record numbers of farmers are taking the first steps towards organic
production, writes Sarah Ryle
Sunday February 21, 1999 The Observer (UK)
As consumer demand for organic food soars, the Soil Association is fielding
more and more enquiries from farmers on how to convert to organic methods.
The association's organic conversion service has taken more than 1,000
calls this year - 100 of them last Monday alone in response to press
coverage of concern about the new biotechnologies.
Consumer interest in organic food is also rising to unprecedented levels.
In 1997 it accounted for £260 million of the total £53 billion spent on
food in the UK, but is expected to reach £1 billion within two years. Much
of that, however, is expected to be spent on imported produce because UK
organic food production falls far behind that in other European countries.
A spokeswoman for the Soil Association, which accounts for 70 per cent of
all certified organic products in this country, said that farmers in
'straitened circumstances' were looking for 'niche markets' and their
confidence in consumer demand was growing. Farmers have been persuaded by
successive food scares that the demand for organic food will continue.
Devonshire hill farmers Victoria and Christopher Eveleigh said they have
recently become more confident in the potential for organic farming. 'It
is a big decision,' said Mrs Eveleigh. 'It will be at least five years
before we can get organic calves to the kitchen table. We hope that we are
ahead of the game.'
The Eveleighs say they will be able to charge a premium for their organic
food and will also qualify for enhanced government aid, worth approximately
£18,000 over five years.
Retailers and wholesalers are also responding to demand. Baby Organix,
which represents more than half of the UK market in organic baby food (one
in four children eats organic products regularly), said it took three times
the normal level of inquiries last week.
Supermarkets also report increased sales. Asda said organic sales were up
in the wake of the GM food scare.
Tesco is trying out organic aisles in 50 of its stores and Sainsbury has
brought in more dry groceries during the past few weeks. Waitrose now runs
a selective scheme to help farmers who supply it with produce. It intends
to introduce designated aisles.
Sunday, February 21, 1999 LA Times
Biotech Battlefield: Profits vs. Public
Private companies are refusing to share the genetic code of a deadly staph
bacterium. They say it cost them millions to discover, but officials say
the data are needed to avert a public health crisis.
By MARLENE CIMONS, PAUL JACOBS, LA Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON--The first reported case was in 1996. A Japanese baby nearly
died of a raging infection, despite treatment with one of the most powerful
antibiotics in existence. Over the next two years, there would be at least
three more cases--including the first death, that of an elderly New York
man struck down last year.
One of public health officials' darkest predictions had come to pass: A
strain of Staphylococcus aureus, the most common source of life-threatening
bacterial infections in hospitals, had arrived that was resistant to every
antibiotic known to medicine.
But scientists working to divert a potential medical disaster have run into
a significant roadblock from the most unexpected of places: their fellow
Biotechnology and drug companies have spent huge amounts of money decoding
the genome--the genetic blueprint--of staph, with the hope of designing new
drugs to challenge it. But they are unwilling to share that crucial
knowledge with government and university scientists, a stance that many
researchers believe is critically stalling the pace of scientific progress.
posted from <email@example.com> : GE - news 21st Feb
Ethical investment - UK Guardian
Mutants not to our taste The appliance of science to foods may please Tony
Blair, but not the ethical investors.
Tony Levene investigates
Saturday February 20, 1999
Will "Frankenstein foods" cause two-headed rabbits to sprout in fields
otherwise denuded of life except for giant tomatoes?
Or are they the product of a science which will ensure no one need ever
suffer famine again and which will guarantee that the United Kingdom
remains at the cutting edge of world bio-technology research?
Whatever your view on genetically modified (GM) foods, the line from
Britain's ethical investors is clear: they are refusing to buy shares in
the major gene manipulators - US group Monsanto, Swiss drugs giant
Novartis, and the UK pharmaceutical group Zeneca. It is a worldwide ban -
even though consumers in the United States do not appear to be worried by
The ethical investment industry is just as interested in the mixing of
maize with fish genes in Argentinian cornfields as with the contents of
cans of food at the local supermarket. Most funds are happy to hold frozen
food retailer Iceland, which has a high anti-GM food profile, and to shun
Marks & Spencer which has the least positive line on GM food avoidance and
Matthew Harragin of the ethical research unit at stockbrokers Rathbone
Neilson Cobbold believes that there is "no excuse for an ethical fund
holding Zeneca even if it did consult with Safeway and Sainsbury before
puree based on its GM tomato was sold in those stores. It fails on the
animal testing criteria which have been in place for years before GM food
became an issue. Any fund found to have Zeneca would have faced a stream of
investor complaints long before now."
NPI has a total ban on pharmaceutical companies including Zeneca in its
Global Care ethical funds. According to NPI research analyst Toby Belsom,
who has been monitoring GM foods for three years, the funds are also
opposed to genetic testing of humans for life insurance proposals, cloning
and genetic field trials. But it is prepared to approve limited genetic
engineering in medical and industrial areas providing the waste stream is
Many funds take their screening rules from ethical research group EIRIS
which has developed a series of GM warning marks.
Co-op Insurance's CIS Environ ethical unit trust takes its line from
Manchester Business School. It will accept some pharmaceutical companies
but, again, it draws the line at Zeneca. Funds to shun Zeneca and other GM
food manipulators also include; Abbey Life Ethical, Credit Suisse
Fellowship, Equitable Ethical, Friends Provident Stewardship, Jupiter
Ecology, Standard Life UK Ethical, and TSB Environmental.
Some of these trusts have pension fund equivalents. But the great majority
of pension funds do not screen out companies that could offend scheme
members. Most will have Zeneca, a major FTSE 100 constituent that will loom
even larger in funds following its merger with Swedish group Astra to
form AstraZeneca. However, pensions minister John Denham has proposed that
retirement funds should take ethical questions into consideration.
Harragin believes the acid test is which supermarkets are in a fund.
Around 60 per cent of all packaged food could contain GM substances or be
He says: "Iceland stands head and shoulders over competitors on GM foods.
It has banned them from its own label and avoids GM products from
elsewhere where viable alternatives exist."
Safeway and Sainsbury are both rated "good" with good warnings on packages
and a positive attitude to organic food. Somerfield and Tesco are
"average" while Asda is "below average" for being "insufficiently
pro-active towards either GM or organic food issues."
Marks & Spencer is bottom of the heap.
Harragin says: "M & S has little organics, is behind most on labelling.
There is no leadership - the GM food issue is part of the wider M & S
Credit Suisse is the only mainstream ethical fund with a Marks & Spencer
holding - 0.8 per cent of the trust.
Milked for all its worth The Times of London Feb 22, 1999
Is Frankenstein's milk around the corner? Andrew Yates investigates
Monsanto's latest foray into farming
One farmer said: "We can't afford to take the risks as far as the purity of
food is concerned. We need this like a hole in the head. It should be
Another said: "We don't need it and we don't want it, and neither do the
consumers. All it will do is put small producers out of business, line the
pockets of the drug companies and damage the reputation of the product on
which I and 30,000 other farmers depend."
The scene could have come from any rural pub this week, where so- called
Frankenstein foods, genetic modification and the drug company [ Monsanto ]
were the hot topics.
However, it took place 10 years ago this week at a National Farmers Union
meeting in London. They were dairy farmers talking about a new product,
created from biotechnology by Monsanto, called bovine growth hormone. It
has been banned in Europe for the past five years, but it could well be on
the market for the millennium.
The hormone, Bovine Somatotrophin or BST, boosts milk production in cows.
It occurs naturally but has been engineered in the United States by
Monsanto. Injected into dairy cattle it can increase milk yields by up to
20 per cent without any change in the animal's diet.
When it was first used in trials in this country a decade ago, public and
political concerns were sufficient to persuade the European Union - after a
good deal of procrastination - to impose a moratorium of five years on the
product. That moratorium comes to an end when the new millennium breaks.
Yesterday a group of scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture sat down
for the first time to consider the implications of the review. Dossiers of
evidence from animal production specialists, welfarists, drug companies and
health experts will be considered in minute detail.
The National Farmers Union, too, is looking at the drug, which is widely
available in the United States but not Canada, where it is banned. "We will
be considering the whole issue again during the spring and summer," said a
NFU spokesman. "A lot of milk has passed under the bridge since 1994 when
the moratorium came in."
Monsanto, which has made a fortune from the drug in the United States, is
already beginning to lobby for the ban in Europe to be lifted.
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
Subscription fee to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months
See website for details.
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