The Bond pro-bioitech speech in the senate has been turned into an
editorial in Science (Feb 18).. It would be good if one of the saneteers
who has written so eloquently on this subject such as Ann Clark or Charles
Benbrook, would write a letter to the editor of Science, pointing out that
that those concerned about biotechnology are not "without scientific basis"
Politics, Misinformation, and Biotechnology
Christopher S. Bond*
In the past half century, the number of people fed by a single U.S. farmer has
grown from 19 to 129. Despite this stunning advance, intractable health and
nutrition problems remain. The world's population continues to grow even as
available farmland shrinks. Preventable illnesses and malnutrition still
lives of many children in the developing world. As the new millennium gets
way, policy-makers, health care professionals, scientists, and others are
searching for the tools to meet the increasing demands
of a growing and changing world. Chief among these tools is biotechnology.
Leading scientists have concluded that, although
still in its infancy, biotechnology has breathtaking possibilities for
improving human health and nutrition and that a satisfactory
regulatory system is in place to govern its development.
Despite this consensus, a vocal, aggressive--and in some cases,
lawless--group of advocacy organizations seeks to discredit
and eliminate biotechnology. At issue is the alleged risk that any
genetically modified plant may pose to the environment.
However, the issue of risk is by no means one-sided. Yes, we must
understand whether transgenic corn poses more risk to the
Monarch butterfly than does the existing practice of using synthetic
chemicals. However, the greater risk, in my view, is that
without a scientific basis, the naysayers may succeed in their goal of
subverting biotechnology and thus condemn the world's
children to unnecessary malnutrition, blindness, sickness, and
Although positive change is to the collective long-term benefit of us all,
it typically results in short-term difficulties, anxiety, and
fear for some. Opposition of the sort I witnessed at firsthand while at the
December 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in
Seattle, Washington, has been driven variously by trade-protectionist and
anticorporate sentiment, by competing food
marketers such as the whole-foods industry, and by scientifically
unsubstantiated fears of change and technology. Some of
those who seek to undermine biotechnology are not interested in seeking
information or constructive dialogue. Some in Europe
have adopted a constrained trade policy that consists of exporting little
more than hysteria, which we can expect to energize the
professional political ambulance-chasers here in the United States. Sadly,
the actions of radicals such as those who recently
vandalized test plots in California and set fire to research offices at
Michigan State University are not harmless pranks; rather,
such tactics lead to diminished public understanding of the benefits versus
the risks of biotechnology.
Diminished understanding is key to obstructing biotechnology. In
discussions of fact, the scientific viewpoint will prevail.
However, public education will remain challenging. Given the nature of the
modern media, will scientists have to start dressing
up as corncobs, as some protestors have done, to get media attention?
During the past 2 years, I have asked scientists to work
with their local media representatives and public officials to help them
separate fact from fiction. After the problems in Seattle, it
is clear that much more must be done. We must work diligently to ensure
that consumers, who drive food production, are
adequately informed about the science supporting the uses of biotechnology.
Input from the scientific community is vital, but we
cannot count on the media to find scientists; scientists must actively seek
to influence the media. As we work to counteract the
naysayers, we should be encouraged that most Americans, and many others in
developed countries, embrace technological
advances and are generally receptive to the benefits that new technologies
bring to their lives.
A protocol for an international agreement regarding trade of genetically
engineered products has just been released. Although
full understanding of the implications of the agreement will not precede
its implementation, we can all hope that it will serve to
better inform all citizens and depoliticize the process in favor of
The development of this technology is not recreational. Through
biotechnology, scientists are attempting to solve the real-world
problems of sickness, hunger, and resource depletion. The hysteria and
unworkable propositions advanced by those who can
afford to take their next meal for granted have little currency among those
who are hungry. It will be up to the policy-makers,
advocates for the needy, scientists, the media, and others to ensure that
reason, not hype, prevails.
The author is the senior Senator from Missouri in the U.S. Senate.
Volume 287, Number 5456 Issue of 18 Feb 2000, p 1201
Copyright © 2000 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mexico, D.F. & San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas
Tel. y FAX 525-666-73-66 (DF)
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with the command
"unsubscribe sanet-mg". If you receive the digest format, use the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at:
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Mar 12 2000 - 14:00:29 EST