Monday, January 31, 2005

Small little green things

J Craig Venter, voted Scientist of the Year for 2000 by Time Magazine, a lead scientist of the team that pieced together the map of the human genome in 2001, made the following comments about AgBioTech at the Monterey Conference Center recently (hat tip: AgBioView):

{"Natural tomatoes are small little green things the size of my thumb," he said. "Just about everything we eat has been genetically modified, but it's happened over hundreds of years by random, gross experiments."

Many people don't understand that though. So if we change just one gene on purpose, for reasons based on solid research and proven facts, much of the public thinks it's dangerous.}

Many people have the mistaken idea that "man made" equals "harmful." Somehow they feel that the genetic manipulation that has taken place in the past by many very intrusive and unnatural methods (including mutagenic chemicals and radiation) is somehow natural, and that precise modern technologies that allow manipulation of highly specified genetic information -- to the point where it can finally be called engineering -- is "unnatural."

This is just silly luddism.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

DDT saves humans - but kills raptors?

Ronald Bailey of Reason Online believes that DDT is one of our most effective weapons in preventing millions of deaths every year from malaria:

{Imagine that an international governing body got together with a cadre of special interests to deny millions of poor people access to a cheap substance capable of saving hundreds of thousands of lives annually. You'd think such an effort would be considered highly immoral, right? Probably even cause street demonstrations, boycotts, and other signs of public outrage.

Well, just such a campaign was launched three years ago by the United Nations Environmental Program, acting in conjunction with several major environmentalist organizations. There have been no demonstrations, no boycotts, and sadly, few signs of outrage.

That's because the substance is the much-vilified pesticide DDT, which remains the cheapest and most efficient means of reducing malaria. Malaria sickens 300 to 500 million poor people annually, killing as many 2.7 million.}

However, he also thinks that the scientific evidence shows that DDT thinned eggshells:

{"It is generally acknowledged that banning DDT, which thinned bird's eggshells, brought back the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, and the brown pelican."}

In his defense of this statement, he provides some details:

{Those who think I've been duped by the radical enviros on this matter cite the justly famous studies that showed that DDT did not cause eggshell thinning in chickens and Japanese quail. Anderson agrees that the evidence shows that gallinaceous birds (poultry and fowls), herring gulls, and most passerine birds "aren't as sensitive to DDE as raptors." ... But even though chickens and quail fed very high concentrations of DDE and an adequate amount of food experienced essentially no eggshell thinning or other reproductive problems, science shows pretty conclusively that it's another story for raptors.}

Mr Bailey seems convinced that the experimental evidence shows that Raptors are harmed by DDT via "a DDT metabolite known as DDE" which allegedly causes eggshell thinning. In fact he sites earlier studies which "claimed that the eggshell thinning coincided with the introduction of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides like DDT, and concluded that these compounds were harming certain species of birds at the tops of contaminated ecosystems."

However, Alex Avery of the Hudson Institute in his report "Rachel Carson Syndrome: Jumping to Pesticide Conclusions in the Global Frog Crisis" cites evidence from "Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, an entomologist at San Jose State University in California who testified at the 1971–1972 Environmental Protection Agency hearings on DDT showing that there was no correlation between raptor population decline and DDT."

It seems eminently reasonable to look at whether there actually was a correlation between DDT use and raptor population declines before one begins to search for a culprit. Or perhaps we're just supposed to take Rachel Carson's word for it?

According to Dr. J. Gordon Edwards (presumably a more reliable source of information on such facts than Ms. Carson):

{DDT wasn't manufactured anywhere in the world before 1943 and wasn't used in North America until 1945. Yet bald eagles were threatened with extinction in the lower 48 U.S. states as early as the 1920s. There were no bald eagles in New England by 1937.v Same for peregrine falcons, with only 170 breeding pairs estimated to exist in the eastern U.S. in 1940.

Even after 15 years of heavy agricultural use of DDT in the U.S., Audubon Society ornithologists counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960 than during the pre-DDT 1941 Audubon census.}

Mr Avery then goes on to point out why raptors were in such serious trouble long before the evil, man-made chemical (that's redundant to a lot of people...) DDT came along:

{Why were these specific bird populations so low before the invention and manufacture of DDT? We deliberately killed them, trapped them, and stole their eggs. Hunters, farmers, landowners, and fishermen regularly shot eagles, peregrines, and pelicans. Raptor birds and pelicans preyed on farm animals, game animals, and fish that we humans wanted for ourselves.}

So there's the evidence on both sides. You have to look at the evidence and decide for yourself. For even more evidence to help you decide, see Steve Milloy's 100 things you should know about DDT.

But even if it is true (which I doubt) that spraying massive amounts of DDT on crops can have a deleterious effect on raptors, no reasonably well-informed person believes that spraying small amounts of DDT inside and around homes in malaria-prone areas will have any such effect.

So why are we not encouraging the use of this life-saving chemical?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Big Lies Kill Millions

Hugh Hewitt has asked for responses from fellow bloggers to Jonathan Rauch's The Atlantic article "Bipolar Disorder" which Hugh referenced in his WeeklyStandard.com column, "Big Media's 40 Days and 40 Nights."

There are many things about Mr Rauch's article that could and should be scrutinized (for example, how surprising is it that most people self-identify themselves as "centrists?"), but the controversy primarily surrounds the following quote:

{"Better they [religious conservatives] should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics"}

Hugh has posted Mr Rauch's original article and his response to Hugh's column on his web site. (Ed Note: the editorial clarification in square brackets in the above quote was supplied by Mr Rauch himself in his response).

I find the logic of Mr Rauch's response to be somewhat tortured, but I'm sure the many blogs that have responded to Hugh's call (see links at the end of Hugh's post) will address that issue thoroughly. What I would like to focus on is a singularly disturbing quote in Mr Rauch's response, the topic of which comes up regularly here at BioNuclear Bunny.

In his response Mr Rauch attempts to demonstrate how the offending sentence could have been written to make the same point, but in a manner guaranteed to offend anti-biotech liberals instead of pro-life conservatives:

{"Better left-wing environmentalists should write anti-biotech planks into the Democratic Party platform than bomb genetics labs."}

Putting aside the offensive implication of equating activists with violent terrorists that many see in either the original or replacement quote, I find this new example of Mr Rauch's ability to insult entire groups even more offensive than the original. And not because it seems, on the face of it, to equate anti-biotech activists with Elf/Alf Terrorists.

Regardless of which activists are equated with violent terrorists of either the right or the left, there is a disturbing moral equivalence suggested here that is wrong and potentially very harmful to the millions of poor struggling to live and work in the horrific conditions of the developing world. Just imagine the implications of either platform should its activists prevail in gaining the requisite votes to implement it.

If the anti-abortion activists succeed to one extent or another, fewer babies will be aborted. Even staunch pro-choice advocates claim, in public at least, that reducing the number of abortions is a good thing.

However, if the anti-biotech crowd prevails, the consequences for the developing world will be disastrous. The current bureaucratic roadblocks thrown up by junk-science inspired eco-imperialists are already killing millions of women and children in the developing world, as has been pointed out many times here at the BioNuclear Bunny in the past (see list at end of post). Imagine how much worse it will get if the anti-biotech agenda gains supremacy.

Somehow I don't see the equivalence here. Thousands of unborn will live on the one hand versus millions more dying from starvation, malnutrition and disease on the other. Not even close.

I understand the point Mr Rauch is trying to make - better to have extreme polarization of worldview between political activists than having terrorists bomb buildings to express their point of view. But I think this misses an important point: do we allow any and all extreme points of view to be expressed as planks in a platform that may actually be implemented as government policy one day just to potentially prevent acts of violence from the supposedly disenfranchised?

First of all, I don't buy the idea that this will even be successful. The pro-life position has been a plank in the Republican platform for a long time, even while abortion clinics were being bombed. And Elf/Alf Terrorists aren't going to stop bombing bio-tech research facilities just because the Democrats throw an anti-bio-tech plank into their platform. They're violent extremists who won't stop until their agenda is implemented. Even then they'll have new, even more extreme demands, for which they are willing to commit more acts of violence until they are met.

We should have learned a few decades ago that appeasement doesn't work with those who are committed to the use of violence to advance their agenda. But we always seem to want to try it again and again.

But even if it could be argued that certain violent acts committed by such extremist groups could be reduced by including their extreme points of view in a major political party's platform, should we accede to their demands? What if Wahhabists or Nazis wanted "in," -- or else?

Obviously its a silly argument. And the consequences could be disastrous for the least powerful and most vulnerable in our world.

The front lines in the war on poverty and disease
Impending Post-Tsunami Disaster
500,000 a year become blind and up to 6,000 die per day
Balancing risks on the backs of the poor
Tens of Millions Die for Nothing?
More than just corn…
Death by Environmentalism
Let them eat organic!
Bt corn reduces serious birth defects
GE Crops and Poverty Alleviation
Europe Promotes Tragedy in Uganda
Irradiation to rescue millions from rotten food
Ideas have consequences
The Malaria Clock: A Green Eco-Imperialist Legacy of Death
Eco-Imperialism and Energy
Eco-Imperialism and Pesticides
Eco-Imperialism and Biotechnology

Update: in my haste to post this before Hugh's 3pm deadline, I neglected to run the spellcheck. I have fixed some dreadful spelling mistakes and eliminated a couple of redundant phrases in order to improve clarity.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Magic beans?

They're not magic beans, but the seeds produced by today's AgBioTech are almost as good as magic to the many millions of subsistence farmers throughout the third world. "Biotechnology improves lives in Africa" (Hat Tip: JunkScience.com):

{The excellent news is that biotechnology is shining a bright ray of hope on today's grimness. Genetically improved seeds and advanced agricultural technology are boosting crop output on acres that crawled with parasites and viruses just a few years ago. These developments will keep improving lives in Africa (and throughout the Third World), so long as they are not squelched by irrationally fearful eco-hand-wringers.}

{"With this technology, my life has changed completely," said one Kenyan farmer interviewed in a film CORE unveiled at its seminar. "My wife is now big, and my children are healthier than before." His family now watches its first TV and eats fruits that are kept cool and bug-free in their new refrigerator.}

The TV may be a welcome diversion from the monotony of farm life, but the refrigerator is literally a life saver. "But," (I can hear it now) "that's a luxury the developing world cannot afford to have! It is decadent bourgeoise culture threatening the indigenous traditions!" (You know, that time-honored tradition of death by food poisoning.)

{"We need roads to get products to market. We need fertilizer. We need credit to get people started. The magic begins when you have all of these things and biotech working together."}

This last quote is from an evil Monsanto employee, (is there any other kind?)Jerry Steiner, who is obviously typical of the greedy corporate troll with which Monsanto is infamously infected. Strange. He almost sounds normal. Even enlightened. You mean genetically modified crops alone will not conquer hunger and cure all known human disease!? Obviously he is a rouge troll who has temporarily lost his trollish "sanity." When he returns to the Dark Tower (Monsanto headquarters) he will undoubtedly be tortured for his insolence.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Do it for the environment

AgBioTech benefits the environment! Wow, who would've guessed that using less pesticide could be good for the environment?

Genetically modified crops offer hope for endangered wildlife

{In the first piece of research into how genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant crops could be used to benefit the environment, scientists from Broom's Barn Research Station in Suffolk show that creative use of GM crops could bring back increasing numbers of endangered wildlife and birds such as skylarks and finches. This new research, to be published in Philosophical Transactions B, a learned journal produced by the Royal Society, suggests that GM herbicide tolerant crops could be a powerful tool in developing sustainable farming systems in the future.}

{Broom's Barn's director, Dr John Pidgeon, says: "Frequent spraying destroys the weeds on which the insects and birds feed, but our system means we can reduce the amount of spraying and allow weeds between the rows to flourish in summer without affecting yield. Our method could easily be applied to other row crops.}

Safe Nukes

Nuclear power plants aren't nuclear bombs. Say it with me -- s l o w l y... Nuclear power plants aren't nuclear bombs. (But they both have Nuclear in their names! One is Evil so the other must be Evil!) Try it again -- I know its hard, but just try. Nuclear power plants aren't nuclear bombs...

FAQs About Nuclear Energy

{Q. Can a nuclear plant blow up like a bomb?

A. No. A bomb converts a large part of its U-235 or plutonium into fission fragments in about 10^-8 seconds and then flies apart. This depends on the fact that a bomb is a very compact object, so the neutrons don't have far to go to hit another fissionable atom. A power plant is much too big to convert an important part of its fissionable material before it has generated enough heat to fly apart. This fact is based on the fundamental physics of how fast fission neutrons travel. Therefore, it doesn't depend on the particular design of the plant.}

I never knew this! Did you know this? No one ever told me they could blow up like a nuclear bomb, but environmentalists and the media act like this is a distinct possibility so I just assumed... Silly me!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Nukes in Italy?

Looks like Italy's rethinking its stance on nuclear energy (HT: JunkScience):

{Berlusconi said Italian industry was "paying the penalty (for buying electricity generated) in foreign power stations". "For the poor choices made in the past our companies pay 20-30 percent more," he said.}

When will we see that we're also paying a penalty for our past decisions about nuclear energy?

Friday, January 21, 2005

The common sense of a third grader

Instapundit points out a great article in Reason Online, All That Have Not Fins and Scales that details the idiocy of impending USA tariffs on cheap seafood from Asia:

{Less than two weeks after a 40-foot wave flattened massive swaths of Southeast Asia, the United States slapped a tariff on millions of dollars worth of seafood imports from India and Thailand. As the federal government promised $350 million, and private citizens pledged even more, the message to surviving shrimp farmers was clear: Have our marines, our pity, and our cash, but for the love of God, do not send us your cheap shrimp.}

{Distributors say the anti-dumping hysteria isn't just bad for the far-off third world; it's bad for all of shrimp-scarfing, scampi-loving America. Wally Stevens, the president of the American Seafood Distribution Association, says the US trade czars lack the "common sense of a third grader." The ruling, he says, will threaten 20 times the number of jobs it protects. Distributing and serving shrimp is a much bigger business than fishing for it, and as prices inevitably shoot up, jobs will be lost.}

I'm sure the families hit by the cheap seafood imports have suffered. Perhaps the government should help them out in some way, preferrably to transistion to a more profitable profession. But granting them huge tarifs only hurts the world's poor and costs everyone else.

How would the shrimp farmers feel if the American government slapped high tarifs on the all the cheap electronics and clothing they purchase from asia? Their cost of living would go up -- just as they are now doing to every other American who wants to buy seafood.

Of course the EU is just as bad.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Impending Post-Tsunami Disaster

In Six Tsunamis (hat tip: The AgBioView email Newsletter from AgBioWorld.org), Angela Logomasini of TechCentralStation alerts us of an impending disaster looming over the heroic relief efforts:

{That disaster has created new habitat suitable for the proliferation of malaria and other disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Public health officials can take steps to reduce the impact, one of which involves using the controversial pesticide DDT. Since the 1960s green activists pushed bans of the substance around the world based largely on false claims about its health affects. The result was a public health disaster -- contributing to skyrocketing malaria rates.}

Of course, all right-thinking environmentalists shudder at the thought of using DDT to save human lives. Everyone knows its so toxic its almost evil!

Having been brainwashed by the public school system, I thought as much until recently. But I read too much for my own good, I suppose. And I just wasn't enough of a true-believer, I guess, for anomalous facts -- such as those which follow this rambling discourse -- to bounce off my hard pate without leaving at least some residue behind to trouble my thoughts with evil, corporate-spawned doubts about the received eco-wisdom on which I had been weaned:

{Despite anti-DDT activist claims, DDT has not been shown to have any adverse impacts on human health. According to A.G. Smith of the scientific journal the Lancet: "If the huge amounts of DDT used are taken into account, the safety record for human beings is extremely good. In the 1940s many people were deliberately exposed to high concentrations of DDT through dusting programmes or impregnation of clothes, without any apparent ill effect." Additionally, limited use of DDT for malaria control does not affect wildlife because of it is not used widely in the environment where animals could be exposed.}

Oh, and I can't forget this quote, which explains the somewhat abstruse title of Ms Logomasini's article:

{Imagine that every year the world suffered from six or more tsunamis producing the horrific death toll recently experienced. That's how many people die every year from malaria alone.}

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Protecting Poverty

Once again we see how short-sighted, selfish political interest groups can have far-ranging, unintended negative consequences -- for themselves as well as others.

Dennis Avery's Center for Global Food Issues is a great resource for information about the true state of the food supply in this country and around the world, and those who produce it. His article, The Great Rich-Country Sugar Scam relates how the powerful sugar lobby in the EU and America is hurting not only those poor countries that can produce suger far more efficiently than we can, but is actually hurting overall farm exports from the EU and America:

{Oxfam, the British charity, is calling for an immediate slash in rich-country sugar subsidies that lock out sugar imports from desperately poor places like Northeast Brazil and Mozambique that can produce little except sugar cane.EU sugar subsidies, it says, is costing the pitiful economies of Mozambique, Malawi and Ethiopia $238 million in the past three years.

At the same time, ordinary Americans and Europeans are shelling out billions of dollars per year in subsidies for white sugar and corn sweeteners.}

I can't believe it! We're paying a sugar subsidy to prevent poor farmers in Mozambique and Brazil from selling sugar here!? How does that make any flippin' sense!? (We probably send Mozambique aid, too!)

{Farm trade reform would let each country produce to its highest-yield efficiency. The United States could swap wheat to Brazil, because it gets double the per-acre yields of subtropical Brazil. Brazil, in contrast, gets twice the sugar yields of American sugar beets. Such trade would permit the world to feed itself from fewer acres, at less cost to poor families and the environment. Farmers in both countries would increase their profits through lower costs.}

{Corn growers also think they profit from the sugar policy, since most of American processed foods and sodas are now made with corn sweetener. They forget, however, that if the trade barriers were dropped, they could sell far more corn to Asia as feed grain than they sell to corn sweetener companies today.}

That's what free trade is all about - the ability to buy from the least-cost producer. Good for the producer and the buyer. But those farm votes are coveted by both the Democrats and Republicans. Hard to see anything changing here any time soon...

However, pressure is mounting on the USA to cut its farm subsidies:

WTO ruling puts U.S. farm subsidies on line

{A World Trade Organization ruling that U.S. cotton subsidies violate global trade rules has startled farm groups and trade experts, who say it might eventually threaten $19 billion in annual payments to American farmers.}

{While the decision could trigger a flurry of fresh challenges at the WTO, it also could pressure developed countries to concede more to poor countries in global trade talks that have been stalled over farm subsidies and other issues.}

{"Without the (cotton) subsidies, we would not be very competitive worldwide," Barfield says[Claude Barfield is a trade expert at the American Enterprise Institute].}

{Developing countries and international advocacy groups have singled out U.S. cotton subsidies as hurting farmers in Africa and other poor nations. The issue contributed to the collapse last fall of global trade talks in Cancun, Mexico.

"The WTO is confirming what everybody knows, which is that the U.S. isn't playing fair and is making life harder for farmers in developing countries," says Gawain Kripke, policy adviser for Oxfam America, an advocacy group for developing countries.}

The Republicans are really hypocritical on the issue of farm subsidies. They're for smaller government when it comes to the typical liberal budgetary black-hole: social programs. But don't touch their farm subsidies!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Space Vegetables

Cool! Vegetables from outer space! (Hat Tip: CheckBioTech.org)

{On Sept. 27 last year, 17 species of vegetable, fruit and flora seeds, chosen by SNGC, were sent into space with the country's 20th recoverable science satellite, which returned to the earth 18 days later.

“Under the physical conditions of outer space such as radiation, low gravity and vacuum, the seeds can take on astronautical mutagenesis, which alters the germ plasma of crop seeds,” said SNGC’s associate researcher Jin Xing.

“After the satellite returned to the Earth, the high yielding and most immunized seeds were selected,” Jin said.}

Sounds interesting. Bombard seeds with radiation in outer space causing "astronomical mutagenesis" and then pick out the best mutants. Great idea.

From what I understand, this is nothing new. We've been creating new varieties of plants using mutagenic chemicals and radiation for several decades now.

But this next paragraph just floored me!

{“Different from genetically modified crops, which have evoked much controversy among scientists, no new genes are introduced to the space vegetables, so they are definitely safe for consumption,” Jin said.}

So using radiation to cause "astronomical mutagenesis" of a seed's genome is safer than using precise genetic engineering techniques to replace one or two highly specific genes!?

Yeah, sure, that's logical.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The front lines in the war on poverty and disease

Paul Driessen in "Committing malpractice on the world's poor", reminds us that as horrific as the death toll in the recent Indian Ocean tsunami has been, that disaster is overshadowed many times over by the yearly death toll in developing countries from preventable causes.

{Four million people a year die from lung infections, caused by constantly breathing smoke, dust, bacteria and pollutants from wood and dung that they must burn for cooking and heating -- because families don't have electricity, and activist groups stymie hydroelectric and other generation projects. Six million more perish from dysentery and other intestinal diseases, caused by spoiled food and unsafe water, due to nonexistent refrigeration and water purification -- again the result of not having electricity.

Eleven million succumb annually to malnutrition and starvation, because their nations still rely on primitive farming methods and activists prevent the introduction of biotechnology that could help farmers grow more nutritious crops in dry, saline and nutrient-poor soil, and with fewer fertilizers and pesticides. Millions more are felled by malaria, because infected mosquitoes are everywhere and pressure groups prevent their countries from using pesticides.}

Access to abundant, inexpensive electricity -- which is blocked by environmentalists -- and the latest products of AgBioTech -- which is also blocked by environmentalists -- are both important weapons in the war on poverty and disease in the third world. However, money to buy DDT for spraying programs, which international and Western aid organizations refuse to give, is the most immediate need.

In fact, through the POPs treaty (Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants), the developed countries of the world will make access to DDT for such programs almost impossible, as Steve Milloy relates in his FoxNews column: President Could Help Tsunami Victims With Stroke of Pen:

{The POPs treaty bans or restricts the use of 12 targeted chemicals alleged to cause human health effects, including cancer, and to harm wildlife. One of the chemicals targeted by the POPs treaty is the insecticide DDT — which, as discussed in earlier columns — was banned by the U.S. in 1972 based on junk science.

The POPs treaty limits how much DDT nations may store, how they can acquire it, and when and how they can use it. These rules will increase the cost of, and delay access to, the only effective defense against the mosquitoes that transmit malaria.

"The POPs treaty could virtually eliminate the use of DDT, perhaps the most affordable and effective pesticide and repellant in existence, " said Richard Tren of the Africa Fighting Malaria, a nonprofit health advocacy group based in South Africa and the U.S. that focuses on the political economy of diseases and disease control in developing countries.}

The current outpouring of concern for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami is wonderful and gratifying to see. But we need to cast aside the junk-science fueled hysteria over the use of DDT and do something that costs very little money, but maybe a little pride: admit we were wrong, that we listened to the wrong voices and the result has been incalculable suffering and death for millions.

We can admit our mistake and change course for the sake of the millions of lives that can be spared and the suffering of millions that can be prevented by doing so.

Paul Driessen puts it well:

{The unnatural disaster of malaria lacks the drama of massive tidal waves engulfing sunbathers and resorts, of helicopters aiding survivors. But the result -- two million mothers and children dead from readily preventable malaria, year after year -- are no less horrific.

The United States sprays pesticides across Dade County, Florida and other communities, to prevent outbreaks of West Nile Virus -- which in three years has killed a total of 300 Americans. So do Canada and other nations. For them and the agencies they fund to deny effective pesticides to the world's poorest people is hypocritical, and unconscionable.

One can only hope that the tsunami will bring about a rebirth of compassion, an end to empty promises, a new focus on programs that work -- and a renunciation of ideologically driven activists and bureaucrats who have benefited so much from the very technologies they prevent the Third World poor from acquiring. Whether it's malaria prevention, electricity generation, agricultural biotechnology or economic development, the world's poor deserve better.}

We need to:
  • Know and tell others the facts about DDT
  • Stop supporting and even roll-back misguided and un-scientific environmental restrictions on the manufacture and distribution of DDT such as the POPs treaty
  • Provide money and support for DDT spraying
  • Insist that international organizations make DDT spraying a cornerstone of their programs to eradicate malaria

Saturday, January 15, 2005

500,000 a year become blind and up to 6,000 die per day

{In developing countries 500,000 per year become blind and up to 6,000 per day die from vitamin A-malnutrition. And this is despite enormous efforts from public and philanthropic institutions to reduce this medical problem with the help of traditional interventions such as supplementation, fortification, encouragement for diet diversification, etc. This heavy toll poor people in developing countries are paying to vitamin A-malnutrition will continue year by year, if we do not find a way to complement traditional interventions by sustainable and unconventional ones.}

This is a must-read article: "Experience from the Humanitarian Golden Rice Project: Extreme Precautionary Regulation Prevents Use of Green Biotechnology in Public Projects," by Ingo Potrykus, Professor emeritus Plant Sciences, ETH Zuerich, Switzerland.

Highly recommended. It gets thick with technical terminology at times, but I assure you it is well worth the effort.

The point? Extreme regulation of genetically modified crops is preventing a miraculous plant, Golden Rice, from reaching those who need it most. The result? Every year this boon to mankind is delayed, 500,000 go blind and many thousands more die from vitamin A-malnutrition.

Let's be perfectly clear about this: a genetically engineered plant has been produced, Golden Rice, that could prevent a half million cases of blindness a year and thousands of deaths per day from vitamin A-malnutrition, and it cannot be given to the malnourshed poor who need it.

{Experience, after more than 20 years with transgenic plants and their practical application on 50 million hectares farmland as well as from many hundreds of "biosafety" experiments in which bio-safety questions in context with transgenic plants have been carefully studied, led to numerous original publications and reports from academic institutions which all come to the conclusion, that there is no specific risk associated with the technology, which would exceed risks inherent anyhow to traditional plant breeding or natural evolution.}

Why is such a safe, beneficial technology opposed? Because of something most of us aren't even aware of: the Precautionary Principle. What's the Precautionary Principle? Its a nice package used by anti-globalists and anti-capitalists and radical environmental groups to prevent scientific advances such as Golden Rice from reaching those it can help the most.

The Precautionary Principle, as its promoters state it, goes something like this: any new technology must prove that it has no harmful effects on the environment and man, no matter how remote, miniscule or distant in time. The idea of the Precautionary Principle appeals to the rich, comfortable inhabitants of develped nations because they have plenty of food and do not suffer from the debilitating effects of endemic infectious diseases such as malaria.

However, the Precautionary Principle hides the true political agenda of its promoters and implies many derogatory and false ideas about man and technology: that any new technological advance is just a continuation of man's savaging of the earth; that man is just a parasite on the earth who has no right to make the environment fit his needs for nutritious food and protection from disease; that capitalism, which produces almost all of the technological advances enjoyed by mankind, is evil and should be opposed; that the lifestyle of the West is unsustainable and should be curtailed and other countries discouraged from following the same path; that the environmental stress caused by human population growth worldwide will only get worse if developing countries attempt to adopt the technologies that will afford them the lifestyle of the developed countries.

The Precautionary Principle is merely a rhetorical device used by cunning manuplators for political advantage or to promote their organization -- from which they recieve substantial salaries. The true nature of this "principle" should be evident to all but the indoctrinated and can be confirmed by many of the statements made by those promoting it, but it can shown another way: it should be obvious that the Precautionary Principle is merely obstructionist because it can never be satisfied. Someone can always come up with another implausible, potentially harmful scenario that requires more testing.

{...the next 5 years will have to be spent on the required "bio-safety assessments" to guarantee that there is no putative harm from Golden Rice for the environment and the consumer. Nothing speaks against a cautious approach, but present regulatory praxis follows an extreme interpretation of the "precautionary principle" with the understanding that not even the slightest hypothetical risks can be accepted or left untested, and at the same time all putative benefits are totally ignored. Looking at Golden Rice and the problem of environmental risk assessment discloses how irrational the present system operates : The author has, over the last four years, not found any ecologist, including those from the "professional GMO-opposition", who could construct a half-way realistic hypothetical risk from Golden Rice to any agronomic or wild environment. This is not surprising because the entire biology of the system - low amounts of additional -carotene in the endosperm in plants which are loaded with -carotene in every organ except for the root - does not provide for any selective advantage in any environment, and therefore can not pose any substantial risk. Despite this fact Golden Rice is still awaiting the first permission for the first small-scale field release, in which environmental risks have to be studied experimentally! So far to the "risk" side of the equation. And the "benefit"? Golden Rice could prevent blindness and death of hundreds of thousands of children but can not do so, so far, because risk assessment notoriously is ignoring a risk-benefit analysis!}

The hidden agenda of those who insist on singling out such technologies as genetic engineering for overly-burdensome regulation based on the dictates of the Precautionary Principle condemn tens of thousands to blindness, disease and death every year that they succeed in delaying such important humanitarian products from reaching those who need it.

{What are the consequences of the extreme precautionary regulation of green biotechnology for public research towards food security in developing countries? There are numerous scientists and institutions in developing countries who have the capacity, motivation, and often even funding to work towards scientific progress in the areas of pest-, disease-, drought-, heat-, cold-, saline-, heavy metal resistance with the potential to rescue harvests and to expand agricultural productivity to hostile environments; to improve photosynthetic efficiency and to enhance the exploitation of natural resources to increase productivity; to enhance nutritional content to reduce malnutrition with regards to micro-nutrients such as vitamin A etc. Very few of those, however, have the financial and mental capacity to transform a scientific success into an applicable "product", which is the first prerequisite for benefit of the poor from a scientific advance. Probably no scientist nor institution in the public domain, however, have the resources, experience, and determination to carry a single GMO product across the hurdles of to days extreme precautionary regulatory procedures. Regulatory authorities in developing countries are less experienced, more insecure, and therefore, more stringent than their colleagues in developed countries. Even with support from the experienced private sector deregulation of a novel GMO product has become a gigantic task. It is, therefore, very obvious that, if we continue with the present regulatory standards, the potential of green biotechnology will not reach the poor.}

And if we stand by and do nothing, we are not blamessless either. Dr Potrykus relates the following story:

{In the early 19th century a Thai princess celebrated her 18th birthday. She fell into the palace pond and drowned in front of hundreds of witnesses. Why? It was "taboo" to touch a member of the "divine" royal family!}

And then he ponders the implications...

{We believe we would have saved the princess, however in the early 21st century 500,000 children per year become blind and 6,000 per day die from vitamin A-malnutrition. This could be prevented with GMOs. However GMOs are "taboo" for our society which prefers to trust "phantom risks" instead of scientific evidence.}

Are we really beyond such superstitious beliefs? Or have we just dressed up the pig of superstition in the latest paris-knockoff dress called Junk Science and the gaudy cosmetics of the Precautionary Principle?

No matter how we try to dress it up, its still a pig and it still stinks.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Backyard Balogna

Right in my own backyard -- California, that is: Napa grapegrowers to host debate on genetic engineering. I hope it was a balanced and informative discussion, but somehow I doubt it. Maybe its the proximity to Marin county that has me worried. (Hat Tip: CheckBioTech.org)

{Both Kopp and Henson said they did not believe that anyone in Napa County is mounting a campaign for a ballot initiative to outlaw genetically modified crops.}

We can only hope it stays that way, but I doubt it...

{Waddell said that the timeline for developing a transgenic vine that is immune to Pierce's Disease, for instance, was still at least five to 10 years away. However, genetically modified yeasts are already used in the wine industry, though probably not locally, and genetically modified cover crops could soon arrive.}

So let me get this straight. Scientists are actively pursuing the possibility of genetically engineered grapevines that are not susceptible to Pierce's Disease -- a disease carried by the glassy-winged sharpshooter which, according to the Wine Institute of California, "decimated vineyards in the Los Angeles Basin in the 1880s, and again in the 1930s and 1940s," and recently infected 25% of the 3000 acres of vineyards in the Temecula Valley, "resulting in an estimated $13 million in damage in that county alone" -- and we need to talk about whether its a good idea or not?

Also, with the pace of AgBioTech these days, it may be a lot closer that Waddell thinks -- Italy tests GM grapes and berries:

{Italy’s grape industry faces quite a number of problems, including viruses, fungi, and the complex yellowing called "Flavescence dorèe." “At the moment there are no [alternatives], and the biotech tool could provide really useful alternatives,” Dr. Mezzetti, said.}

Meanwhile, away from the high-fallutin' world of wine grapes, farmers around the world are voting for AgBioTech in a big way -- with their money. Global biotech plantings show double-digit growth for ninth straight year:

{The planting of biotech crops by farmers around the world in 2004 grew by 20 percent over the previous year — the second highest increase on record and the ninth straight year of double-digit increases, according to a new report from the nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

An estimated 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries now plant biotech crops — up from 7 million farmers in 18 countries in 2003. About 90 percent of these farmers are resource-poor from developing countries, according to the report, "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2004."}

If one were to make the gigantic leap necessary to convince oneself that environmentalists are not really as misanthropic as their actions would lead any thoughtful person to believe, one might expect that the they should be overjoyed to see the burdens of hunger and want reduced among some of the poorest people in the world.

Right. I kinda doubt it too...

{Among those adopting the new technology are farmers like:
Carlos Andico and Edwin Paraluman of the Philippines, where studies have shown families can earn about 34 percent more money by planting Bt corn — enough to support a family of five.

Jose Victor Nogues of Spain. Bt corn farmers earn about $85 more per acre, according to ISAAA, while at the same time producing a healthier feed that is better for the environment.

Mahalingappa Shankarikoppa of India, who says that by planting Bt cotton he makes two to three times more money than by planting conventional cotton seed.}

I guess these poor, ignorant farmers are just being taken to the cleaners by those nasty multi-national corporations, like Monsanto.

Then again, maybe they are laughing their heads off at the food nannies -- laughing all the way to the bank, that is.

{"Reducing poverty by half by 2015 is an imperative moral obligation and is one of the most formidable challenges facing the world today, to which biotech crops can make a vital contribution," wrote James.}
And from the Executive Summary of the Report, there are other benefits beyond money in the pockets of the poor (as if that weren't enough):

{Biotech crops are also delivering benefits to consumers and society at large, through more affordable food, feed and fiber that require less pesticides and hence a more sustainable environment.}

But with water becoming a scarce commodity, in order to continue to feed the world's hungry, scientists will have to pull off a pretty neat trick -- making the desert bloom:

{Researchers at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute have shown that by transferring a single gene from barley to wheat, the plants can tolerate less watering for a longer period of time before their leaves wilt.}

{This new, drought-resistant variety requires only one-eighth as much irrigation as conventional wheat, and actually can be cultivated with rainfall alone in some desert areas. It could literally make the desert bloom.

Modern biotechnology, also known as gene-splicing or genetic modification (GM), offers plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do spectacular new things. ... farmers are using GM crop varieties to produce higher yields, with fewer resources and reduced impact on the environment.}

{There is an impediment to this rosy scenario, however. Unscientific, overly burdensome regulation in the U.S., and by agencies of the United Nations and the European Union, has raised significantly the cost of producing new plant varieties and kept most crops from ever reaching the market.}

{Biotechnology applied to agriculture can help the poor by sowing a second Green Revolution, but only if politicians create public policy that enables it to flower.}

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Balancing risks on the backs of the poor

"Imagine filling seven Boeing 747s with children, and then crashing them, every day." According to "Balancing risks on the backs of the poor," this is how to visualize how many children die every year from malaria - one million. This highly recommended article, originally published in Nature Medicine in July 2000, is at the very informative malaria.org web site.

The article accepts a bit too readily the claims of eggshell thinning caused by DDT when sprayed in massive doses, but overall it does a great job of warning about the dangers of banning DDT. DDT is not used by many countries that should, but the few that do could be forced into abandoning this most useful of chemicals because of international pressure:

"Led by the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 110 countries are negotiating a treaty to "reduce and/or eliminate...the emissions and discharges" of 12 persistent organic pollutants, citing their "unreasonable and otherwise unmanageable risks to human health and the environment."2 If it becomes law, the treaty will likely end DDT manufacture, or at least make the supply scarce and unaffordable to tropical countries."

The article notes that, "For mosquitoes, DDT is a toxin, irritant and repellant all rolled into one chemical. All three properties decrease the odds of being bitten by mosquitoes, and toxicity particularly reduces the odds that parasite-bearing mosquitoes will survive to infect others."

It is this combination of traits and the fact that DDT is so cheap to manufacture that makes it indispensible in the fight against malaria. Countries that are using it to great effect should be given aid to help fund house-spraying programs instead of threats to cut off aid if DDT is sprayed:

"Threats are used, as Belize learned when the US Agency for International Development demanded that it stop using DDT."

The article notes that, "This body of evidence is so indisputable that even environmental groups such as Physicians for Social Responsibility concede that DDT is "highly effective" in malaria control. Campaigning for a DDT ban given this benefit would seem politically difficult unless one alleged even greater health risks associated with its use, which is precisely what environmentalists do."

However, according to the article, "not one case-control study of DDT's human carcinogenicity has been affirmatively replicated." In fact the article notes that some research has actually "found exposure [to DDT] to significantly reduce risk [of breast cancer]."

Other important excerpts from the article:

"The scientific literature is unpersuasive of the need to withdraw DDT; on the contrary, it is clear that doing so risks making malaria control ineffective, unaffordable, or both."

"Above all, rich countries must allow, and even facilitate, poor tropical countries to make choices about DDT freely, and with informed consent."

"The insistence to do without DDT is 'eco-colonialism' that can impoverish no less than the imperial colonialism of the past did."


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Poor Countries

The good news: according to New Report Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Poor Countries, the myth that AgBioTech is just another ploy by the Industrial/Government/Military complex of the USA to extend its hegemony of world domination is just that: a myth. Many countries have "vibrant programs of public biotech research," and some of these countries aren't rich and powerful either. They are not trying to "rule the world" with genetically modified "franken-food," they are just trying to invest in research that will better the lives of their people, many of whom are hungry and malnourished.

Poor countries don't have a lot of money to throw down the bottomless pit of social policies built on an unrealistic view of the world and human nature -- like we do in the rich and fat developed countries of the world. Like a family on a budget, they have to be ultra-realistic -- every dollar spent has to count. And apparently they've come to believe that AgBioTech is worth the investment.

But there's a problem: the rich, fat busy-bodies of the developed world are worried -- just worried to death! -- and, like all busy-bodies, they can't help but poke their noses in other peoples' business and try to tell them how to run their lives, because they just know better than everyone else.

Patronizing as this must appear to devloping nations, professional busy-bodies and worriers of the filthy-rich environmental and anti-globalization organizations have convinced many countries to raise the bar so high that it is making it difficult for those nations on a budget (a real budget) to get any of that great research out the door where it can do some good.

Of course, no one is advocating that anyone be allowed to release any old genetically modified plant willy-nilly; but then again, in the past we made massive changes to plant's genetics through "conventional" (ie, error-prone, trial and error, ham-fisted) breeding techniques, including the use of radiation and mutagenic chemicals, and no one ever whined that we were "polluting" the environment with dangerous "foreign" genes.

Testing requirements for AgBioTech should be science-based, not panty-wasting, "who knows what might happen" testing that stretches on forever, never reaching a reasonable conclusion of safety -- while every year, thousands upon thousands of desperate women and children die of malnutrion, hunger, and the endemic diseases of the under-nourished.

Some excerpts from New Report Debunks Misconceptions About Biotech Crop Research in Poor Countries:

In developing countries, public institutions are conducting groundbreaking research to produce genetically modified (GM) crops.

"Many people assume that large multinational corporations control the global development of genetically modified foods, but the reality is that poor countries have their own vibrant programs of public biotech research. Often this research draws upon indigenous plant varieties to cultivate improved crops for local use by small-scale farmers."

According to the study, current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of pesticides. In the future, biotech crops may increase drought tolerance and resistance to saline soils and improve the nutritional value of staple foods.

"Unfortunately, most poor countries lack the knowledge, capacity, and funding to develop and comply with biosafety regulatory requirements. As a result, GM crops face difficulties moving from the lab to farmers' fields," noted Patricia Zambrano of IFPRI, who contributed to the study.

Monday, January 10, 2005

DDT: A case study in scientific fraud

Glenn Reynolds, aka, Instapundit, recently mentioned an old post of his about malaria and DDT. While blogging about the mass murder of millions of Africans because of the Junk Science popularized by Rachel Carson in her book, "Silent Spring," Glenn apparently felt a bit guilty. "As much as I love to see the blue herons on the lake, it seems unfair that my pleasure in this is bought at the cost of millions of third-world deaths."

He was concerned about the impact DDT supposedly had had on local bird populations. "In my area it's now routine to see bald eagles, blue herons, and other birds that only a few years ago were thought nearly extinct. Their comeback is because of the elimination of DDT spraying."

I suppose its possible that DDT had an impact on the bird populations in his area -- I haven't seen the scientific studies to know one way or the other -- but based on the evidence from published, peer-reviewed scientific research cited in the report, DDT: A case study in scientific fraud, I highly doubt it.

Here is a summary from that report on one of the most reviled of all man-made chemicals, DDT:

The chemical compound that has saved more human lives than any other in history, DDT, was banned by order of one man, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Public pressure was generated by one popular book and sustained by faulty or fraudulent research. Widely believed claims of carcinogenicity, toxicity to birds, anti-androgenic properties, and prolonged environmental persistence are false or grossly exaggerated.

The effects of the junk science based ban on DDT:

The worldwide effect of the U.S. ban has been millions of preventable deaths. DDT has been effective in controlling mankind's worst insect pests, including lice, fleas, and mosquitoes. This was of enormous importance for human health because at least 80 percent of human infectious disease worldwide is arthropod borne.

Hundreds of millions have died from malaria, yellow fever, typhus, dengue, plague, encephalitis, leishmaniasis, filariasis, and many other diseases. In the 14th century bubonic plague (transmitted by fleas) killed a fourth of the people in Europe and two-thirds of those in the British Isles.

More than 100 epidemics of typhus ravaged civilizations in Europe and Asia, with mortality rates as high as 70 percent. But by far the greatest killer has been malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes.

In 1945 the goal of eradicating this scourge appeared to be achievable, thanks to DDT. By 1959, the U.S., Europe, portions of the Soviet Union, Chile, and several Caribbean islands were nearly malaria free. In 1970 the National Academy of Sciences stated: "To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. In little more than two decades DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths due to malaria that would have otherwise have been inevitable."

Today, however, after the U.S. ban on DDT, there is a global malaria burden of 300 to 500 million cases and 1 to 2.5 million deaths annually, mostly among young children. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds.

The effect of DDT on bird populations:

During the DDT Years, the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts published the numbers seen per observer in 1941 (pre-DDT) and1960 (after peak use of DDT). The actual numbers seen increased from 90 birds seen per observer in 1941 to 971 birds seen per observer in 1960.

Similarly, the counts of raptorial birds migrating over Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, indicated that there were many more hawks there during the DDT years than previously. The numbers counted there increased from 9,291 in 1946 (before much DDT was used) to 13,616 in 1963 and 29,765 in 1968, after 15 years of heavy DDT use.

The effect of DDT on birds' eggshells:

The alleged thinning of eggshells by DDT in the diet was effective propaganda; however, actual feeding experiments proved that there was very little, if any, correlation between DDT levels and shell thickness.

Thin shells may result when birds are exposed to fear, restraint, mercury, lead, parathion, or other agents, or when deprived of adequate calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin D, light, calories, or water.

The report's final analysis on the matter:

The ban on DDT, founded on erroneous or fraudulent reports and imposed by one powerful bureaucrat, has caused millions of deaths, while sapping the strength and productivity of countless human beings in underdeveloped countries. It is time for an honest appraisal and for immediate deployment of the best currently available means to control insect-borne diseases. This means DDT.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The report, DDT: A case study in scientific fraud, has much more to say about the myths and fraudulent claims made about the effects of DDT and the shameful history of how such an important chemical came to be demonized and banned. It is highly recommended, as is the site which hosts it: eco-imperialism.com.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tens of Millions Die for Nothing?

Instapundit, who points out that he has been reporting on the disasterous consequences of the ban on DDT for years, has a recent post on the subject. He links to and provides some excerpts from a New York Times column by Nick Kristof that exposes this horrendous tragedy. Its great to see the NYT on the right side of an environmental boondoggle for once.

Unfortunately Glenn doesn't mention some important statements in the column by a couple of infamous environmental groups whose efforts have been instrumental in practically eradicating DDT from planet Earth for any and all uses, however useful in saving the lives of poor woment and children in Africa.

Fortunately Steve Milloy's Junk Science web site exposes this double-talk for what it is and sets the record straight (its the post "World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace Reverse Gear on DDT: Tens of Millions Die for Nothing?" on Jan 10 - its on the JunkScience.com main page at the moment, but it will be moved to the archive shortly).

In the Kristof article, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace acknowledge the tragedy of malaria and give lip service to the idea of using DDT, "if the alternatives aren't working" and "if there's nothing else and its going to save lives."

Such sentiments are welcome -- though a bit belated, for which Steve berates them soundly and justifiably.

However, Steve points out, "The WWF nevertheless maintains on its web site that "DDT should be phased out and ultimately banned." Greenpeace has long called for banning DDT, and has been a leading advocate of the POPs Treaty, which would make DDT more difficult to use in anti-malaria programs, if not operate as a de facto ban."

Steve also points out (under another link to the same article on Jan 10): "He is wrong about the bald eagle though, it was endangered in 1921, 25 years before DDT was ever used."

See my next post, "DDT: A case study in scientific fraud" for more evidence that the DDT ban was based on bad science.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Fields as factories

In "Think of fields as factories" we read of the incredible potential of "pharming", using gene splicing techniques on plants to force them to produce quality, inexpensive drugs in large quantities. In some cases where the drug can be administered orally, if the part of the plant that accumulates the drug is edible, the plant can also be the vehicle for administering the drug. This can be a very important factor in the effort to get drugs such as vaccines to the poorest of the poor who have no access to the army of health care workers needed to administer the drugs intravenously.

Of course, to appear "balanced" Scott Canon, the Kansas City Star reporter who wrote this piece, must insert baseless accusations and fearmongering by special-interest food-nanny groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists who think we need them to protect us. They "just don't think its worth the risk," but what about those who need these drugs and have to find a way to get them at $30,000 a gram!? (See reference to the production of lysozyme in the excerpt below).

Its unbelievable that Mr Canon can cite the Starlink fiasco without mentioning the CDC's follow-up study showing that there is no scientific reason to suspect that Starlink maize (a GM corn) caused allergic reactions in anyone.

Some excerpts from the Kansas City Star article about plant pharmaceutical "factories":

Rice and barley could yield wonder drugs, transformed from dinner table staples to medical miracles by laboratory gene tinkering.

Scott Deeter, Ventria's president and chief operating officer, said the technology offers great promise that must overcome isolated and, he believes, unwarranted fears.

“We've got to make sure people understand the technology,” he said.


He emphasizes, for instance, that Ventria only works with self-pollinating crops such as rice and barley where wind or insects can't drift from pharmaceutical fields to contaminate ordinary crops. The fields will only be worked with equipment dedicated to those crops — not mixed in regular produce or commodity grains.

Ventria ... has been growing small-scale plots of crops that replace the plant's native proteins with lactoferrin and lysozyme, generating the same substances found in human tears, saliva and mother's milk. They can be used to fight stomach infections or suppress potentially lethal forms of diarrhea. They can currently be extracted from mother's milk — at a cost of $30,000 a gram. Lysozyme can also be drawn from chicken eggs, but then it poses a danger of allergic reaction.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Grazing the Nanograss

Cool stuff! Nanograss may be one of the first technologies from the nano-revolution that will make our BioNuclear future even more amazing. Some excerpts:

A drop of water glides across the flat surface like quicksilver, moving effortlessly from place to place as the surface is tilted. It's hard to believe that the little bead is water, for it doesn't wet the surface as it races around, seemingly without friction.

... It's riding on "nanograss," a bed of upright silicon posts a thousand times thinner than a human hair. It is also possible to alter the properties of nanograss on the fly by changing the temperature, applying ultrasound or a small voltage, or other means.

Applications of nanograss:

A "smart" heat sink that can change its cooling properties as needs change.

Tiny, cheap liquid lenses whose focal lengths and other properties can be changed very quickly by the application of electrical fields.

Switches, power splitters, filters, multiplexers and other devices in order to manipulate light in ways that are difficult to do by conventional means.

Nanotech batteries: Preliminary benchmark data ... shows that the batteries will have three to four times the power-to-weight ratio of ordinary AA batteries.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Benefits and Effects of Irradiation

Thousands of people become ill every year in the USA from food-borne bacteria and many die. Around the world food-borne illnesses affect many millions more, and food that could feed millions rots before it can reach those who need it.

Irradiation is a technology that can eliminate 90% of the bacteria in a wide variety of foods. It has been studied for over forty years and its safety has been verified by many agencies not only in the USA but around the world and in many countries it has been in use for some time for spices.

Yet, astonishingly, there are many groups opposed to it, citing junk science in support of their claims.

It is the height of arrogance and hubris to stand in the way of this imporatant food safety technology -- many die needlessly every year from bacteria that should have been eliminated by irradation.

Benefits and Effects of Irradiation (some excerpts):

Disease-causing microorganisms are reduced or eliminated -- It can kill many insects and pests that infest foods like grains, herbs, and spices. It can kill or substantially reduce the level of dangerous micro-organisms in foods such as salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter. It can delay or stop normal ripening and decay processes so that foods can be stored longer.

The nutritional value is essentially unchanged -- Macro-nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat, are relatively stable to radiation doses of up to 10 kiloGrays. Micro-nutrients, especially vitamins, may be sensitive to any food processing method, including irradiation (e.g. vitamin E levels can be reduced by 25% after irradiation and vitamin C by 5-10%).

Under optimal conditions, vitamin losses in foods irradiated at doses up to 1 kiloGray are considered to be insignificant. At higher doses the change in nutritional value caused by irradiation depends on a number of factors. ... In general, the irradiation process produces very little chemical change in food. None of the changes known to occur have been found to be harmful or dangerous.

The food does not become radioactive.

Some of the chemical changes produce so-called "radiolytic" products. These products have proven to be familiar ones, such as glucose, formic acid, acetaldehyde, and carbon dioxide, which are naturally present in foods or are formed by heat processing. The safety of these radiolytic products has been examined very critically, and even though there is some controversy over whether these products are unique and if so whether they are dangerous, no evidence of their harmfulness has been found.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Not Your Father's Marxism . . .

The Diplomad trains his sites on the Anti Globalization Movement and hits a bull's eye with his post, Not Your Father's Marxism . . .

Here are a few excerpts from an excellent, must-read piece (these excerpts are just to whet your appetite -- they do no begin to do justice to this excellent article; if you really want to understand what today's environmental organizations have become, you really must read the complete work):

The USSR's end forced the envious, resentful, and fearful and their leaders to adapt, transform, fracture and downgrade a belief system that had "explained" everything into less-satisfying sub-sets, each focused on a particular topic: most prominently, feminism, environmentalism and the rapidly growing one of "international law." Despite their seemingly different concerns, all these sub-sets shared much in common, to wit, at their core lay anti-capitalist, anti-American and increasingly anti-Semitic emotions disguised as analytical constructs. Over the past fifteen or so years, we have seen these different strands re-meld into what we now call the Anti-Globalization Movement (AGM).

... the region's "indigenous" cultures largely ceased to exist hundreds of years ago; "indigenous" culture today means rural poverty.

... calling to protect "indigenous culture" really means seeking to preserve rural poverty; to keep people poor, sick, illiterate, and isolated from the great and small wonders of our age. It means helping condemn them to half lives consumed with superstition, disease, and of watching their puny children struggle to live past the age of five. It's a call to keep certain people as either an ethnic curio on the shelf for the enjoyment of European and North American anthropologists or, equally vile, as exploitable pawns for the use of political activists.

Those who stay on the land, in particular the men, do not radiate any particular love for the land, the flora, the fauna, or for each other. They fish with dynamite and mercury; burn or cut huge tracts of forest; treat their "sacred lakes" as sewers; drink themselves stupid; and engage in often lethal fights and horrendous cruelty towards women, children and animals. In other words, they behave as uneducated, poor people have throughout all history and in all cultures.

The foreign activists are particularly loathsome; they invent and distort history, introducing distinctly 20th and 21st century concepts into the study of pre-Colombian cultures and their remnants. Worse, these activists seek to manipulate poor people for their own political agenda, and often get them killed in pursuit of "liberation theology" or some other fashionable cliche.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Saber-Toothed Tigers and the Design Specs of Human Life

The Diplomad has succinctly captured a most important point about environmentalists and their third-world victims in his post: Saber-Toothed Tigers and the Design Specifications of Human Life: A Thought from the Far Abroad.

Some excerpts from this inciteful piece: Clearly nature did not intend for the average non-Moses, non-Methuselah, non-Mentuhotep II peon to live past forty. ...everything a man needs to avoid being eaten by a Saber-toothed tiger starts to go around the age of forty.

The natural state of man is to be in rebellion against the natural state. By denying this, "ecologists" and "Greens" are criminally wrong and inflict great damage on human life. Not so much on folks like you and me ... but on the poor of the world.

As a Westerner I can get my eyes fixed, my leg reknitted, my appendix removed; if I have a heart attack or get injured trained paramedics will come to my house and ferry me to a modern hospital. I do not have to scratch out a living on the land because a handful of sophisticated American farmers using ultra-modern equipment and techniques can feed all of us. We in the West do not die by the thousands in tsunamis or earthquakes or from malaria or typhoid: it's the poor people who still have to live fearing the Saber-tooth tiger. They "live" within nature's design specifications and exit the planet after some forty years. They are heroes of the "Greens" and the "ecologists" and the "indigenous rights activists." They are the model that those "Greens," "ecologists," and "activists" would have us all emulate.

Monday, January 03, 2005

CO2 cannot be called a pollutant

Interesting that the atmospheric gas necessary for plants to survive and grow, CO2, is considered a pollutant.

In his letter, CO2 cannot be called a pollutant, Physicist Gerald Marsh takes the Financial Times to task for calling CO2 a pollutant. Some interesting excerpts:

While it is becoming increasingly fashionable to maintain that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, it was rather shocking to see the Financial Times buy into what can at best be charitably characterised as a form of "political correctness" ("The price of carbon emissions", December 27).

Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas that occurs naturally in the atmosphere and helps to maintain the earth at a temperature suitable for life - the principal greenhouse gas is water vapour. Carbon dioxide is essential to the growth of all plants. Without it plants could not grow and all animal life would die. In no way is this gas a pollutant. To call it one is misleading.

The earth has been warming erratically for 10,000 years. That has been good, up to now, because it is what made the non-equatorial latitudes habitable. We can expect that warming trend to continue, no matter what we do about carbon dioxide.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Siberian scientists use tomatoes to develop AIDS vaccine

The developed countries of the world have made amazing advances in medicine in the last 100 years. The problem is producing the drugs cheaply in sufficient quantity for the poor of the world. And if it can be administered orally, that is even better. Those who need these drugs the most often live in parts of the world where clean needles and trained medical personnel are scarce.

AgBioTech, through the miracle of direct genetic manipulation of a plant's or animal's genome, is making it possible to produce vast quantities of inexpensive drugs for the world's impoverished and suffering multitudes.

AIDS is devastating certain regions of Africa, hurtling the poor and hungry of these areas into unimaginable suffering and misery. There are important programs in place to prevent the spread of this dreaded disease, but advances in developing an oral vaccine are welcome news, especially when that vaccine is mass produced cheaply by plants.

Siberian scientists use tomatoes to develop AIDS vaccine:

Scientists from Siberian research institutes have created AIDS and hepatitis B vaccines using tomatoes. The edible vaccines have already been tested on animals and have given positive results.

“Although the entire world has been working on the creation of such an edible vaccine for more than ten years, no one has yet achieved such results,” Sergei Shchelkunov, the head of genome molecular biology department, said.

Shchelkunov added that the scientists plan to develop hepatitis A and tick-borne encephalitis vaccines using carrots and lettuce.

Hat tip: CheckBioTech.org

Saturday, January 01, 2005

More than just corn…

It is a sad fact that millions around the world, especially children, suffer and die from diseases that are easily treated in developed nations.

In More than just corn…, Angelika Kren of Checkbiotech informs us of initial tests on a genetically modified corn that produces a vaccine antigen that may one day help to prevent cholera, a disease that has killed millions of children in undeveloped countries:

In developing countries, many people fall ill with, and eventually sometimes even die of, diseases they could have been easily protected from with today’s available medical means such as vaccinations. However, access for these people to vaccination often is restricted for logistical and financial reasons.

The production of vaccines, or vaccine antigens respectively, by common technology is very expensive. ... The production of a vaccine antigen in transgenic plants seems to be one of the most promising approaches with advantages towards the production in bacterial, fungal, insect or other cell cultures. First off, it is inexpensive, when compared to traditional methods. Second, if the vaccine is produced in a plant, it might also function as an oral vaccination.

In a phase 1 clinical study, a research team has tested the efficacy of an oral vaccine produced by transgenic corn, obtaining encouraging preliminary results.