Wednesday, April 27, 2005

In a recent op-ed piece at The Daily Campus, author Josh Levinson does a great job of putting the pieces together so we can see the reality of what groups like Greenpeace actually accomplish instead of the pretty picture they want us to imagine.
Greenpeace and other environmental outfits have furthered their anti-corporate message with a stance against genetically-modified foods. On their official web site, they warn, "they pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and threaten biodiversity, wildlife, and sustainable forms of agriculture."

Their scientific evidence? Hey, who needs scientific evidence when you can scare people into thinking the only way to save the planet is to eat all-organic foods?

In 2002, Greenpeace and other organizations helped convince Zambia and other impoverished nations to reject thousands of pounds of free, genetically-engineered maize because it was "poisoned," despite the fact Americans have been eating it since the mid-1990s with no adverse health effects.

We're talking about countries where millions are starving to death every year and now we have members of Greenpeace, who come from countries where food is abundant and plentiful, telling them they shouldn't eat genetically-engineered produce because it's "dangerous" based upon a complete lack of scientific data.

If you can find a better definition of moral hypocrisy, I would love to hear it.
It is a disturbing and vile reality, a hideous world of soul-less people who tell lies that condemn millions of children and their parents to agonizing death or vast, unimaginable suffering -- just so they can continue to perpetuate the myth that they stand alone against the vast religious/government/military complex of the United States that threatens civilization itself.

Oh yeah, and protect their multi-million dollar PR and legal jobs.

This is just part of the picture. Please read Mr Levinson's entire op-ed at The Daily Campus for the complete view.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ceres Shrugged

I'm reading Ayn Rand's, Atlas Shrugged. Great book. I could do without the sex scenes and obviously there's much wrong in her philosophical world view, Objectivism. But when it comes to showing the hypocracy of those opposed to individual, freemarket achievment and reward, who cloak their Marxist ideas in disingenuous cries of "social justice," she's unmatched as far as I know in the world of literature (let me know if you know of anything better in this regard - I'd love to read it).

So much of the novel's struggle translates well into the struggle today between the heros of agricultural biotech and the anti-science religious bigots/elitists (yes, I think that's a fair way to describe zealous environmentalist these days).

Here's a great, funny quote from the book:
A group that called itself "Committee of Disinterested Citizens" collected signatures on a petition demanding a year's study of the John Galt line by government experts before the first train was allowed to run. The petition stated that its signers had no motive other than "a sense of civic duty." ... The petition was given a great deal of space in all the newspapers. The consideration it recieved was respectful, because it came from people who were
Isn't that great? It reminds me of the moratorium imposed by environmental groups in Europe on genetically modified foods.

In the book -- as I understand it so far (I'm only up to page 256 -- funny, that's 2 to the eighth power) -- Atlas represents the industrialists, the heros of the capitalist system that upholds civilization. I would agree with her on that point (although she makes the worship of such heros and their achivements her religion, which is going to far, of course). From what I gather of the plot so far, Atlas, the engine that runs the world -- indeed, that which makes civilzation possible -- is under assult and as Atlas (captialism) goes, so goes civilization.

Not sure how things will go in the end for the book. Its at a truimuphal point in the plot at the moment but -- I peaked ahead -- things don't look nearly so good at the end of part one, just a few pages ahead (the paperback edition I'm reading is over a thousand pages!).

So how badly does Atlas shrug? How precarious will it get for civilization? Stay tuned.

But it occurred to me that we're facing an even greater threat to civilization than the one Ms. Rand so eloquently exposed. Ceres was the Roman god of agriculture, of the cereal grains. What if she shrugged? We came very close in the last century to seeing exactly what would happen if Ceres shrugged, but advances in plant breeding and promotion of those varieties to farmers in the most vulnerable devloping nations by giants such as Norman Borlaug saved the day -- for their generation.

We know that world population will peak around 9 billion by about the year 2050 and we'll need several times the food production we're growing today so all those people can live healthy lives without anyone going hungry. And we're already farming the best farm land in the world. If we can't do it on the same land we're using today, we'll have to start cutting down rainforests and planting marginal farm lands on hilly, erosion prone soil just to feed everyone.

We can't produce enough food for 9 billion people on just the land we're farming today unless we use biotechnology to give us the plant varieties that will increase yield and decrease losses due to pests, droughts, salty soil, etc. Its that simple.

Lets hope our generation has heros like Norman Borlaug was to the last one. Let's hope Ceres doesn't shrug on our watch because if you thought a shrug from Atlas might be bad -- and I think Ms. Rand was right about that, it would rock the foundation of civilation itself -- Ceres' shrug would be far, far worse...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Battle

Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace and now chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, an environmental consulting agency, wrote a great article in the February 2004 edition of The American Enterprise Online on why he left Greenpeace -- or how it was that Greenpeace left him. Below is an excerpt from Patrick Moore's, The Battle for Biotech:

The programs of genetic research and development now under way in labs and field stations around the world are entirely about benefiting society and the environment. Their purpose is to improve nutrition, to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals, to increase the productivity of our farmlands and forests, and to improve human health. Those who have adopted a zero tolerance attitude towards genetic modification threaten to deny these many benefits by playing on fear of the unknown and fear of change.

The case of "Golden Rice" provides a clear illustration of this. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Africa suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Among them, half a million children lose their eyesight each year, and millions more suffer from lesser symptoms. Golden Rice has the potential to greatly reduce the suffering, because it contains the gene that makes daffodils yellow, infusing the rice with beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A. Ingo Potrykus, the Swiss co-inventor of Golden Rice, has said that a commercial variety is now available for planting, but that it will be at least five years before Golden Rice will be able to work its way through the byzantine regulatory system that has been set up as a result of the activists' campaign of misinformation and speculation. So the risk of not allowing farmers in Africa and Asia to grow Golden Rice is that another 2.5 million children will probably go blind.What is the risk of allowing this humanitarian intervention to be planted? What possible risk could there be from a daffodil gene in a rice paddy?

Yet Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the G.M. rice out of the fields if farmers dare to plant it. They have done everything they can to discredit the scientists and the technology, claiming that it would take nine kilos of rice per day to deliver sufficient Vitamin A. Potrykus has demonstrated that only 100 grams of Golden Rice would provide 50 percent of the daily need.

Moore goes on to deconstruct a media release from Greenpeace on the "adverse environmental impacts of Bt cotton in China." It is well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Eden - New and Improved!?

In a previous post I suggested that we are involved in rolling back the effects of evil on the Garden of Eden, the curse of creation brought on by the misbehaver of our first earthly Father and Mother. I pointed out that not all things will be corrected -- that must wait for the consummation of history -- but that we are, in fact, restoring in some measure the beauty and abundance of the Garden in which mankind was birthed is, to me at least, beyond doubt.

And now, to add insult to injury, yet another heretical thought -- what if our job is not just to restore the original beauty and bounty of Eden, but to enhance it with our own creativity? What if, in fact, we are recovering not just Eden, but our original job -- to tend the Garden of Eden itself?

We are made in the image of God. What if our original job was to do as our Father did -- to create? Not ex nihilo -- out of nothing -- as only the Supreme Being himself can do, but rather to create endless variations on the themes of beauty and form that He created for us?

For instance, were there blue roses in the Garden of Eden? Well, there are now! And this article from a few years ago that takes a peak at the work of scientists at the time to try and make the first blue rose is interesting because it mentions another goal of biotech rose-artisans: to bring back the original (or even better?) perfume of roses.

It wouldn't be Eden with allergies! How about a hypoallergenic cat? Or grasses that don't trigger allergic reactions?

We can't have hunger in Eden. How about faster growing fish? Or rice? Or insect-resistant maize (corn) that both increases yields and reduces the need for insecticides? What about rice that isn't fazed by drought or salty water?

And we can't have malnutrition in Eden. We won't because we'll have crops like Golden Rice!

We certainly can't have food go bad in Eden, if we want to feed everyone without ploughing every square inch of rainforest. So we'll use a simple, inexpensive but highly effective means of killing those nasty little bacteria before they can harm our food or us.

Pretty cool and amazing stuff.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Andromeda Jurassic Prey

Here's another review of Crichton's State of Fear. State of Fear is a great read. Crichton is a master at interweaving science and story.

I've read a couple of Crichton's other books, The Andromeda Strain, Congo -- and, of course, I've seen the Jurassic Park movies. So I was looking forward to reading his book Prey, which I picked up recently at a discount book store (the only thing better than a good book is a good book on sale).

I did enjoy the book, but the overall message was disappointing and, in many ways, stood out in sharp relief from the gestalt of his next, and oddly more controversial book, State of Fear. In the introduction of Prey he gets a little more explicit about some of the conclusion he later fleshes out with his story, namely that man is playing with fire in the areas of nanotechnology and biotechnology and will probably destroy himself and the planet if he continues to pursue this forbidden fruit.

He mentions a report of genetically modified genes being found in native Mexican maize. It is just a passing reference, but the implication seems clear: mankind has opened a pandora's box and released forces beyond our control to the wider world.

I wonder if he's changed his mind about any of this nonsensical hysteria since researching the bogus science promulgated by the same groups that constantly whinge about the supposed dangers to the environment, people, and, for gosh sake's, the entire world for that matter, of genetic engineering. (They're getting so hysterical, in fact, one wonders if they aren't getting a bit worried that -- gasp! -- no one believes them any more. We can only hope...)

The eco-nannies quaking in their boots about earth-swallowing genetically engineered maize pollen that escaped captivity in Mexico are really, well, to be blunt - stupid. Let's repeat a basic concept of logic, shall we? It's a little technical, but hang in there, you'll get it -- I have confidence in you! Here we go: a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all. Whew! That wasn't so bad was it. So what the heck does it mean?

Just what you think it means. For example, if I said, "You can't cross the street." And you said, "Why not?" And I said, "Because you're wearing a green shirt." You'd look at me as if I had cheese for brains and say, "What!? What has that got do with it? Do you have cheese for brains?" And I'd say, "No, I don't have cheese for brains, you nit! You can't cross the street with a green shirt on today -- its Tuesday, nim null! You always forget, don't you?"

And you'd say, "You do have cheese for brains, Dorkus! What has Tuesday got to do with crossing the street with a green shirt on!?" And I'd say, "What is your problem? Did you leave your brain in the dryer too long yesterday and it shrank or what? You know you can't cross the street with a green shirt on Tuesdays! Its an electrodynamical law, you idiot! You wouldn't want to muck up the fundamental constants of the universe would you!? You might change the gravitational constant by one part in a billion billion and the whole universe would fly apart! Or collapse into a singularity! Wouldn't want that on my conscience, but that just me. Go ahead, see if I care. But I bet you won't get a wink of sleep tonight! Unless you're evil incarnate, of course. Then you might be able to sleep the whole night through! Even knowing you were responsible for the deaths of billions of people and the collapse of the known universe! I might have know. Evil incarnate, you are! I should have known as much! I saw you cheating at cards the other night! You didn't know I saw, but I did! Evil incarnate, indeed. I might have know!" At which point you would quickly walk away from me as fast you could, watching carefully for any sign that I might lunge in your direction at any moment.

And what has that story got to do with logic? Not much really. But it does illustrate a point, boys and girls. Green shirts and one's ability to cross the street have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Likewise, how the maize got its ability to resist corn borers (or its immunity to roundup or its drought resistance or salt resistance or whatever characteristic it has that man put into it) and the fact that its pollen is spreading to other maize, as pollen tends to do, also have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with one another! This should be painfully, embarrassingly obvious, but let's look at another example so little Suzy -- who's looking a little cross-eyed and woozy in the second row there -- isn't left in the educational dust, shall we?

Imagine we created a crop -- oh, let's say, wheat; why not? -- by "conventional" means (that is, we don't use that evil, forbidden knowledge of the devil, genetic engineering but rather bombard its chromosomes with radiation and grow the little mutants until we find the one or two we like, then we do it all over again and again and again...) and, years later, manage to produce a variety that is "naturally" resistant to a particular herbicide we want to use to kill off all the nasty weeds and leave the wheat alone to go on its merry way, growing and growing and growing. Now isn't that nice?

But, oh no! What have we done!? We released this new variety from captivity and its pollen is spreading to other, genetically similar grasses! Ravaging organic wheat, even (cover the kids' eyes, dear)! And we have no idea of the massive alterations, substitutions, swaps, somersaults, backflips and half-gainers we've inflicted on those poor, mutated chromosomes! They might evolve into human-infesting nano-pollen-swarms, taking over the earth, turning us all into walking national-news-cast-talking-head-zombies that infest any human they come into contact with, forcing us to watch re-runs of Nightline and 60 Minutes over and over and over again! Nooooo!!! I can't stand it! Oh the horror of it all!!!!

But wait, that wheat variety wasn't produced with evil genetic engineering. We just bombarded it with radiation, massively mutating the heck out of it, that's all. Calm down, you nit!

Oh, no evil genetic engineer? Really? Oh, well, then -- never mind...

So you see boys and girls, the moral of the story is, never play with matches. And certainly don't ever use that evil genetic engineering stuff to muck around with pure nature. Even though how something is produced has no logical or scientific bearing on how dangerous -- or beneficial -- it may be to humans or the environment. Even though toxic cucumbers and celery and other dangerous veggies have been produced by "natural" means, and herbicide-resistant varieties have been produced by both genetic engineering and "conventional" procedures, we must never forget that genetic engineering is evil.

So, just to hit Suzy over the head with our conclusions, let's sum up, shall we boys and girls? If I produce a variety of maize that has some useful characteristic -- like resistance to some disease, like national-news-anchoritis -- using genetic engineering techniques, and another variety of maize that is resistant to the same disease, but instead use slower, less precise and far messier (genetically speaking) techniques that have been frozen arbitrarily at a point in time and blessed by their holynesses (the heads of Greenpeace and Concerned Scientists), then -- if their characteristics are really the same -- there is, in reality, no difference.

But one can be planted and sold with no testing or approval by any government agency, and the other requires the same level of bio-safety as a pathogen lab working with strains of Ebola, years of field testing under absurdly strict isolation requirements, selection of varieties that are "clean" regulatorily -- that is, that don't have certain "suspect" genetic alterations -- and millions of dollars to accurately assess the genetic changes, test for toxicity, allergenicity, etc., etc. Remember: they are the same. Not different. But they are treated very differently.

And don't forget, pollen from such "natural" mutant varieties, which have been grown for decades now, has always flown. But somehow, the varieties of maize in Mexico haven't been homogenized into one bland, Americanized variety. Somehow.

Repeat after me: genetic engineering is evil. Genetic engineering is evil. Genetic engineering is evil...

Monday, April 04, 2005

Pied Beauty

Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is one of my favorite poems.

With all the bleak and sad things going on in the world, poetry reminds us God is still there and beauty and life are still to be found in His world.

Glory be to God for dappled things --
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
I am reminded of the beauty of a landscape with rolling hills and plowed, cultivated fields. But I know the beauty belies a struggle undertaken by man for millennia, one in which he is in deadly earnest, for the lives of many are at stake -- to coax the earth into saying "beans", "corn", "wheat", or "rice" instead of "grass."

Man has struggled for centuries just to feed himself. Bad weather or war or disease or pestilence meant famine: slow death by hunger. And it happened all too often. Or the food he toiled so hard to procure went bad and killed him with toxins. Or the water carried diseases and parasites. Or the food filled his belly, but did not provide enough nourishment for his body, causing him to weaken and succumb to diseases against which he might otherwise have prevailed. Or insects brought disease -- no matter how strong his body.

Every religion and philosophy sees this dichotomy and brings its own answers. How did the beauty of this world come to be? How did it become so marred and broken? Is there any hope for it to be restored?

The Christ affirmed wisdom found in ancient scrolls, that Mind -- pure Thought and Reason and Love -- created All from Nothing. That creatures of His making freely chose to do evil, and thus the world was broken and disfigured -- Cursed.

And mankind suffered in that Cursed world for thousands of years. Until the time came when the Curse was shattered by the Christ, God Himself, Who suffered and died for what man had done.

Thus was the curse banished and the disease healed -- but only completely and instantly in that more perfect world from which He came. In this world, it was just the beginning of the lifting of the Curse.

Slowly and with much blood and suffering is the Curse lifted over the course of the centuries in this world as peoples and lands are recovered one by one from the twisted tyranny and rot of the Evil One. The Great Maker Who Restores Life chose to use man -- the original source of the entry of the Curse into this world -- as His agent to lift the suffering and disfigurement of the Curse from His once-perfect creation.

He chose not use any one man or even a small group of men for the Great Restoration because they would feel prideful of their great contributions to mankind and so desire the praise of men and perhaps even of God Himself. Instead, he chose to use many small men in many small ways, none of whom could see the true End to which his labors pointed, but each one, standing on the shoulders of the Giants who went before him -- thinking the thoughts of God after Him -- to reach up and add his own small, childish shiny-pebble-discovery to the great and growing mural of Life and Restoration.

And so we come to the Now. There are giants in the land -- so many and so great that finally at this hour, The Great Architect Who Created All Beauty and Truth From Nothing, has given mankind a truly great, beautiful, and wondrous gift: the lifting of the Curse directly from a part of the creation itself.

That is how I see the tools of DNA manipulation that He has graciously given to us. We can now really get to work and begin to roll back the Curse from a very important part of creation - our crops. We will soon be able to produce foods without allergens, foods with built-in protections against pests, and more nutritious foods with greater fecundity. And more beauty than we ever imagined possible.

He is using us to roll back the curse from this world. And genetic engineering techniques are the tools He has given us to impact greatly a very important part of that Cursed and Twisted world. It is that part upon which man depends the most, for without adequate food there is little appreciation for beauty, no matter how sublime.

Don't believe me? Take a look at some grains of golden rice. Can't you see? They're so beautiful! You can't tell me that this isn't the restoration of that Garden in which our Parents first walked. You can't deny it, because that's exactly what it is.

One day, perhaps, our children's children will be born into a world so much more restored to its original beauty that they realize they are once more in the garden of delight -- the garden of Eden.

Will we ever attain that original state of innocence and lack of suffering that our Parents once enjoyed? No, not in this life. But we can take the tools He has given us and use them to make this world a little more edenic than when we came into it. And leave the big picture up to Him.

Welcome to the garden of Eden. Please be patient: restoration in progress.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board has created a web site about golden rice, rice that has been genetically engineered to provide most (if not all) of the vitamin A requirements for people in rice-based societies:

From their web site:

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies, eg lack of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc, are a major source of morbidity (increased disease susceptibility) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies affect particularly children, impairing their immune systems, causing disease and death, and impeding normal development.

Rice plants produce beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) in green tissues but there are none that produce it in the endosperm (the edible part of the seed). Even though all required genes are present in the grains some of them have been turned off. The absence of beta-carotene in rice grains is noticeable in a marked incidence of blindness and premature death in children of rice-based societies.

According to the World Health Organization, dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes some 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. More than half of those who lose their sight die within a year. VAD compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children under five in the developing world, greatly increasing the risk of severe illnesses from common childhood infections.

Believe it or not, there are people who actually oppose this technology. One way genetically engineered products are blocked is to make the regulatory process so difficult, expensive and contradictory that it is all but impossible to comply in any reasonable amount of time with limited funds.

It took 10 years from 1980 to 1990 to develop the necessary technology to introduce genes into rice. It took another nine years—from 1990 to 1999—to introduce the genes that make up the pathway for pro-vitamin A biosynthesis into the seed. And it took further five years—from 1999 to 2004—to develop Golden Rice.

It is taking several more years to advance the first Golden Rice product through the deregulatory process. Considering that Golden Rice could
substantially reduce blindness (500,000 children per year) and deaths (2-3 million per year) 20 years is a very long period of time.

If it were possible to shorten the time it takes to get to the deregulated product, we could prevent blindness for hundreds of thousands of children!

Notwithstanding the fact that during the last 20 years a vast knowledge base has been accumulated on the production and commercialisation of transgenic plants, the next years will have to be spent on the conduction of the required biosafety assessments to exclude any putative harm from Golden Rice for the environment and the consumer.

The present regulatory practice in a number of countries is based on an overzealous interpretation of the precautionary principle, with little room left for risk management. The position at present is that even the slightest hypothetical risk must be tested and might lead to rejection of a registration application.

At the same time, potential benefits are being disregarded. Recognised ecologists, including opposers of the technology, have not been able to come up with a realistic hypothetical risk to any agricultural or wild environment stemming from the production and accumulation of beta-carotene in the endosperm of plants which otherwise produce high amounts of the same compound in other organs of the plant, and thus will not provide any additional selection advantage to the crop.

This shows a substantial level of irrationality in the present system of
environmental risk assessment. Despite this fact, the first small-scale field trial with Golden Rice took place in the USA, and not in South East Asia, where it should have taken place, the reason being red tape caused by a misunderstood precautionary principle.

How incredibly sad.

I hope those who oppose this technology out of ignorance will visit and exchange their ignorance for knowledge.