Prof Terje Traavik in his own words (19/3/2004)

Below is an important statement from Prof Terje Traavik, the text of which is reproduced in full from a pdf which can be sent to anyone who would prefer to receive it in its original format.

First some introductory comments from Dr Ignacio Chapela from whom we received this.

(For more statements about GM by scientists see: http://www.lobbywatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=3&page=1)

Dear colleagues,

Perhaps some of you did not register the recent flare of internet news and counternews epicentered from Kuala-Lumpur.  Following a presentation by Terje Traavik to the forum of scientists, regulators, civic groups and  individuals gathered for the Biodiversity Convention meetings, we were all bracing for a new round of the now common pattern of (a) scientific news followed by (b) discredit, followed by (c) silence, followed by (d)  business-as-unusual as always these days (cf the first seven minutes of the webcast http://nature.berkeley.edu/pulseofscience).

Not this time.  I want to share with those who might not have received it, a document which is perhaps the most important science writing in the last quarter century - a span of time convenient to my ignorant mind since it matches the rough age of the Bioteck Rev.

I invite you to read Terje's own words, which carry the pregnancy of our dire times seen through the transparent lens of Tromsø, 70 degrees N Latitude.  If nothing else, I expect we will all be engaged with this document for years to come, in its own way a break of silence.

Of course it is not a coincidence that these words would be coming to us in tandem with Bruno Latour's own retraction of sorts, his spitting at "critical barbarity", his call to move from  matters-of-fact to matters-of-concern (cf Critical Inquiry, or better edited, Harper's).

Bruno tracking Terje?

With regards,

A response to criticism about our work on GE biosafety.
The Cartagena protocol, the Precautionary principle, "sound science" and "early warnings".
Terje Traavik, Dr. philos.
Scientific Director, GENØK-Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology
Professor of Gene Ecology, University of Tromso


On February 22, 2004, I presented the results of ongoing research at the Biosafety Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, held just prior to the first Meeting of the Parties on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Symposium was jointly organised by the Third World Network (a science-interested organisation), the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology (GENØK) and the New Zealand Institute of Gene Ecology.

The Symposium was accessible to the public, but it was primarily a meeting for those with professional interests in biosafety.

The presentation of our preliminary research findings was done in the spirit of the greatest of traditions to share the results of research among peers. This tradition has dominated the biological sciences for centuries. Possibly that tradition has become difficult to recognise in an age when most research is filtered for information that must be kept secret for commercial or other reasons. I am proud and grateful to be supported by public agencies who impose no such requirements.

Speaking now for the two Institutes of Gene Ecology, we also reject any inclination among particular parties to define our peer group. The Institutes of Gene Ecology are organised on the principle that bio-applications will have impacts on the planet and the ecology of human beings that transcend dated and arbitrary notions of where biology ends and ethics, social science, law, economics, philosophy and culture begin. Our peer group is composed of those who are specialists in the impacts of genetically engineered organisms.

As a community we have a membership that covers all traditional research backgrounds mentioned above. More importantly, each individual among us has a commitment to understand what can be learned from all those disciplines when focused on a single issue - genetically engineered organisms.

That latter quality opens our minds to the bodies of knowledge held in non-traditional sources. By this we mean both NGOs and the industry. Our peer group and our emerging competence in holistic impact assessment is what we believe make us unique.

I have been criticised for speaking about my research at the Kuala Lumpur Biosafety Symposium. This is an insult to the audience which was composed of respected scientific specialists, members of the competent regulatory community, and accomplished researchers of the many disciplines whose interests intersect the impacts of new bioapplications, including genetically engineered organisms.

Cartagena Protocol

The Precautionary Principle plays an important role in the Cartagena Protocol, an international agreement on transboundary movement of GMOs (www.biodiv.org/biosafe/protocol), and in regulations, i.e. the Norwegian Gene Technology Act of 1993 (www.bion.no) and EU directive 2001/18/EC(www.europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scp/out31_en.html). The Precautionary Principle instructs us to anticipate the potential hazards of genetic engineering applications.

Employment of the Precautionary Principle (PP) entails identification of risk, scientific uncertainty and ignorance, and involves transparent and inclusive decision-making processes (Freestone and Hey, 1996). Although a tool for policy decision, I will claim that implementation of the PP must have impact on the research agenda. Employment of the PP emphasises the importance of scientists taking responsibility for anticipation, acknowledgement and communication of uncertainty, in order to produce scientifically and socially robust knowledge (Myhr and Traavik, 2003).

In a very real sense, the spirit of Cartagena, perhaps uniquely, gives the environment legal standing and places the burden-of-proof of

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive