Anti-GM views growing in US (10/6/2004)

"Acceptance of agricultural biotechnology is declining in the US."

The US refusal to label GM food is "under siege".

"There is a real demand in the US for more information and transparency" Cynthia Schneider, director of a life science and society initiative at Washington's Georgetown University, and former US Ambassador to the Netherlands, soeaking at BIO 2004

For more on BIO speaker Patrick Moore: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=89&page=M Incidentally, Moore didn't leave Greenpeace a decade ago but 2 decades ago, and that's not half the story! See also: Patrick Moore is a Big Fat Liar http://www.fanweb.org/patrick-moore/

Anti-GM views growing in US
by Simon Collins
New Zealand Herald, 8 June 2004
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/businessstorydisplay.cfm?storyID=3571114& thesection=business&thesubsection=technology&thesecondsubsection=bio&thetickercode=

Biotechnology companies are getting worried that what they call "the European disease" of opposition to genetically modified food is spreading to the United States.

Activists opposing genetic modification and a variety of other causes staged protests in San Francisco yesterday as 18,000 delegates gathered for the world's biggest biotech conference, Bio 2004.

The activist groups, under the umbrella name "Reclaim the Commons", hope to emulate the success of protesters at the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in 1999 and shut down the Bio meeting tomorrow.

Inside San Francisco's plush Marriott Hotel, where the first pre-conference sessions began yesterday, delegates devoted two-and-a-half hours to an anguished debate about why they were failing to win public support.

The director of a life science and society initiative at Washington's Georgetown University, former US Ambassador to the Netherlands Cynthia Schneider, told the meeting that even Americans who had accepted genetically modified (GM) crops were drawing the line at manipulating dairy cows and other animals.

"Is the US catching the European disease?" she asked.

"Acceptance of agricultural biotechnology is declining in the US. This reflects particularly the attitudes to animal biotechnology and animal rights.

"There is also concern about biopharming - the use of food to develop drugs. We don't have the right regulatory system to ensure that these drugs are tested properly."

She quoted an international survey by the Washington-based Pew Centre which found that 51 per cent of Americans felt that genetically altering fruit and vegetables was bad, against only 37 per cent who said it was good. Americans were still far more pro-GM than the French, who voted by 89 to 10 per cent that GM was bad, or the Japanese, where the split was 76 to 20 per cent.

But Schneider said the US refusal to label GM food was "under siege".

"There is a real demand in the US for more information and transparency," she said. "It's something we need to think about."

The Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) organised a line-up of passionate speakers to lead the debate. All tried to inspire industry delegates to go out and sell the virtues of GM.

Canadian Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace who broke with the organisation a decade ago, said the environmental movement had been hijacked by extremists who were anti-capitalism, anti-trade and "anti-human".

"Humans are depicted as a cancer on the face of the Earth," he said.

He said it was a misuse of the "precautionary principle" to oppose GM foods such as "golden rice", in which a gene from daffodils had been inserted to increase the level of vitamin A to cure malnutrition and blindness. "What is the risk of planting golden rice today?" he asked.

"Maybe vitamin A might spread into other plants. I can't see that that would be harmful.

"On the other hand, what is the risk of waiting five years to plant golden rice, which is [inventor] Ingo Potrykus's best estimate of the time it will take to get through all the regulatory controls?

"It's 2.5 million more blind children and five more years of suffering by hundreds of millions."

Irish biologist David McConnell, a founder of the pro-GM lobby group European Action on Global Life Sciences (Eagles), called for a huge increase in public spending on research into vaccines and medicines for the diseases of developing countries, which would not be profitable otherwise for private biotech companies. "We need to embrace biotechnology in the context of the developing world," he said.

In the exhibition area, the San Francisco-based Institute for OneWorld Health said it was trialling a drug for a spleen disease in India and planned to develop more drugs, using funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other charities.

The 25-person institute's senior programme officer, Dr Arthur Strosberg, said he chucked in his job with a commercial pharmaceutical company to help set up OneWorld to make medicines "at a cost the population can afford".

"We wanted to do something about the inequity between the developed and the developing world," he said. "This is a unique organisation. I wish there were more of us."

*Simon Collins' travel to San Francisco was funded by NZ Trade & Enterprise through the Qantas Media Awards.

Bio 2004

* The world's largest biotechnology conference.
* Taking place San Francisco, June 6-9.
* Countries represented: 60.
* Number of conference speakers: 902.
* Number of presenting companies: 276, including AgriGenesis Biosciences and Pacific Edge Biotechnology of New Zealand.

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