Peter Raven and 'Transgenes in Mexican maize' (8/9/2005)

1.A comment on Peter Raven's 'Transgenes in Mexican maize: Desirability or inevitability'
2.A Raven Pontificates upon his Gilded Perch


Looks like Peter Raven is contributing to the usual industry PR strategy:
1. We say we can utilise this technology in a way that does not impact on any other growers or consumers who do not want GM contamination.
2. When faced with evidence to the contrary, we try and deny the evidence and, if possible, attack those who supplied it.
3. Finally, we say GM contamination is not just inevitable but is both natural and desirable.

The time sequence here is not simply linear. In particular, claim 3 can be deployed at whatever stage it seems most helpful and may even be asserted more or less simultaneously with either claim 1 or claim 2. The important point is that which ever claim is deployed, it must be asserted categorically.

1.A comment on Peter Raven's 'Transgenes in Mexican maize: Desirability or inevitability'
Prof. Joe Cummins
September 6, 2005

The article 'Transgenes in Mexican maize: Desirability or inevitability' by Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Gardens appeared in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early addition. Raven is an advocate for genetically modified (GM) crops and for the Monsanto Corporation. The article contains the comment "Whether or not transgenes are present in landraces in Oaxaca at present, they will inevitably be found in them as time passes, because of the nature of the indigenous agriculture I have just described. There they will persist if they confer a selective advantage on the plants in which they occur, or they may disappear if they do not confer such an advantage in the prevailing conditions. Such genes are no more "invaders" into the populations concerned than any other genes, and the avoidance of such value-laden terms would presumably assist in the objective conduct of scientific discourse about the situation. Similarly,the principles of population genetics certainly do not indicate that they would "disrupt" the germplasm of the maize populations they might enter".

It is worth pointing out that Raven’s view of population genetics seems unconventional. My understanding of population genetics is that once a gene is fixed in a population , as in the case of the transgenes in maize landraces, in the absence of selection the gene reaches the stable Hardy-Wienberg equilibrium. Only if the gene is dominant and deleterious to maize will it disappear from the population. The view that genes reach equilibrium in the absence of selection is consistent with the principles of population genetics while the principles of population genetics don't seem to make statements about genome disruption. However, the loss of a gene fixed in a population certainly implies that the transgene must have done something wrong to the maize."


Peter H. Raven, Transgenes in Mexican maize: Desirability or inevitability? Perspective Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0506082102 Published online before print September 6, 2005

2.A Raven Pontificates upon his Gilded Perch
Excerpts from a GM Watch profile of Peter Raven

Peter Raven is the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Although passionately concerned about the extinction of living organisms - warning that two-thirds of the world's species may be gone by the middle of the next century, his solution to a problem brought on by carelessness and commerce, is simple - the mastery of biology allied to the power and efficiency of corporations. 'Major companies will be, are, a major factor if we are going to win world sustainability,' he told a journalist, and the commercial development and acceptance of GM crops is something he's convinced sustainable agriculture requires.

It's an issue on which he comes out fighting. In May 2003, speaking at the Natural History Museum in London, Raven attacked Greenpeace over its opposition to GMOs, telling his audience, 'Last month, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of America's most venerable and respected civil rights groups, confronted Greenpeace at a public event and accused it of "eco-manslaughter" through its support of international policies limiting development and the expansion oftechnology to the developing world's poor'. In fact, the once respected CORE takes money from Monsanto and Exxon, having been hi-jacked during the 1970s by elements that have since used it as a pro-corporate lobby.

If Raven is hard on Greenpeace, he's less critical when it comes to Monsanto. 'There is nothing I'm condemning Monsanto for,' he says. And he's praised the company's efforts to win public acceptance for GMOs, 'The company has . . . won many more believers around the world in what they're doing and attempting to do.'

An old friend of Raven's, geneticist Wes Jackson, says of him, 'I just wish Peter was more reflective... The fact that living substance, germplasm, can become the property of a corporation is going to come at a cost. I think the boundaries of consideration need to be broader than Peter's willing to make them. In a certain sense he's a paid traveling salesman for Monsanto .'

Raven has good reason to smile on the company. According to Time magazine, 'When Raven first came to the garden in 1971, he had 85 employees and a budget of $650,000. Today there are 354 people on staff, and the budget is $20 million.' That expansion has been assisted by millions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and substantial corporate support, not least from Monsanto.

The Garden, in fact, is based in Monsanto's home town of St. Louis. According to Raven there are other reasons for the strength of Monsanto's support. Although, 'we don't do biotech work other than bioprospecting', he says, 'The basic research we do here at the Garden makes us a major resource for the biotechnology industry'. Raven, together with Monsanto, was also the driving force behind a nearby plant biotech research institute on whose board he sits.

The Raven-Monsanto equation includes the Garden's multimillion-dollar research centre - The Monsanto Center. And it doesn't stop there as the St Louis' paper, The Riverside Times, noted in 1999, 'The Garden received $3 million from Monsanto in their last fundraising campaign... Monsanto also contributed land and a large chunk of the $146 million startup money for the Danforth Plant Science Center [a project Raven was instrumental in getting off the ground]. Monsanto matches its employees' contributions to the Garden ($225,000 last year) and contributes to the operating fund ($25,000 last year). Trustees give privately, too, and in past years the Garden has had Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, Monsanto vice president Tom K. Smith and Monsanto research-and-development director Howard Schneid

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