Rifkin dismissed by the usual suspects (27/6/2006)

1.A still strident "scientific community" supports genetic engineering, or does it? - GM Watch
2.A kinder, gentler Jeremy Rifkin endorses biotech, or does he? - Science
3.The loud voice of Mike Gale - GM Watch

1.A still strident "scientific community" supports genetic engineering, or does it?

The article below from the journal Science reports on the economist Jeremy Rifkin's recent position paper on how the non-GM biotech approach of marker-assisted selection (MAS) is not only eclipsing the crude technology of genetic engineering but offers a way of moving the biotech debate forward. This rather snide Science piece, though, also revealingly encapsulates the difficulty in doing just that.

The article in quoting and referring to criticisms of Rifkin and his position frames the criticism with phrases such as:

"many in the scientific community"

"many scientists suspect"

"like many others"

"scientists and companies... disagree [with Rifkin]"

But when you look at exactly who amongst the "many in the scientific community" the article actually quotes, you discover they're all to a (wo)man ardent GM enthusiasts and all bar one come from a very tightly knit clique of genetic engineers prone to propagandise for the technology.

We're talking about the likes of Roger Beachy, president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, which was established by Monsanto and academic partners with a $70-million pledge from the company. Monsanto also donated the Center's 40-acre tract of land valued at over $10 million.

Then there's Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California's biotech program in Davis. UC Davis is notorious for its multiple financial ties to industry: "You name it, and biotechnology companies help pay for it at UC Davis: laboratory studies, scholarships, post.doctoral students' salaries, professors' travel expenses, even the campus utility bill. Some professors earn extra money, up to $2,000 a month, consulting for such companies on the side," reported the Sacramento Bee. (Biotech industry funds bumper crop of UC Davis research)

Then there are the propagandists. Alan McHughen is a molecular geneticist at UC Riverside and author of the book 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'. McHughen says of Rifkin, "He still twists information to fit his agenda." This is the same Alan McHughen who in 'Pandora's Picnic Basket' happily draws on Dennis Avery's bogus claims and long debunked statistics concerning E.coli and organic farming. McHughen doesn't feel the need to point out that Avery is twisting information to fit his agenda.

Another source for the Science piece is Susan McCouch at Cornell. McCouch is also the main source for the article, "Genetically engineered food could be lifeline for developing world." We learn from it that GM rice offers immediate assistance as a staple food to people in need, according to McCouch. That article was written in 2000 when no approved GM rice existed. 6 years later there is still no proven GM rice crop that could possibly support such a claim.

McCouch, at least, is willing to admit that genetic engineering remains, in the words of the article, "a crude approach like adjusting an intricate watch with a sledgehammer". The frankness of that comment provides a glimmer of the conversation that Rifkin appears to be seeking. But almost the last word in the article is given to Mike Gale, a former acting director of the John Innes Centre (JIC). Gale, who's on record as saying that a GM moratorium would be a serious financial blow to the JIC, has this to say about Rifkin, "Let's just ignore the man."

Needless to say, Gale himself has had no difficulty making his own voice heard (see item 3 below). It's now high time that a greater diversity of scientific voices were allowed to be heard.

For Rifkin's position paper see, http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6668


2.A kinder, gentler Jeremy Rifkin endorses biotech, or does he?
Author: Erik Stokstad
Publication: Science
Date: Friday, June 16, 2006

For years, activist Jeremy Rifkin was the bete noire of biotechnology. Beginning in 1983, he filed several lawsuits to block field trials of genetically modified (GM) organisms and grabbed headlines around the world. Rifkin, an economist who runs the nonprofit Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., said such actions were necessary to force an insulated research world to confront pressing ethical questions. To many in the scientific community, however, Rifkin was simply fanning irrational fears about biotechnology. A headline of a 1989 Time magazine profile called him "The Most Hated Man in Science" and captured the prevailing sentiment.

After a decade and a half of protests and campaigns to ban GM crops, Rifkin largely moved on to other topics, such as commerce, European politics, and hydrogen fuel. But now Rifkin, 61, is jumping back into agricultural biotech--this time, as a promoter. "This is an amazing twist for Jeremy Rifkin," says Susan McCouch, a rice geneticist at Cornell University. "I've never seen the man come out in favor of anything." But, like many others, she doubts his support will make much difference, as he is endorsing a biotech approach, known as marker-assisted selection (MAS), that is already well accepted.

In a white paper posted to his organization's Web site this week, Rifkin says MAS offers all the advantages of new genomic science without what he calls the great risks to human health and the environment posed by GM crops. Instead of transferring genes from one speci

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