August 19, 2008 A CONVERSATION WITH NINA V. FEDOROFF An Advocate for Science Diplomacy By CLAUDIA DREIFUS When she was a single mother in the early 1960s, Nina V. Fedoroff, 66, defied odds and conventionality by working her way through college, graduate school and postdoctoral studies. Dr. Fedoroff, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, did fundamental research on plant transposons, or jumping genes, and was among the first to clone plant DNA. She is science adviser to the secretary of state and administrator of the Agency for International Development. We spoke last month in Washington and later on the telephone. An edited version of the conversations follows.Unless being a hand picked Ambassador, by the most industry friendly Administration in US history, raises a red flag, one would need to look to Federofff's biotech pedigree to explain the untenable science she offers in the interview. Let's start with the CV details provided and move on to the missing ones. Like so many programs with benevolent aims, USAID has been influenced by an agenda of promoting the profit objectives of industry. Few have benefitted biotech more than USAID which donates food in the name of addressing global hunger, but forces Nations who don't accept gmo technology to allow gmo as aid. Nations who refuse to accept the gmo grains, either based on concerns for health or fears that the patented seeds will be planted and grow their indebtedness have been targeted for reprisals. Examples of USAID shipments as a mechanism to dump biotech on the poor are plentiful. Here is one that reflects the essence of the benevolent policy feeding the poor of India.
The USDA has instructed US Aid Agencies to act as international policemen on behalf of US biotech corporations. In the minutes of its meeting with aid agencies it is made clear that US Aid Agencies are expected to immediately report any opposition to GM food imports by recipient nations to USAID, that they are to make investigations to enable USAID to classify objections as either 'political' or 'trade' related and that USAID will then take the necessary 'diplomatic action' (sanctions?, WTO prosecutions?, aid cancellations/, IMF action?) to ensure that the shipments are accepted. click here Now for the details of Nina's career history that missed the interview introduction, taken from the biography posted at Penn State's Huck Institute where she was a founding member of the biotech Consortium that became a biotech education program. Much of the picture comes from associations and there'd be a book if we detailed them all. Joining Federoff as a founding member of the biotech planners at Penn State was one of Monsanto's staunchest supporters and the biggest go to guy outside of Cornell for promoting rBGH hormone dairy. Terry Etherton, featured author at the Competetive Enterprise Institute's family of blogs, Center for Global Food Isues, Milk is Milk, Clonesafety.org,Stop Labeling Lies, Earth Friendly Farm Friendly Dairy, IGF1 and Cancer, IFIC International Food and Information Council and GMO Africa Blog, just to name a few. Etherton also has his own Penn State Blog and he is the the "expert" speaking to dairy farmers assuring them there is no health risk associated with milk from treated cows. Often called "Dr." Etherton he's a Ph.D. in fluid science but always handy to pitch for Monsanto. One link from the recent efforts by Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Dennis Wolff, another former Monsanto dairy farmer campaign to strip organic dairies from labling milk as coming from untreated cows. click here What else did the Times miss on old Nina's CV? There's seat on the Board of American Association for the Advancement of Science and while AAAS has some things to its credit, there's also the AAAS Award for Journalism in Science awarded to FOX News and Juck Science Judo columnist Steve Milloy. From Milloy's roots as a paid PR front man seeding doubt about the dangers of smoking for Phillip Morris to being a registered lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, Monsanto, International Food Additives Council and more, he is a frequent contributor at the blogs listed above with Etherton. One could write a book on Milloy's industry front groups but here are two links to his known affiliations, however fleeting some groups may be. If this is the science Nina and her associates recognize as outstanding you can make your own judgement about the aims. click here http://www.trwnews.net/Documents/Dow/junkscicom.htm Lastly, but hardly least is the corporate Board seat Federoff held from 1996, until she resigned to take her biotech pitch post at The State Department. The Sigma-Aldrich Company describes itself as a biotech specialty chemical provider. The Sigma Aldrich accomplishments are best captured by the write up of the write up given to Jai P. Nagarkatti, their President and CEO, by the St Louis BioBelt. When Jai P. Nagarkatti and Sigma Aldrich was awarded a spot as a top ten biotech firm in the St. Louis Region they had nine others who joined him. St. Louis is of course home to Monsanto who was also recognized with their President and CEO, Hugh Grant, DuPont's Solae soy operation and the Danforth Cente has representation but you can look at the winners list. Sigma Aldrich wasn't gien it's full due by the BioBelt. http://www.stlrcga.org/x1515.xml Fellow Board Members with Nina Federoff include the following from Sigma Aldrich.Where to begin? For starters the greatest improvements in yields were from a combination of mechanizing the farming, irrigating and using chemicals. The system ignores any social cost of chemicals to the ecosystem and population, loss of soil fertility and focuses solely on per acre measures. It is the pride of the Rockefeller Foundation's Green Revolution that touts chemically intensive practice so it's a leap to go for mutations. Anyone with the most basic grasp of genetics appreciates the fact that changes which occur within a species, bear no resemblance to the process of genetically altering life forms why inserting DNA. It is a process that has unforeseen consequences and imprecise results and comparing it to the evolutionary changes, even with hybrids is either misinformed or deceptive. A link to the differences provided by geneticists is provided for those who wish to have a real scientific explanation of how they are not the same at all. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/FAQ.php http://www.dukemednews.org/news/article.php?id=9322 The claim about improved varieties resulting from chemical and radiation mutations is a new one to me but we all learn every day. Perhaps the reference was a mistaken admission that the hormone altering effects of dioxins led to the development of rBGH. We can only hope someone explains what other possible upside to mutants we've benefitted the food supply. The final line about inserting one gene without disturbing the rest might be true if the disturbance is limited to the physical location allowing all the other genes to remain in the sequence. As for the function, it is impossible and contrary to what modern science knows about the multiple functions of genes and the possibility of triggering the majority, which are hibernating into action. The one gene, one protein theory is 1965 science and while it is the basis for granting patents no self respecting scientist would suggest it is true.Pedro Reinhard - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Dow Chemical Company. He is also Chairman of Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company. Thomas N. Urban Former Chairman of the Board of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., He served as Chairman of the Board of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. for more than five years until December 1996 and as President of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. for more than five years until September 1995. Mr. Urban has been a director of the Company since 1990. He is also a director of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. and Case Corporation.Then there is the partnership between Sigma Aldrich and a biotech compay in India who despite it's four short years in business has a full line of gmo seeds. Maybe working for Monsanto while the founders were organizing the start up helped them. The parent is Metahelix and the wholly owned subsidiary is Dhaayana Seeds Pvt. Ltd. www.meta-helix.com/ click here Now that it is established to some degree the science is aimed at supporting the industry Nina's invested her career and future in we can get to the interview. It demonstrates what lengths some people will go to in order to sell a lie, if it shows nothing else.Q. WHEN YOU GAVE A RECENT SPEECH AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY ADVOCATING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS, SOMEONE SITTING NEAR ME SAID, “OH GREAT, OUR STATE DEPARTMENT IS PUSHING G.M. FOOD. SHE’S THE AMBASSADOR FROM MONSANTO.” WHAT’S YOUR RESPONSE? A. How do I answer him? My answer is: There’s almost no food that isn’t genetically modified. Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution. Things change because our planet is subjected to a lot of radiation, which causes DNA damage, which gets repaired, but results in mutations, which create a ready mixture of plants that people can choose from to improve agriculture. In the last century, as we learned more about genes, we were able to devise ways of accelerating evolution. So a lot of modern plant strains were created by applying chemicals or radiation to cause mutations that improved the crop. That’s how plant breeding was done in the 20th century. The paradox is that now that we’ve invented techniques that introduce just one gene without disturbing the rest, some people think that’s terrible.
Q. WHY DO YOU THINK THERE IS SUCH FIERCE OPPOSITION TO GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS? A. This is an unintended consequence of our success. We’ve gotten so good at growing food that we’ve gone, in a few generations, from nearly half of Americans living on farms to 2 percent. We no longer think about how the wonderful things in the grocery store got there, and we’d like to go back to what we think is a more natural way. But I’m afraid we can’t, in part, because there are just too many of us in this world. If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn’t support the earth’s current population — maybe half. The answer implies that genetic engineering has provided greater yields when they have not, unless you count the return on investment for Monsanto and the numbers of acres growing privitized, fee based seeds. The loss of family farms is not due to the yields of biotech seeds but the bulk of the agricultural subsidies going to agribusiness. Over half the support Congress doles out goes to four crops and 22 Congressional Districts. click here Family farms can't compete with corporate welfare and suggesting otherwise is towing the party line too far. The Environmental Working Group has a complete breakdown of the subsidies and the beneficiaries. Over 400 crops get no support but Monsanto's product line is covered like a blanket.Q. YOU BELIEVE THAT ENVIRONMENTALISTS SHOULD BE EMBRACING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS. WHAT’S YOUR ARGUMENT? A. If we put more land under cultivation to feed the world’s growing population, we’re going to pull down the remaining forests. And if that happens, it will contribute tremendously to desertification. The more we can grow on already cultivated land, the better. Europe, North America, Australia, Japan — we’ve been extremely successful in applying science to agriculture and we can afford to say, “Let’s go natural.” But there’s collateral damage. When I went to Rwanda, you saw farmers with holdings of less than an acre. If their population doubles again, we’re looking at more strife. Arguably, Darfur isn’t about politics, it’s about water. Many of the conflicts in the poorest countries are about too many people chasing too few resources. Do we have time to transition something that looks like Rwanda to a more efficient agriculture and to do it wisely enough to absorb the people?What a lovely appeal for the preservation of natural resources. Unfortunately it has no basis in reality; a Cornell 22 year study showed that Organic farming had equal yields to conventional crops and gmo have not improved upon those. Early "science" looked to compare the two and recent results confirm it, biotech is not the answer. click here click here The primary cause of deforestation of the Amazxon Rainforest is American agribusiness clearcutting to plant gmo soy and raise cattle for cheep beef exports. Here are current statistics for that.Between May 2000 and August 2006, Brazil lost nearly 150,000 square kilometers of forest—an area larger than Greece—and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. Why is Brazil losing so much forest? What can be done to slow deforestation? Recently, soybeans have become one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Thanks to a new variety of soybean developed by Brazilian scientists to flourish in rainforest climate, Brazil is on the verge of supplanting the United States as the world's leading exporter of soybeans. High soybean prices have also served as an impetus to expanding soybean cultivation. Philip Fearnside, co-author of a report in Science [21-May-04] and member of Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research in Manaus, explains, "Soybean farms cause some forest clearing directly. But they have a much greater impact on deforestation by consuming cleared land, savanna, and transitional forests, thereby pushing ranchers and slash-and-burn farmers ever deeper into the forest frontier. Soybean farming also provides a key economic and political impetus for new highways and infrastructure projects, which accelerate deforestation by other actors."http://www.mongabay.com/brazil.htmlThree U.S.-based corporations -- Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill -- control 60 percent of soy production in Brazil and more than three-quarters of Europe's soy crushing industry, which supplies soy meal and oil to the animal feed market. What's more the studies recently released show that gmo crops do not deliver the benefits that their creators have been touting from the beginning. Here is a comprehensive pdf report on GMO the first Nine Years that details their failings include herbicide tolerant weeds, adaptive pests and all the modifications one expects from Nature to a harsher environment. http://www.biotech-info.net/Full_version_first_nine.pdf http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34095Q. WHY DOES THE SECRETARY OF STATE NEED A SCIENCE ADVISER? A. Because science and technology are the drivers of the 21st century’s most successful economies. There are more than six billion of us, and the problems of a crowded planet are everyone’s: food, water, energy, climate change, environmental degradation. Other nations, even those that have lost respect for our culture and politics, still welcome collaboration on scientific and technological issues.This one is a real hoot since the US has no respect for other Nations health and safety standards, nor will it tolerate any objections to the patented gmo crops. The WTO has been used as a global corporate enforcement tool to strip other countries of rights to refuse these crops. Science my Aunt Fanny!! Any medical doctor will tell you that any product that is introduced should be tested using the precautionary principle. The Precautionary Principle assumes the food or drug is dangerous and ineffective until scientific tests determine otherwise. Under the American political policy there's an inane term coined called sound science. That Sound Science, which doesn't even sound like science, assumes a product is safe unless someone can prove otherwise. To date most of the gmo foods on the market have never been tested for human health effects or allergies. Is it a coincidence that the food allergies are soaring in the foods that have the highest concentration of gmo, the soy, corn, dairy and peanuts which are a rotation crop for the Bt cotton that penetrates the soil as every cell of the plant is a carrier of the novel trait? What tests have been done with gmo foods? We have weight gain in pigs and broiler chickens, other animal production measures of interest to a factory farm. Sadly most people care about the health of their families and those precautions are omitted. Don't take my word for that here's the "science" data. click here click here Science? Right, it isn't even democratic as American consumers who do know that these exist and want to avoid them have no right to have labels to do that. Give me a break, it's closer to magic where any discussion is suppressed and opposition is too. Here's how the biotech industry words the WTO lawsuits forcing the EU to accept the gmo crops. That's cooperation like Bush in Iraq is diplomacy.In addition to the increase in global biotech acreage and continued acceptance of the technology, in September 2006 the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlement panel determined that the European Union (EU) did in fact impose a de facto moratorium on approvals of new biotech crops. The dispute settlement panel affirmed that agricultural biotechnology regulatory systems must be based on science, and risk assessments must be conducted in a timely manner. The ruling also confirms that international trading rules clearly apply to agricultural products of modern biotechnology.www.bio.org/news/newsitem.asp?id=2007_0118_01 http://www.fass.org/page.asp?pageID=52Q. REPRESENTATIVE GEORGE E. BROWN JR., ONCE THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE, WORRIED THAT BECAUSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGREEMENTS WITH OTHER COUNTRIES WERE NOT FINANCED, THE UNITED STATES WAS HURTING ITSELF WITH EMPTY GESTURES. WAS HE RIGHT? A. That’s a great question and a very current one. Yes, the State Department opens doors by negotiating government-to-government S&T agreements. It also takes the first step in fleshing out such agreements by bringing scientists, ministers and agency representatives together to explore mutual interests. But actually supporting collaborative research on problems of mutual interest, that’s just beginning to be recognized as important. George Brown was right — without the resources to support collaborations, it’s much less than it could be. There are members of Congress who are keenly interested in science diplomacy. But Congress will have to make a bigger investment for science diplomacy to flourish.How much more flourishing could biotech hope for? With a product that most of the world opposes largely benefitting one company in one short decade Monsanto has gained domestic control of more than 90% of US soy, over 80% of the corn, nearly half of the cotton and canola. Rice growing drugs is spreading thorough the Carolinas and Hawaiis papaya's are more than 50% gmo on the organic family farms from contamination by wind drift. Globally the "biotech" acres boasted by Monsanto alone is "paving" the way with every legal tool at their disposal. Common sense tells you if a product is better or seen as better consumers will buy it. Luckily paying off politicians and deceiving consumers has done well enough. click here http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1998Q2/foxbgh.html Monsanto has seen its overseas sales hindered in the past decade as countries resist biotech crops, derided as "Frankenfoods" by critics who have blocked their export from the United States. But Monsanto is paving the way to increase the area planted with its biotech seeds from 95 million acres to 270 million, or 40 million hectares to 110 million, said Brett Begemann, the company's executive vice president of commercial business. Strong global adoption of the seeds "coupled with recent approvals paves the way for expanded growth and sets the stage for new growth as we look to stack and upgrade these products in the coming years,"Q. CAN YOU NAME A SITUATION WHERE SCIENCE DIPLOMACY CHANGED HISTORY? A. History isn’t like a science experiment. You can’t go back and rerun it “without science diplomacy” to see what happens. Nonetheless, some historians credit ongoing relationships between Soviet and American scientists, particularly physicists, with preventing a flash-over of the cold war. Today scientific interactions exist between the U.S. and certain countries with which we have no formal diplomatic relations. We’re promoting scientific interactions to address water and health issues among the countries of the Middle East. Our recent interactions with Libya had science and technology as a centerpiece, ranging from a major international astronomical event around a solar eclipse, to addressing issues of health, water desalinization and agriculture. Another example of science diplomacy is a small group, the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization. A project they’re doing that I’m enthusiastic about involves genetic assessments. There are some diseases unique to the region that may have a genetic basis. The question is: Which genes and how do you identify them? With that group, I see how science is a real force for bringing people together.Q. WHY CAN SCIENCE CREATE COOPERATION IN PLACES WHERE EVERYTHING ELSE FAILS? A. Because science is more collaborative than other types of endeavors. It aspires to more democratic principles than many political systems because we have an external reference. People can have different theories, but we form an experiment to test it. It’s the evidence that matters. So in science, we can have differences of opinion, but we can’t have two sets of facts. There is an in-built process that says, “You and I may have different religions, different politics, but we can talk about science across chasms.”/www.nytimes.com/2008/08/19/science/19conv.html?pagewanted=print The last two are the basic feel good spin you'd expect anyone at the State Department to offer. The truth is Americans have no right to know what we are swallowing. Patented seeds are spreading around the globe and they have not been tested for safety, have not reduced hunger but they have been a windfall for a company that once had the misfortune to pay when it's products were unintentionally contaminating someone's property, now they collect royalties forever. I am one consumer who is tired of having corporations decide that their profits must be fed with my food dollars. I am one American tired of a government that has so little respect for individual rights that it can suggest we have a democracy when my right to determine what foods go in my body and what companies benefit from my spending are taken away. I am one angry mother who discovered this deception a decade ago when one child of mine with no food allergies manifested allergic reactions to foods she had no allergies to. I am tired of the media silence and the propaganda that insults anyone who believes in free speech and journalistic integrity. I have tracked the politics, legislation, science and spin of gmo foods for a decade. I got so frustrated by the media coverup I even made a documentary film in 2006 to try to break the silence. I want everyone who is tired of corrupt government and corporate welfare to get mad as hell and stop swallowing for Uncle Sam.