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Ingratitude and the Greens

September 7th, 2004

We’ve heard a lot from the conservative side of politics lately about how the Greens are kooks, Communists, Nazis, anarcho-syndicalists and so on (I’m quoting senior politicians and prominent columnists here, not RWDB bloggers).

So how is that a Liberal minority government in Tasmania managed to last two years relying on Green support? It wasn’t comfortable – minority governments rarely are – and the Liberals cut a deal with Labor to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. But if even half of what has been said in the last couple of weeks was true, a government relying on Green support wouldn’t last two weeks before it fell to pieces over some demand for compulsory vegetarianism or the like.

There was also a Labor-Green Accord government a few years before. This also failed, but over the traditional Green issue of forests, rather than any of the nonsense we have heard about lately.

There’s a chronology here from Bob Brown focusing on forest issues. Obviously, it’s not an unbiased viewpoints, but the basic facts about the governments and their duration are there.

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  1. d
    September 9th, 2004 at 23:29 | #1

    I was only replying to your PS.
    Re your earlier Post

    Sorry to be rather blunt, but you’ve bought up one more example of Green “kookyness”. Ho’s the biological equivalent of a “Cold Fusion” scandal.

    It happens that I’m somewhat of an expert on Horizontal gene transfer. But please dont use Mae Wan Ho as a credible source. She (not He I believe) doesnt have any relevant real professional training (check her CV) and her first book was appalling.
    Better read real genetics starting with B. Lewin’s Genes VIII and real reviews like M. Syvanen and C I Kado’s “Horizontal Gene Transfer” (Academic Press.2nd ed 2002) which I have on my desk as I type.

    In brief – movement of DNA occurs in a vast scale in nature- so whats all the special fuss, about some lab stuff supposedly doing something thats never ocurred before. I personally know of one natural insect virus caught in the act of ferrying genes across diferent insect species. Cross species movement of DNA in nature is ubiqitous.

    You will of course have seen the recent article about human divergence from Chimps being driven by naural mobile ALu DNA (see Future Pundit very recently). It well illustrates Ho’s peculiar view of genetics is, to coin a phrase “kooky”.

    You also will have caught recent Nature articles about other involvements of natural mobile DNA in catalysing evolution of monkey genes. The truth is that we’re human because of mobile natural DNA.

    Professionally I’ve worked with viruses and mobile natural DNA and published extensively. I teach this stuff to University students. Ho would be laughed out of every real biology department at any reputable University. Im not trying to bluff , but let you know in a few words what I can write about in specific detail for weeks and not run out of things to say. Ho’s first book ignored the history of mobile DNA up to 1980 to try and laughably claim that gene movement among bacteria was invented accidently by scientists in the rec-DNA era when its been happening everywhere for say 3 billion years or more of natural evolution.

    But Ho’s a Green hero. Says a lot about Green lack of scientific credibility when it comes to genetics.

  2. Carlos
    September 10th, 2004 at 02:16 | #2

    d, talking about great green heros: Dr. David Suzuki the FATHER of genetics!

    I personally heard Dr. Suzuki, when questioned by that great aussie Dr. Karl, say the following about genetics:
    (paraphrased–I’ll find the quote & post it later!)
    “It is such a huge area of human knowledge we just know so little about, and where the risks, costs, and ethical dilemmas are so huge that I couldn’t work in the area any longer. I want to be able to comment knowledgeably AND impartially, so I need to be at arms length”.

  3. d
    September 10th, 2004 at 08:07 | #3


    Imogen, this is the link to the latest news on the “horizontal gene movement story” that worries you. Mae Wan Ho is worried about gene rearrangements causing the end of the world because her view is that it didn’t occur until scientists fiddled in the lab, when she herself is a walking example of gene movement,

    Let me put it this way, if I were to say that homosexuality is going to cause the end of the world because it was invented in New York City in 1970 you’d be entitled to disabuse me for my naivety. Queen Victoria might believe me though. If I were then to say “stop all social intercourse between homosexuals because our civilization is threatened” you should rightfully call me “kooky”. If I were to claim that only humans engaged in homosexuality, I’d be ignorant of biology. But if the fundamentalist Christians took the misconceived books I’d written on the subject to ban physical contact between men to save the planet- it would be as Marx might say “farce”.

    That how it is with the Greens and “horizontal gene movement”. It is a sad reflection on the general lack of education about facts of genetics that so many people take this kind of story line at face value. Especially ABC radio journalists, who are on a par with Queen Victoria when it comes to the modern world of biology. But don’t ever claim they havn’t been told. It is plain incompetence that’s preventing them educating themselves.

  4. d
    September 10th, 2004 at 11:28 | #4

    Carlos , you hit the nail on the head.

    The problem is that Dr Suzuki has disengaged his BRAIN also from the science also since leaving academe some 30 years ago.

    In an interview recorded on Australian ABC TV he commented about the dangers of GENE movement from GM pollen to milkweed when commenting about the monarch butterfly issue. This comment was on the public record but the ABC TV didn’t realise this displayed Dr Suzikis complete lack of understanding of the factually relevant science and went ahead broadcasting his comment.I blinked in surprise when I heard him and checked the transcripts to verify I HADNT MISHEARD. The risks from GENE movement from corn pollen to milkweed are miniscule (but not mathematically zero, perhaps they are possible in the life of the universe).

    I have personally challenged Dr Suzuki to correct his error.

    His response “obviously you and I are in different worlds” (from my memory, but archived in old computer files!), and refusal to acknowledge the misinformation needed correcting.

    Now I know that I have never left this planet in my lifetime, so I’m left wondering what world Dr Suzuki thinks he’s on, and why he keeps on talking about earth if his experience relates to a diffrent planet. But I guess the Greens know what he’s talking about – Kooky Utopia perhaps, somewhere beteen Venus and Mars, but I personally prefer to struggle with changing our own imperfect planet based on imperfect but honest thought about our actual world.

    Dr Suzukui’s response also suggests that he’s not very alert now to the demands of professional ethics.

    These are the heroes of the Green movement. I wonder why Green the rank and file don’t call them to order because these sloppy attitudes are now actually damaging human lives and causing unnecessary environmental harm, but I guess that the nature of religeous zealotry.
    But the intentions are good!

  5. imogen
    September 10th, 2004 at 15:10 | #5


    I think if we are serious about feeding the world’s poor, we must acknowledge first up that we live in a grossly inequitable world, and that market forces haven’t just failed to reduce poverty, they have actually induced greater levels of it. I would go further and say that there is ample evidence that they promulgate it. Our entire global economy is based upon ever-increasing consumption which is clearly unsustainable, and one of the first glaring areas requiring reform is agriculture. So when I talk of addressing inequalities and food distribution, I’m talking about a) a just re-allocation of land and removal of minority monopolies of arable land, and b) dismantling export-oriented agriculture for the profit of a few, and re-focussing on local food production for the masses.

    I agree wholeheartedly that local food production is essential, which is why before we launch ‘green revolution 2’, I’d much rather see these major reforms such as removing the stranglehold of export-oriented agriculture from third world countries. Examples range from tobacco, currently occupying 1% of arable land & accounting for 10% of deforestation rates to the cut flower and ornamental industry which occupies as much as 30% of arable land in some countries. Then there’s the gross waste of land used as pasturage for export meat markets – on average permanent pasture accounts for around 65% of arable land globally (although obviously not all of it is used for meat production).

    India, a country I have travelled and lived in over a period of 20 years makes an excellent example. You say there is little unused land in India – you’re right; but you ignore the fact that most of it is taken up with growing export crops such as sugar and cotton, not food for the local populous. India is the biggest exporter of cut tulips in the world, grown in the state of Haryana, considered to be second only to Punjab in terms of being the bread basket of India. Of course, the Punjab’s soils structure has been utterly decimated by the effects of ‘Green Revolution 1’, resulting in massive topsoil losses. The Punjab still grows gain crops – which are exported to Europe to make pet food.

    Export-oriented agriculture has also seen the reconcentration of land into the hands of the very wealthy few in India like never before, resulting in a sub-class of millions who have no access to land to grow food. Profit margins for the few welathy landowners decide the crop and the market, not the starving poor of India.

    India demonstrates perfectly just how much fundamental change is needed, and what it could achieve, without even going near the introduction of biotechnology. I’d also point out that in India, GE hasn’t been introduced to increase food crops, it’s been introduced as Bt-cotton, which was first illegally grown in trials by a Monsanto subsidiary, and then gained sanction from government – now revoked in the face of mass farmer protests in some states. It was introduced as hundreds of farmers suicided as cotton crops failed as a result of pest insects, now resistant to pesticides. This is the same Bt-cotton that was so unsuccessful in resisting said insect pests in Texas that farmers sued Monsanto, after it repeatedly failed trails. Yet this crop is apparently good enough for India – aside from the fact that it has nothing to do with food production.

    With regard to what we eat, I’m not moralising about a few nations, I’m being bluntly pragmatic about the whole world. In the west we eat on average 4 times as much protein per day as we need, and commonly 30 times more food daily, period, than your average developing nation citizen. Fully half the world’s agriculture is geared around meat production for consumption by the wealthy 25%. The growing elite in other parts of the world eat excessive meat because it’s a sign of prestige, just as we do. Milk makes an excellent example, from India again. When the burgeoning middle class of India realised that milk was drunk in great quantities in the west, it resulted in a ‘market shift’ in India where milk became a highly expensive ‘prestige food’, so that rural poor could no longer afford it, and no longer fed it to their children because it was more profitable if you had milk to sell it to distributors for the city – those small profit margins nearly always going to pay debt, as most Indian farmers are still essentially bonded labourers. Little ‘prestige milk’ booths sprang up all over India, and you could witness middle-class Indians lining up their obese children to buy them milk to drink, while in the countryside, childhood osteoporosis flourishes.

    I’ve digressed, but what I’m saying in a nutshell, is that we all need to eat less meat, or if you want a more sophisticated statement, the world’s agriculture needs to be reformed away from excess protein production. And as I’m not interested in moralising but acting, I’m vegetarian myself for precisely these reasons.

    I think you are grossly underestimating the gains in terms of freed arable land and increased and more appropriate production that would be gained if we:
     Dropped export-oriented agriculture
     Dropped non-essential crops like tobacco, cut flowers & turf, and excessive cotton production for the fashion industry
     Moved away from large monocultural farming practices that requires more inputs than their net outputs, and moved back to sustainable mixed cropping & farming with minimal inputs,
     Re-oriented food production to be localised and
     Re-oriented agriculture away from excessive meat production (the single biggest cause of deforestation still, as well)

    You are also ignoring one last thing, D. We could feed the poor right now, and we don’t. The same companies that drove ‘Green Revolution 1’ have made massive profits at the expense of a global decline in soil health, loss of topsoil, water contamination etc., and marketed themselves as being out to ‘feed the world’. Well, surprise, they didn’t, in fact they did virtually the opposite. Now they want to profit further from the catastrophe by peddling GE crops that just happen to be resistant to the pesticides and herbicides they sell.

    True there are geneticists with a different view to me, but there are also experienced geneticists, molecular biologists, ecologists etc. etc. who agree with me entirely. Nor is the argument against GE put solely by groups like Greenpeace which you so deride. I note you’ve had nothing to say about the British Medical Association’s GE concerns (an organisation with around 100,00 members), as just one major organisation that has raised significant concerns over GE. So has the Union of Concerned Scientists – again representing over 100,000. You’ve also been notably silent on rBGH.

    You say “anti-GM politics are demonstrably to the disadvantage of both the environment and food security…”, and in the same response accuse me of moralising. I can’t think of anything more paternalistic or moralising than western scientists, funded once again by private multi-nationals & profit-oriented governments, forcing GE crops onto the third world on the fallacious basis that ‘it’s for their own good’;- despite the fact that for many years now, grass-roots based organisations in the third world have been clearly articulating an alternative solution in the form of all the agricultural and market reforms I listed above. But of course, the west doesn’t want to hear it because it means an end to profits and third world dependency, which benefits us enormously.

    At the last two World Social Forums, with tens of thousands of delegates, GE technologies and their multinational proponents were roundly condemned. Numerous accounts of unethical and downright illegal actions by companies such as DuPont, Monsanto and Novartis were detailed, along with law suits against them. Your assumption that GE technologies are benefiting people and the environment were given a total hiding.

    Are you really prepared to dismiss all this opposition? At the risk of being taken the wrong way, I’d strongly urge you if possible to go to a country like India and talk to the people who are affeted by the subjects of our debate here – not just government/corporation funded reasearchers and vested interests. Check out the World Social Forum and other such massive third world movements and what they are saying. I respect them to have a far better idea of what is best for their people and their countrys’ poor and environments. They live in them and fight these battles on a daily scale.


    I’m sorry D, but here you write about organic farming is absolute rubbish. In independent trials time and again, small & medium-scale mixed organic and biodynamic farming out-produces modern agricultural techniques, and requires far less inputs, and bequeaths far less environmental impacts. The manure is not even a remotely a problem when you consider that we have 6 billion people’s poo already as a ready manure supply.

    You want to talk ethics?

    Monsanto & terminator technology – deemed one of the greatest threats to food security going; pressure has increased enough that the company says it may delay it.

    Monsanto caught out with illegal activities, predominantly illegal imports, contamination and trials in:
    The USA (corn)
    Brazil (soybeans)
    India (cotton)
    Bulgaria (potatoes)
    Ukraine (potatoes)
    Italy (maize)
    – not to mention it’s the proud producer of Agent Orange, currently responsible for the suffering and deaths of millions in Vietnam alone.

    In countries where farmers have tried to resist Monsanto, intimidation tactics by the company abound, from suing to market breaking to physical violence.

    DuPont – fined for illegal seed price fixing.

    Novartis – pharmaceutical branch found guilty of encouraging the diagnosis of ADD/AHDD to increase sales of it’s drug, ritalin in the USA. Now known as Syngenta, also found guilty of illegal GE seed contamination of maize in Germany, and illegal GE trials in New Zealand.

    It’s an unfortunate but undeniable fact that all ‘causes’ attract extremists, and also develop into entities that spend much of their energy justifying their own existence. Greenpeace certainly falls into that category for me, despite occasionally being on the mark.

    Compared and contrasted with the ill-gotten trillions of wealth and systemic injustices instigated and perpetuated by multinational corporations, they pale into insignificance. If you really want to play the ‘who’s killed more / committed more injustices against how many developing world poor’, I can flatly guarantee that MN’s outscore propagandising Green Groups by about 1000:1, and am happy to back with stats and facts if you’re not willing to take my word.


    Horizontal transfer. I am well aware that it happens naturally, but the crux of the debate here is what happens with regards to GE products, which at the very least radicalise the process by speed and breadth of alternative genetic materials being introduced to organisms. I’ll buy your professional opinion that Wan-Ho is a hack (I’ve read of Wan-Ho’s work rather it, itself, hence gender confusions. I’ve also never seen reference to the whole post/pre 1980 bit – c’est la vie). I presume then that you must have an equally low professional opinion then of all the Monsanto etc. geneticists (or I should say publicists) who declared over and over that there was no evidence of horizontal gene transfer from GE crops, and that it would never happen, despite it being repeatedly pointed out that it is a natural phenomenon, and that GMOs are far less genetically stable than naturally evolved organisms.


    At some point, of course, we are going to have to just agree to disagree, and I assure you I don’t see this as being about either of us winning or losing. These discussions are important, and I thank you at the very least for pointing out serious flaws in Wan-Ho’s work, and recommending some good reading. I hope I’ve been able to do a little of the same for you.



  6. Carlos
    September 10th, 2004 at 16:02 | #6

    “A lot of people are arguing that politics or economics SHOULD NOT be the only concern here. Other policy implications are just as relevant, if not more.” I repeat it once again! Technology is not a PANACEA!

    I am a businessman, not a scientist, but I am pretty good at spotting trends and consumer reactions:
    - Why is that Biotechs oppose GM Labeling so vehemently?
    - Why is it that organic and “clean/pure” products carry such a premium in the market place? (have a look at the average supermarket in the UK! A trend increasingly evident here!)

    COMMERCIALLY, GMOs are completely unsuccessful and very long way from proven. We are a very loooong way from knowing enough in this area. It is irresponsible and arrogant to throw around claims to its infallibility. Let’s not pay for Biotechs R&D and marketing spin with the public commons. Let them assume the risk!

    d, you still did not respond to any of Imogen’s arguments, other than discrediting her source: Mae Wan Ho. What about the rest?

    If anything I’d like to thank you, d. This is a very useful exercise that has helped to prepare us for when GMOs becomes a hugely important issue politically in Oz, as it has become a huge issue in Canada, NZ, UK, EU, etc.

    I will file this discussion together with some very useful feedback I am waiting for from some experts: a PhD geneticist and virologist from the US, an aussie CSIRO scientist, a medical Doctor in Germany, etc. I will create a GM specific website, with a focus on POLICY and practical outcomes, where all this info will reside.

    I will post a summary here in a couple of days, the website will take a bit longer (some of us have plenty of work to get done! Even a life, too!).

    Thanks d, your fanatical support has served us well. Maybe you could get a job as a spinner for Monsanto… then again it didn’t turn out as you wanted so maybe you’re not that good at it after all …you get points for trying, though.

    We will be ready!
    “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” – Gandhi

  7. d
    September 11th, 2004 at 09:47 | #7

    Ive read you last post and dont find much of what you say surprising, and I acknowledge the importance of your main points. I am equally able to respond further but will do so briefly. Much of what you say I disagree with and it will take extensive discussion because our difference are very fundamental.
    You are totally right about vegetarianism, but just in case many people in the world resist a call to completely change their diet over the next two decades (a revolution that will be quite dramatic), I think it would also be reasonable to allow other approaches to be encouraged which might have value for improving land efficiency. We are talking about a massive complex challenge which we both agree will need many changes. You seem to think a radical restructuring of Africulture is needed. let me remind you the last two efforts on these lines, in China 1960, and Ukraine 1930s killed som 35 million people, so be careful your revolution doent do the same.

    Although I’m not certain that your diagnosis of problems caused by the Green revolution in India is not the whole story, I don’t claim it was perfect. I acknowledge the obvious quality of your first hand experience there .But you are rather forgetting that it saved arguably 100,000,000s of lives. You are also not acknowledging that before 1960 India was dependant on food aid from abroad for survival, and now it has excess capacity for grain. What I really admire Gordon Conway’s wish for a Doubly Green Revolution, decribed in his last book.

    You admonish me for avoiding comment on the British Medical Associations views on GM risks. However you fail to acknowledge they recently revised their stance. Perhaps Ill give you and opportunity to comment about their revised opinion, but at least acknowledge their old position has had adverse consequecees in affecting the decisions made in several African states to not accept American food AID during famine, and then reflect perhaps that the BMA have inadvertantly made the lives of poor Africans worse by a stance that they now realise was misguided.

    I short, very likely the BMA were originally stampeded into a foolish position by Green political zealots and made judgements that were scientifically flawed and which have caused harm, so rather than having nothing to say about the BMA, I am highly critical of it, but welcome their change of heart

  8. d
    September 11th, 2004 at 10:09 | #8

    Re rBGH
    Imogen, quickly.
    My silence on rBGH is because I dont regard it as a key issue . Im not convinced it does any harm, but dont believe it is a great loss if it is not used. I acknowledge that to some it is an iconic example of the evils of capitalism, and some argue it causes cruelty to animals, and if those arguments are true we should pay attention. But the major issue that I address is freedom to innovate on the farm in growing crops better so we can have a secure future, and rBGH doesnt really figure there in my view. However I never duck any argument where I believe harm is being done through suppresion of truth no matter how many people I’m arguing with or who they are.

    Im thus not impressed by the numbers of UCS and BMA that you mentioned. The UCS are a political organisation despite their name, and you havn’t shown how many BMA members have actually supported the BMAs old position. I would guess that many British doctors strongly criticised it. I would also prefer that you tell me the particular reputable scientists who have suported to anti-GM case after deliberate consideration and most importantly what their arguments and EVIDENCE are: I know there are some GM scientific critics, but my impression not many.
    But thanks for the last post- it displays great energy and Im convinced that you are absolutely honest in argument and totally sincere, and I enjoy conversing with you.

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