Beef is getting to dangerous to eat.

I am physically ill over the way farm animals, raised for food, are treated. I am damn sick of it ! If you spent even 10 minutes in a slaughterhouse, you would never eat another hamburger. Chickens are treated no better. And we allow it, ignore it, and eat it. We are insane.  

  

February 05, 2008

Humane Society Undercover

For the last few days, I’ve written about the riveting and revolting images from an HSUS investigation of a southern California slaughter plant. Millions of Americans have subsequently tuned in to newscasts that showed workers at the facility abuse and torment cows too sick or injured to walk, attempting to force these downed animals onto their feet and into the food supply, principally to feed children through the National School Lunch Program. The exposé has triggered a federal investigation into the operations of Hallmark Meat Packing, caused the USDA to suspend its contract with the company that delivers meat from the plant (the second-largest supplier to the school lunch program), and prompted school districts throughout the United States to stop serving beef from the plant, with some of the districts halting the serving of any beef for the time being. It has also exposed basic flaws in the USDA policy dealing with downer cows, and prompted calls for reform.

Downed cows at Hallmark Meat Packing in California
© The HSUS
The footage from California is the latest from HSUS investigators.

It’s the latest example of the remarkable work done by the investigations department at The HSUS. The brave folks who work in the department go deep undercover and toil away to document animal abuse, often for weeks or months at a time, and their diligent and dangerous work sheds a spotlight on cruelty that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Among their many accomplishments in recent months, our investigators, often working with our campaigns staff, have:

  • Exposed a high-end pet store in Los Angeles, Pets of Bel Air, and its purchasing of dogs for resale from Midwest puppy mills, even though this pet store to the stars told consumers it absolutely did not sell dogs from mills.
  • Conducted an investigation in Virginia—not thought to be a major puppy-producing state—that revealed that there are approximately 1,000 breeders in the state selling dogs commercially, many of them puppy mills. Our work resulted in the rescue of nearly 1,000 dogs from a single puppy mill and the filing of animal cruelty and neglect charges against the mill owner, and prompted the introduction of legislation in the state to address the problem.
  • Carried out an investigation into dog auctions, where puppy mills sell dogs for breeding to other mills. The investigation tracked auctions in multiple states and focused attention on the major victims of puppy mills—the breeding females who languish in cages and are bred nearly every heat cycle to turn out cash crops of puppies.
  • Documented that department stores and designers—from Burlington Coat Factory to Neiman Marcus to Macy’s—were selling coats trimmed with fur, including raccoon dog and domesticated dog, and labeling it as faux or as some other species. The investigation attracted national and international headlines, caused several companies to go fur free, prompted the introduction of state and federal bills to address the problems, and informed millions of Americans that even a small amount of fur trim on a coat results in the gruesome killing of animals, including dogs, in China. Today’s Washington Post has a story about our effort in Maryland to crack down on the deceptive marketing of fur trim.
  • Traveled to the Philippines and documented the collection and killing of dogs for human consumption. The activities were illegal and violated a national law against dog consumption. This investigation resulted in the rescue of dogs destined for the stew pot, and prompted a law enforcement crackdown on these illegal operators.
  • Visited horse slaughterhouses in Mexico to document crude and abusive slaughter practices, including the stabbing of horses in the spine with a short knife as the principal means of slaughter. We conducted the investigation to show American lawmakers and other citizens why it is so important to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would bar the export of live horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

These are just a handful of our recent investigations, yet each has hit these industries like a ton of bricks and stirred the conscience of the American public. We are in the forefront of the fight for animals, and you can be assured that we will continue to sniff out animal abuse wherever it occurs and expose it to the harsh glare of public opinion and demand policy reforms that will stem abuse.

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Largest beef recall in history : School Lunch program

USDA Orders Nation’s Largest Beef Recall

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sunday ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef from a California slaughterhouse, the subject of an animal-abuse investigation, that provided meat to school lunch programs.

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ib5V7z9A-ocCTOvoaRCq9Ohbl9SAD8USF7102

Parents: The Tough Decision To Homeschool Just Got Easier

 

Monsanto U: Agribusiness’s Takeover of Public Schools

 

By Nancy Scola, AlterNet
Posted on February 15, 2008, Printed on February 15, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/76804/

I’ve startled a bug scientist. “Yeah, now I’m nervous,” said Mike Hoffmann, a Cornell University entomologist and crop specialist who spends his days with cucumber beetles and small wasps. But he’s also in charge of keeping the research funding flowing at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. What have I done to alarm him? I’ve drawn his attention to the newly released FY 2009 Presidential Budget.

Like more than a hundred public institutions of higher learning, Cornell is what’s known as a “land grant.” Dotting the United States from Ithaca, N.Y., to Pullman, Wash., such schools were established by a Civil War-era act of Congress to provide universities centered around, “the agriculture and mechanic arts.” Congress handed each U.S. state a chunk of federal land to be sold for start-up monies, and for the last 150 years, it has funded ground-breaking research on all things agriculture, from dirt to crops to cattle.

The land-grant system has been, in short, a high-yield investment. The scientific research that has come out of land-grant labs and fields have aided millions of farmers and fed millions of Americans. And the land-grant reach doesn’t stop at ocean’s edge. Oklahoma State, the Sooner State’s land grant, says that the public funding of land-grant research “has benefited every man, woman and child in the United States and much of the world.”

That was until America’s land-grant system met George W. Bush. Tucked into the appendix of his latest national budget is a nearly one-third cut in the public funding for agriculture research at the land grants. The size of the cut is surprising, but not its existence — it’s part of a multiyear drive by the Bush administration to completely eliminate regular public research funding. In a press briefing last week, a USDA deputy secretary illuminated the Bush administration’s rationale for the transition to competitive grant making: “That’s how you get the most bang for the buck.”

Wallace Huffman, an Iowa State agro-economist, is deeply unimpressed with Bush’s “bang” approach to land-grant research. “There’s a sense in the president’s office that you invest in research like you invest in building cars,” Huffman told me last week. Land-grant school officials are similarly skeptical. In a survey, Kansas State argued that the loss of regular funding would upend education. Minnesota complained that cuts would undermine ongoing research projects. North Dakota simply asked, “What is the future of ag research?”

Good question. A reasonable answer? The future of agricultural research at America’s land-grant institutions belongs to biotech conglomerates like Monsanto. And it seems likely that it’s a future of chemical-dependent, genetically modified, bio-engineered agriculture.

In stark contrast to how the federal government and many states are wallowing in red ink, the St. Louis-based Monsanto boasted more than $7 billion in annual sales in 2007 — simply the latest in four years of record-smashing profits. And so when our president says that the time has come for public land-grant institutions to get cracking at “leveraging nonfederal resources,” you can be sure that Monsanto’s ears perk.

But, it doesn’t take a presidential invitation to get Monsanto to sink its roots in the land-grant system. Those roots are already planted. Iowa State’s campus boasts a Monsanto Auditorium and the school offers students Monsanto-funded graduate fellowships on seed policy with a special focus on “the protection of intellectual property rights.” Kansas State has spun off Wildcat Genetics, a side company whose purpose is the selling of soybean seeds genetically engineered to survive the application of Roundup® — the result of a decades long relationship with Monsanto, the pesticide’s maker.

But don’t get the wrong idea about Monsanto’s land-grant activities. By that, I mean, don’t think the company is the only multinational biotech conglomerate firmly rooted in American land-grant soil.

Head on down to Texas A&M. There you’ll find the a chair for the “Dow Chemical Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.” Similar chairs exist at West Virginia State and Louisiana State. The agricultural college of the University of California at Davis is funded in part by DuPont and Calgene.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Plant and Microbiology Department entered into a $25 million/five-year quasi-exclusive research agreement with the Swiss-based Novartis, which then became Syngenta, which now funds the land-grant research group on soybean fungi. In 2005, Purdue, Indiana’s land-grant school, developed an application of the so-called Terminator gene pioneered by Delta Pine and Land Co.; school officials and researchers later took to the hustings when the public resisted the idea of self-sterilizing plants.

But the agricultural industry’s relationship with the land-grant system is not an entirely new development. In 1973, former Texas agricultural commissioner and activist Jim Hightower lamented the situation in his landmark report, Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times: The Failure of America’s Land Grant College Complex.

But the world of agriculture is today a far, far different place than when Hightower wrote.

For one thing, in the early 1970s Monsanto was still a decade away from genetically modifying its very first plant cell. For another, back then the federal government was still committed to providing steady research funding.

And, importantly, it was neither possible nor profitable for our nation’s bastions of higher learning to be players in the global agribusiness. But intervening tectonic shifts in American public policy help us to understand why a public institution like Purdue would fight so darn hard to defend a biotech advance like the Terminator gene: in a manner of speaking, they own the thing.

Jump ahead to 1980, when the U.S. Supreme Court under Warren Burger decided that, as long as they’d been tweaked from their natural state, living organisms from seeds to microbes or Terminator genes could be patented just as if they were a new cotton gin or tractor blade. And in that same year, Congress gave universities a kick towards the marketplace by encouraging institutions to file patent claims on the discoveries and inventions of their faculty researchers — no matter if their work was funded in whole or in part by taxpayer dollars.

The summed effect was that, suddenly, a public institution like Purdue had a great deal of motivation for working with Delta Pine and Land Co. to see if they might make a buck off their biotech invention in the marketplace. What’s more, the policy shift made it so individual lab geeks themselves stood to profit, eligible for a large slice of whatever windfall their discovery generated.

As the biotech industry has since exploded, the impact on the land-grant system is perhaps not unexpected. “Researchers want to be at both the cutting edge of science and the cutting edge of the marketplace,” says Andrew Neighbour, until recently the director of UCLA’s office on the business applications of faculty research. (The entire University of California system functions as that state’s “land-grant institution.”) And so the advent of patentable and profitable plants (and animals, for that matter) has meant a shift in research focus away new knowledge and towards the creation of marketable products.

The land-grant institutions find themselves in a pickle. “On the one hand,” says Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and plant genetics at UC Davis, schools pushed into the free market have developed the habit of patenting research and found a taste for private business deals. But on the other hand, “they have a public role where the information they produce should be available to all.”

As things stand, “public universities,” says Dr. Gepts, “are a contradiction.”

This embrace of patents and profits means that land-grant agricultural research centers today are not playgrounds of academic collaboration they once were. “Things have changed enormously,” says William Folk, a plant geneticist at the University of Missouri. “When I started in the ’70s,” he recalls fondly, “meetings were filled with people criticizing each other and sharing ideas.” But today, he says “if you have an idea that has any potential commercial value, you’re reluctant to share.”

Not surprisingly, school administrators argue that a negative reading of the cozy relationship between agricultural researchers and biotech corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta is hogwash. When asked, Neal Van Alfen, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, acknowledges that about 20 percent of the $165 million annual research budget is contributed by industry. But Dean Van Alfen is quick to add, “It forms just one part of who we work with.” Research conducted in conjunction with industry interests, he insists, is simply one chunk of “an awfully large amount of work.”

But numbers and percentages don’t tell the whole story, because of the way that industry engages in the land-grant system. In short, they skim. Here’s how it works: (a) federal and state governments hand over taxpayer money to build and sustain the basic infrastructure, without which research can’t hope to take place, then (b) the biotech industry injects some smaller amount of much-needed cash into the system, and then (c) agribusinesses skim off and patent the most promising (and potentially profitable) discoveries that rise to the top.

Still, administrators argue, scientific professionalism keeps industry in check — a researcher who fudges his or her findings to curry industry favor is in for a short career. But that line of reasoning misses the real concern. What’s alarming isn’t that global agribusiness conglomerates like Monsanto, Dow Chemical and DuPont are getting the answers they want from our land-grant entomologists, agronomists and plant geneticists.

It’s that at public institutions, private interests are the ones asking the questions.

What must be kept in mind is that land-grant researchers are generally expected to bring to the table their own research funding, and the situation can already be fairly dire. When UC Davis’ Paul Gepts comments on how his institution’s support is limited to a base salary, I attempt a lame joke: “They give you a desk too, right?” Yes, he responds, but a phone is another matter.

Faculty researchers are so hungry for funding that, says Missouri’s William Folk, “if companies want to entice researchers to work on their projects, all they have to do is wave a bit of money.” “The availability of funds, he says, “makes an enormous difference in what we can do.”

“We’re opportunists,” Folk says, with compassion, of himself and his fellow researchers, “we go after money where it might be.”

When it comes to how industry-university relations shape academic research, UCLA’s Andrew Neighbour is the person to talk to. While an administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, Neighbour managed the school’s landmark multiyear and multimillion-dollar relationship with Monsanto. (Note: WashU is a private institution.) “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings,” Neighbour admits. “It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by.”

And so the issue at hand becomes one of the questions that are being asked at public land-grant schools. While Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, et al., are paying the bills, are agricultural researchers going to pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new corn variety impact the independent New York farmer?” Or, “Will this new tomato make eaters healthier?”

It seems far more likely that the questions that multinational biotech conglomerates are willing to pay to have answered run along the lines of “How can we keep growing our own bottom lines?”

I put it to Dr. Folk. “The companies are there to make money, no doubt,” he responds.

What suffers for falling outside the scope of industry interest? Organic farming, for one. The Organic Farming Research Foundation was founded in the 1980s after, Executive Director Bob Scowcroft tells me, farmers interested in weaning themselves from chemical dependence approached their local land-grant outreach agents for help for pest management. As Scowcroft tells it, their advice was invariably in the spirit of, “Well, sure, I can tell you what to spray.”

OFRF began arming land-grant researchers with modest grants but found that academics interested in conducting organic-related research faced obstacles beyond funding.

“Coming out of the organic closet could be the beginning of the end of your career,” says Scowcroft. Looking outside biotech agriculture is, he says, “like throwing 30 years of the Green Revolution in your boss’s face.” Today, says John Reganold, an OFRF grantee and apple researcher at Washington State University, academics interested in organic farming “just don’t have the money to do what we need to do.”

Also the subject of minimal industry attention: so-called orphan crops, like sorghum and cassava, which feed millions of people in the developing world but aren’t considered patentable or profitable. UC Davis’ Paul Gepts is working to breed a disease-resistant variety of the East African common bean, an important protein source for AIDS sufferers. He’s turned to an English charitable group for funding, and all involved have agreed to resist patenting the plant — once a useful variety is developed, the science will be left in the public domain.

While it’s clear that funding cash is the carrot used by agribusiness to entice researchers into asking the questions industry is most interested in having answered, there is a stick involved: corporately held patents used to block them from asking others.

That’s certainly been Paul Gepts’s experience, when he thought he might tackle the question of gene transfer in Mexican maize varieties. The question, though, is a sensitive one for Monsanto, as one of the arguments against transgenic crops is the difficulty in containing their spread — raising the specter of a threat to the world’s biodiversity. As the maize he was interested in was patented by Monsanto, Gepts asked the company for some samples. Their response: no way.

When I asked Gepts for his take on Monsanto’s motivation for the refusal, I hadn’t yet finished the question when he answered: “Avoiding scrutiny,” he said. Missouri’s Folk seconds the contention that such private claims on science impede research, saying, “Our ability to do science is constrained by the patents held by agribusiness.”

All this said, it’s not fair to say that there hasn’t been resistance against public land-grant schools mutating into institutions of private science. After Novartis had become involved in UC Berkeley’s Department of Plant and Microbiology, the school ordered an internal review by the academic senate, which ultimately deemed the relationship “a mistake.” Lawrence Busch, a Berkeley faculty member who headed the review said at its conclusion: “I think it is high time for serious discussions of what the devil we want our universities to be.”

When Mike Hoffmann — the Cornell entomologist I startled by sharing Bush’s proposed budget cuts — recovers from his shock, he offers his take on “what the devil” our universities should be. The principle that should guide Cornell, Berkeley, Missouri and our other land-grant institutions is simple, he says: public funding for the public good. The mission of America’s centers of agricultural learning is, he concludes, “to produce new knowledge for the public benefit. That’s why we have the land-grant system, and I think it’s pretty important.”

Nancy Scola is a Brooklyn-based writer who has in the past served as the chief blogger at Air America, an aide to former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, as he explored a run for the presidency, and a congressional staffer on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/76804/

FDA TO OK CLONED MILK AND MEAT

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland included an amendment in the Senate version of the Farm Bill when it passed in December that would force the FDA to wait until further studies are done before ruling on the safety of food from cloned animals.

BIOTECH FOR DUMMIES (while we were blogging)

Our Biotech Future

By Freeman Dyson

1.

It has become part of the accepted wisdom to say that the twentieth century was the century of physics and the twenty-first century will be the century of biology. Two facts about the coming century are agreed on by almost everyone. Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century. Biology is also more important than physics, as measured by its economic consequences, by its ethical implications, or by its effects on human welfare.

These facts raise an interesting question. Will the domestication of high technology, which we have seen marching from triumph to triumph with the advent of personal computers and GPS receivers and digital cameras, soon be extended from physical technology to biotechnology? I believe that the answer to this question is yes. Here I am bold enough to make a definite prediction. I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years.

I see a close analogy between John von Neumann’s blinkered vision of computers as large centralized facilities and the public perception of genetic engineering today as an activity of large pharmaceutical and agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto. The public distrusts Monsanto because Monsanto likes to put genes for poisonous pesticides into food crops, just as we distrusted von Neumann because he liked to use his computer for designing hydrogen bombs secretly at midnight. It is likely that genetic engineering will remain unpopular and controversial so long as it remains a centralized activity in the hands of large corporations.


I see a bright future for the biotechnology industry when it follows the path of the computer industry, the path that von Neumann failed to foresee, becoming small and domesticated rather than big and centralized.

The first step in this direction was already taken recently, when genetically modified tropical fish with new and brilliant colors appeared in pet stores.

For biotechnology to become domesticated, the next step is to become user-friendly. I recently spent a happy day at the Philadelphia Flower Show, the biggest indoor flower show in the world, where flower breeders from all over the world show off the results of their efforts. I have also visited the Reptile Show in San Diego, an equally impressive show displaying the work of another set of breeders. Philadelphia excels in orchids and roses, San Diego excels in lizards and snakes. The main problem for a grandparent visiting the reptile show with a grandchild is to get the grandchild out of the building without actually buying a snake.

Every orchid or rose or lizard or snake is the work of a dedicated and skilled breeder. There are thousands of people, amateurs and professionals, who devote their lives to this business.

Now imagine what will happen when the tools of genetic engineering become accessible to these people. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners who will use genetic engineering to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also kits for lovers of pigeons and parrots and lizards and snakes to breed new varieties of pets. Breeders of dogs and cats will have their kits too.

Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture.

Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora. The final step in the domestication of biotechnology will be biotech games, designed like computer games for children down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Playing such games, kids will acquire an intimate feeling for the organisms that they are growing. The winner could be the kid whose seed grows the prickliest cactus, or the kid whose egg hatches the cutest dinosaur. These games will be messy and possibly dangerous. Rules and regulations will be needed to make sure that our kids do not endanger themselves and others. The dangers of biotechnology are real and serious.

If domestication of biotechnology is the wave of the future, five important questions need to be answered. First, can it be stopped? Second, ought it to be stopped? Third, if stopping it is either impossible or undesirable, what are the appropriate limits that our society must impose on it? Fourth, how should the limits be decided? Fifth, how should the limits be enforced, nationally and internationally? I do not attempt to answer these questions here. I leave it to our children and grandchildren to supply the answers.

2.

A New Biology for a New Century

Carl Woese is the world’s greatest expert in the field of microbial taxonomy, the classification and understanding of microbes. He explored the ancestry of microbes by tracing the similarities and differences between their genomes. He discovered the large-scale structure of the tree of life, with all living creatures descended from three primordial branches. Before Woese, the tree of life had two main branches called prokaryotes and eukaryotes, the prokaryotes composed of cells without nuclei and the eukaryotes composed of cells with nuclei. All kinds of plants and animals, including humans, belonged to the eukaryote branch. The prokaryote branch contained only microbes. Woese discovered, by studying the anatomy of microbes in detail, that there are two fundamentally different kinds of prokaryotes, which he called bacteria and archea. So he constructed a new tree of life with three branches, bacteria, archea, and eukaryotes. Most of the well-known microbes are bacteria. The archea were at first supposed to be rare and confined to extreme environments such as hot springs, but they are now known to be abundant and widely distributed over the planet. Woese recently published two provocative and illuminating articles with the titles “A New Biology for a New Century” and (together with Nigel Goldenfeld) “Biology’s Next Revolution.”[*]

Woese’s main theme is the obsolescence of reductionist biology as it has been practiced for the last hundred years, with its assumption that biological processes can be understood by studying genes and molecules. What is needed instead is a new synthetic biology based on emergent patterns of organization. Aside from his main theme, he raises another important question. When did Darwinian evolution begin? By Darwinian evolution he means evolution as Darwin understood it, based on the competition for survival of noninterbreeding species. He presents evidence that Darwinian evolution does not go back to the beginning of life.

When we compare genomes of ancient lineages of living creatures, we find evidence of numerous transfers of genetic information from one lineage to another. In early times, horizontal gene transfer, the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent. It becomes more prevalent the further back you go in time.

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his “New Biology” article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell, anticipating Bill Gates by three billion years, separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteria—and the first species of any kind—reserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.


The Darwinian interlude has lasted for two or three billion years. It probably slowed down the pace of evolution considerably. The basic biochemical machinery of life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbial evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established, evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them.

Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer.

The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere.

Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.

I would like to borrow Carl Woese’s vision of the future of biology and extend it to the whole of science. Here is his metaphor for the future of science:

Imagine a child playing in a woodland stream, poking a stick into an eddy in the flowing current, thereby disrupting it. But the eddy quickly reforms. The child disperses it again. Again it reforms, and the fascinating game goes on. There you have it! Organisms are resilient patterns in a turbulent flow—patterns in an energy flow…. It is becoming increasingly clear that to understand living systems in any deep sense, we must come to see them not materialistically, as machines, but as stable, complex, dynamic organization.

This picture of living creatures, as patterns of organization rather than collections of molecules, applies not only to bees and bacteria, butterflies and rain forests, but also to sand dunes and snowflakes, thunderstorms and hurricanes. The nonliving universe is as diverse and as dynamic as the living universe, and is also dominated by patterns of organization that are not yet understood. The reductionist physics and the reductionist molecular biology of the twentieth century will continue to be important in the twenty-first century, but they will not be dominant. The big problems, the evolution of the universe as a whole, the origin of life, the nature of human consciousness, and the evolution of the earth’s climate, cannot be understood by reducing them to elementary particles and molecules. New ways of thinking and new ways of organizing large databases will be needed.

3.

Green Technology

The domestication of biotechnology in everyday life may also be helpful in solving practical economic and environmental problems. Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology,…

 the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it.

The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development, to help us solve some of our urgent social problems and ameliorate the human condition all over the earth. Open Source biology could be a powerful tool, giving us access to cheap and abundant solar energy.

A plant is a creature that uses the energy of sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide and other simple chemicals into roots and leaves and flowers. To live, it needs to collect sunlight. But it uses sunlight with low efficiency. The most efficient crop plants, such as sugarcane or maize, convert about 1 percent of the sunlight that falls onto them into chemical energy. Artificial solar collectors made of silicon can do much better. Silicon solar cells can convert sunlight into electrical energy with 15 percent efficiency, and electrical energy can be converted into chemical energy without much loss. We can imagine that in the future, when we have mastered the art of genetically engineering plants, we may breed new crop plants that have leaves made of silicon, converting sunlight into chemical energy with ten times the efficiency of natural plants. These artificial crop plants would reduce the area of land needed for biomass production by a factor of ten. They would allow solar energy to be used on a massive scale without taking up too much land. They would look like natural plants except that their leaves would be black, the color of silicon, instead of green, the color of chlorophyll. The question I am asking is, how long will it take us to grow plants with silicon leaves?

If the natural evolution of plants had been driven by the need for high efficiency of utilization of sunlight, then the leaves of all plants would have been black. Black leaves would absorb sunlight more efficiently than leaves of any other color. Obviously plant evolution was driven by other needs, and in particular by the need for protection against overheating. For a plant growing in a hot climate, it is advantageous to reflect as much as possible of the sunlight that is not used for growth. There is plenty of sunlight, and it is not important to use it with maximum efficiency. The plants have evolved with chlorophyll in their leaves to absorb the useful red and blue components of sunlight and to reflect the green. That is why it is reasonable for plants in tropical climates to be green. But this logic does not explain why plants in cold climates where sunlight is scarce are also green. We could imagine that in a place like Iceland, overheating would not be a problem, and plants with black leaves using sunlight more efficiently would have an evolutionary advantage. For some reason which we do not understand, natural plants with black leaves never appeared. Why not? Perhaps we shall not understand why nature did not travel this route until we have traveled it ourselves.

After we have explored this route to the end, when we have created new forests of black-leaved plants that can use sunlight ten times more efficiently than natural plants, we shall be confronted by a new set of environmental problems. Who shall be allowed to grow the black-leaved plants? Will black-leaved plants remain an artificially maintained cultivar, or will they invade and permanently change the natural ecology? What shall we do with the silicon trash that these plants leave behind them? Shall we be able to design a whole ecology of silicon-eating microbes and fungi and earthworms to keep the black-leaved plants in balance with the rest of nature and to recycle their silicon?

The twenty-first century will bring us powerful new tools of genetic engineering with which to manipulate our farms and forests. With the new tools will come new questions and new responsibilities.

Rural poverty is one of the great evils of the modern world. The lack of jobs and economic opportunities in villages drives millions of people to migrate from villages into overcrowded cities. The continuing migration causes immense social and environmental problems in the major cities of poor countries. The effects of poverty are most visible in the cities, but the causes of poverty lie mostly in the villages. What the world needs is a technology that directly attacks the problem of rural poverty by creating wealth and jobs in the villages. A technology that creates industries and careers in villages would give the villagers a practical alternative to migration. It would give them a chance to survive and prosper without uprooting themselves.

The shifting balance of wealth and population between villages and cities is one of the main themes of human history over the last ten thousand years. The shift from villages to cities is strongly coupled with a shift from one kind of technology to another. I find it convenient to call the two kinds of technology green and gray. The adjective “green” has been appropriated and abused by various political movements, especially in Europe, so I need to explain clearly what I have in mind when I speak of green and gray. Green technology is based on biology, gray technology on physics and chemistry.

Roughly speaking, green technology is the technology that gave birth to village communities ten thousand years ago, starting from the domestication of plants and animals, the invention of agriculture, the breeding of goats and sheep and horses and cows and pigs, the manufacture of textiles and cheese and wine. Gray technology is the technology that gave birth to cities and empires five thousand years later, starting from the forging of bronze and iron, the invention of wheeled vehicles and paved roads, the building of ships and war chariots, the manufacture of swords and guns and bombs. Gray technology also produced the steel plows, tractors, reapers, and processing plants that made agriculture more productive and transferred much of the resulting wealth from village-based farmers to city-based corporations.

For the first five of the ten thousand years of human civilization, wealth and power belonged to villages with green technology, and for the second five thousand years wealth and power belonged to cities with gray technology. Beginning about five hundred years ago, gray technology became increasingly dominant, as we learned to build machines that used power from wind and water and steam and electricity. In the last hundred years, wealth and power were even more heavily concentrated in cities as gray technology raced ahead. As cities became richer, rural poverty deepened.

This sketch of the last ten thousand years of human history puts the problem of rural poverty into a new perspective. If rural poverty is a consequence of the unbalanced growth of gray technology, it is possible that a shift in the balance back from gray to green might cause rural poverty to disappear. That is my dream.

During the last fifty years we have seen explosive progress in the scientific understanding of the basic processes of life, and in the last twenty years this new understanding has given rise to explosive growth of green technology. The new green technology allows us to breed new varieties of animals and plants as our ancestors did ten thousand years ago, but now a hundred times faster. It now takes us a decade instead of a millennium to create new crop plants, such as the herbicide-resistant varieties of maize and soybean that allow weeds to be controlled without plowing and greatly reduce the erosion of topsoil by wind and rain. Guided by a precise understanding of genes and genomes instead of by trial and error, we can within a few years modify plants so as to give them improved yield, improved nutritive value, and improved resistance to pests and diseases.

Within a few more decades, as the continued exploring of genomes gives us better knowledge of the architecture of living creatures, we shall be able to design new species of microbes and plants according to our needs. The way will then be open for green technology to do more cheaply and more cleanly many of the things that gray technology can do, and also to do many things that gray technology has failed to do. Green technology could replace most of our existing chemical industries and a large part of our mining and manufacturing industries. Genetically engineered earthworms could extract common metals such as aluminum and titanium from clay, and genetically engineered seaweed could extract magnesium or gold from seawater. Green technology could also achieve more extensive recycling of waste products and worn-out machines, with great benefit to the environment. An economic system based on green technology could come much closer to the goal of sustainability, using sunlight instead of fossil fuels as the primary source of energy. New species of termite could be engineered to chew up derelict automobiles instead of houses, and new species of tree could be engineered to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into liquid fuels instead of cellulose.

Before genetically modified termites and trees can be allowed to help solve our economic and environmental problems, great arguments will rage over the possible damage they may do.

Many of the people who call themselves green are passionately opposed to green technology.

But in the end, if the technology is developed carefully and deployed with sensitivity to human feelings, it is likely to be accepted by most of the people who will be affected by it, just as the equally unnatural and unfamiliar green technologies of milking cows and plowing soils and fermenting grapes were accepted by our ancestors long ago. I am not saying that the political acceptance of green technology will be quick or easy. I say only that green technology has enormous promise for preserving the balance of nature on this planet as well as for relieving human misery. Future generations of people raised from childhood with biotech toys and games will probably accept it more easily than we do. Nobody can predict how long it may take to try out the new technology in a thousand different ways and measure its costs and benefits.


What has this dream of a resurgent green technology to do with the problem of rural poverty? In the past, green technology has always been rural, based in farms and villages rather than in cities. In the future it will pervade cities as well as countryside, factories as well as forests. It will not be entirely rural. But it will still have a large rural component. After all, the cloning of Dolly occurred in a rural animal-breeding station in Scotland, not in an urban laboratory in Silicon Valley. Green technology will use land and sunlight as its primary sources of raw materials and energy. Land and sunlight cannot be concentrated in cities but are spread more or less evenly over the planet. When industries and technologies are based on land and sunlight, they will bring employment and wealth to rural populations.

In a country like India with a large rural population, bringing wealth to the villages means bringing jobs other than farming. Most of the villagers must cease to be subsistance farmers and become shopkeepers or schoolteachers or bankers or engineers or poets. In the end the villages must become gentrified, as they are today in England, with the old farm workers’ cottages converted into garages, and the few remaining farmers converted into highly skilled professionals. It is fortunate that sunlight is most abundant in tropical countries, where a large fraction of the world’s people live and where rural poverty is most acute. Since sunlight is distributed more equitably than coal and oil, green technology can be a great equalizer, helping to narrow the gap between rich and poor countries.

My book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet (1999) describes a vision of green technology enriching villages all over the world and halting the migration from villages to megacities. The three components of the vision are all essential: the sun to provide energy where it is needed, the genome to provide plants that can convert sunlight into chemical fuels cheaply and efficiently, the Internet to end the intellectual and economic isolation of rural populations. With all three components in place, every village in Africa could enjoy its fair share of the blessings of civilization. People who prefer to live in cities would still be free to move from villages to cities, but they would not be compelled to move by economic necessity.

Notes

[*] See Carl Woese, “A New Biology for a New Century,” in Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, June 2004 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/MMBR.68.2.173-186.2004); and Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese, “Biology’s Next Revolution,” Nature, January 25, 2007. A slightly expanded version of the Nature article is available at http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0702015v1 .

FOUND AT :  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20370

CHEMICALS AND BREAST CANCER: New Study

A groundbreaking research study coordinated by the non-profit Silent Spring Institute and recently published by the American Cancer Society found that synthetic chemicals have likely played a large role in the rising incidence of breast cancer throughout the world over the last half-century. The study identified 216 man-made chemicals-including those found in everyday products like pesticides, cosmetics, dyes, drugs and gasoline (and diesel exhaust)-that have been shown to cause breast cancer in animals. Researchers believe these substances, many of which “mimic” naturally occurring hormones once inside the body, are also to blame for the increasing prevalence of human breast cancer. Read the rest at:

http://www.alternet.org/environment/54492/

WWW.MEATRIX.COM

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 Based on THE MATRIX

 A great video series for kids to learn about how important it is to protect animals from farming abuses.