THE BIOTECH BRAWL IN MONTREAL January 20, 2000 National Post C7 Terence Corcoran Columnist Corcoran writes that the masters of agit-prop - Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians, CBC Radio's Bob Carty, assorted purveyors of junk science and fear�are gearing up for a week-long assault on genetically modified food and biotechnology. It won't match the World Trade Organization extravaganza in Seattle, but the agitators hope the Biosafety Protocol negotiations in Montreal next week can be hyped up into a major anti-GM food fight worthy of global attention. The factual background and warped politics behind the Biosafety Protocol, a remote offshoot of the 1992 Rio Biodiversity Convention, would drive even the most ardent internationalist to terminal boredom. The main point to know is that the objective of Maude Barlow and her NGO associates is the opposite of the Battle in Seattle. While the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) wanted to shut down the 135-nation WTO trade negotiations, the Brawl in Montreal is aimed at getting the same countries to approve a global biosafety agreement. If approved as promoted by these organizations, the protocol could halt the development of genetic engineering and biotechnology. Actual negotiations begin on Monday, but Greenpeace et al have their events planned for Saturday, including workshops, demonstrations and a big finale Saturday night starring Ms. Barlow and Jeremy Rifkin, U.S. anti-beef activist, biotech alarmist and world-class economic crank. Mr. Rifkin's oeuvre includes The End of Work, a 1995 book in which he claimed technology was creating mass unemployment�just as the United States was setting job creation records because of technology. Whenever the Council of Canadians wants to spook Canadians, the first thing it does is call in an American fearmonger. A favourite last year was Samuel S. Epstein, whose theories on the causes of cancer know no bounds. The need to import talent from the U.S. is understandable, however, since the council has a hard time rounding up any experts in Canada who are as willing to twist fact and science as the likes of Messrs. Rifkin and Epstein. A good example of Canada's junk science brain gap is the Council's release on Tuesday of a study that alleged Health Canada's approval of genetically modified crops was based on inadequate science. When the story of the study hit the newswires, it sounded authoritative. "A group of prominent Canadian scientists and academics," said a Southam News report, had formed GE-Alert, a research agency that had found flaws in Health Canada's procedures and logic. While the study masqueraded as science, it was ridiculed as "silly" by one scientist, dismissed by Health Canada, and called "unethical" by the dean of Guelph University's agricultural college. Anyone who took the time to dig into the Council of Canadians' deliberately obfuscatory Web pages would also have a hard time establishing the prominence and biotech credentials of the scientists who signed the study. The lead scientist was Ann Clark, an expert in pasture management whose expertise in genetic engineering is considered limited. Other members of the group include an animal nutritionist, an anthropologist, a film and television producer, a parasitologist, a biochemist and a philosopher whose field is ethics. All good people, presumably, but most of them unqualified to carry out any scientific assessment of Health Canada's approval proceedings. Bad science has never deterred activists. Greenpeace, for example, is making the rounds of newspaper editorial boards and using its usual technique: If the science isn't there, then make it up! At a meeting with the National Post's board the other day, Greenpeace's biotech campaigner glibly said the U.S. Department of Agriculture had found that farmers who use genetically modified crops actually end up using more herbicides. One of the Post's board members had actually read the USDA report, however, and challenged Greenpeace. The USDA had in fact reached the opposite conclusion. "The net result," it said, "was a decrease in the overall pounds of herbicide applied." Oh well, that's the Greenpeace credo: Misrepresentation in the name of the cause is justified�and the only option when the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of genetic engineering. The USDA study found modified corn, cotton and other products produced "significant decreases in herbicide use" and "decreased insecticide use." Over at CBC Radio, meanwhile, journalist Bob Carty�Greenpeace's official media pipeline to the Canadian public�yesterday repeated the Greenpeace version of the USDA study. Use of GM crops increases herbicide use, he said during an appearance on the network's national This Morning show. Mr. Carty fanned the flames of GM food fears, saying there was growing evidence that Canadians and Americans were growing increasingly concerned about the products. This has caught industry off guard, he said -- although he didn't acknowledge his own role in creating alarm. In reports last year, Mr. Carty and his colleagues compared genetic engineering to Nazi experiments, linked the industry to Agent Orange and nuclear war, called beef hormones "crack for cows," interviewed known kooks, and uncritically reported on the work of a British scientist whose study on modified potatoes had been dismissed by Britain's scientific community. So that's what's coming over the next week in Montreal. Later, we'll get to the Biosafety Protocol.


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