St. Louis Post Dispatch p.A6
Monday, August 2, 1999
PLANTS AND HUMAN SURVIVAL\INTERNATIONAL BOTANICAL CONGRESS
Demonstration targets genetic engineering
No matter it wasn't a plant, the star attention-getter outside the 16th International Botanical Congress on Sunday had to have been a "mooing" wooden cow with distaste for bovine growth hormone -- part of a Gateway Green Alliance demonstration outside America's Center.
Alliance members carried signs and handed out information calling for a ban on the planting of genetically engineered crops and a freeze on government approval of any genetically modified organisms.
The group, which in the past has protested a Monsanto Co. hormone that increases milk production in cows, also is against genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton.
Alliance spokeswoman Tammy Shea said the group was not protesting this week's scientific conference but wanted to make sure genetic-engineering issues are out in the public.
"This is touching home with the average consumer," Shea said. "They want to know how their food is produced."
Meanwhile, the alliance also is sponsoring a free lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday by Michael Dorsey of the University of Michigan at its headquarters at 6101 Delmar Boulevard. Dorsey will speak on "Biopiracy: The Other Drug War," a discussion of the impact the search for medicines in Latin America is having on the environment.
Botanical Congress' first day focuses on environmental issues
Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert speaks during the opening ceremony.
(Charles Williams, postnet.com)
Of the Post-Dispatch Staff
Scientists must lead the world toward creating a culture that takes better care of the Earth, top researchers said here today.
That culture, which would avoid the overuse of natural resources, is needed to avoid environmental destruction that could threaten the human race, they said.
The scientists made the comments during the opening session of the 16th International Botanical Congress at America's Center downtown.
The congress, which runs through Saturday, is expected to attract 4,600 scientists from some 100 nations. About 2,500 were present today. The central theme: the importance of plants for human survival. "We must develop a taking-care-of-the-planet culture," said Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, a Swedish cancer specialist who was keynote speaker at the session.
Said Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden: "We must ask ourselves why we are destroying nature so rapidly."
These themes were echoed by others, including Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, and Jose Sarukhan of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Raven, who is president of the congress, introduced more than two dozen dignitaries and renowned scientists at its opening. Sunflowers and purple irises fronted the stage, over which hung flags from the United States, Canada, Japan, England and nine other countries where past botanical congresses were held.
Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan and St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon welcomed attendees, and Harmon declared Raven a "national treasure."
Raven gave a brief history of St. Louis and spoke on the role of plants in supporting life on Earth. They provide humans with food, medicine and building materials, he said. They also help protect our soil and water. But plants and the ecological webs that they bind are disappearing at a rapid rate because of environmental destruction. This is cause for concern as we pass into a new millennium, Raven said.
He quoted the environmentalist George Schaller, who said, "We cannot afford another century like this one."
Raven urged those attending the meeting to "dream the great dreams" for saving plants and humans.
Finding a solution is important because "plant life has made human life possible on Earth," said the science foundation's Colwell. "It's as simple as you can get."
Colwell traced the parallels between today's brewing debate over biotechnology and the mid-1970s public discussion about genetic research.
The debate 25 years ago was marked by openness and dialogue among scientists, policy makers and citizens. She called for the same during the current debate.
She also called for "enormous strides in educating the public on scientific issues. That won't "make scientists out of citizens, but it makes citizens able to ask better questions and able to better question the answers they get."
It also makes them "able to distinguish the scientists from the charlatans," Colwell said.
Robert, the Swedish cancer specialist, said an environmentally conscious culture "can only be based on sound science." But it is a collaborative culture with plenty of room for all political and religious views, he said.
Scientists hold the responsibility for launching and maintaining this culture, he said.
"That's because science, through technology and industry, has created so many of these problems," Robert said.
In 1989, Robert and others developed a science-based environmental movement known as The Natural Step, a program to sustain both profit and the natural world.
The program was backed by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, several corporations, the Swedish Church and the Swedish Cancer Union. Today, The Natural Step is a worldwide, nonprofit environmental organization with offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and several other countries.
ON THE AGENDA
William Allen and Adam Goodman
Today at the congress: How to preserve the world's rare or endangered plants and make sure that humans cause as little ecological damage as possible.
Highlights: Missouri Botanical Garden director Peter H. Raven will discuss ways politicians, scientists and consumers can prevent the loss of some 50,000 plant species now facing extinction. Jane Lubchenco, professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University, will comment on how humans are changing the planet faster than any time in history. She will offer updated research on how nine ecologically fragile areas are affected by these changes.
Biotechnology: The use of modern genetic techniques to modify or manipulate living organisms or substances from those organisms in an effort to make new products -- for example, higher-yielding crops or more nutritional food.