Good News Agency – n° 4
Good News Agency carries positive and constructive news from all over the world relating to voluntary work, the work of the United Nations, non governmental organizations, and institutions engaged in improving the quality of life – news that doesn’t “burn out” in the space of a day. Good News Agency is distributed through internet to editorial offices of the daily newspapers and periodical magazines and of the radio and television stations with an e-mail address and is available in its web site: http://www.goodnewsagency.org
Good News Agency is a service activity of Associazione Culturale dei Triangoli e della Buona Volontà Mondiale, a registered non-profit educational organization chartered in Italy in 1979. The Association operates in support to the Lucis Trust activities, the U.N. University for Peace, Radio For Peace International and other organizations engaged in the spreading of a culture of peace in the ‘global village’ perspective.
On the occasion of International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, celebrated on August 23, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura has issued the following message:
"In deciding to proclaim the 23rd of August of every year International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, UNESCO wished to inscribe in the memory of all peoples a tragedy that has been forgotten and little known and pay tribute to the slaves' relentless struggle for freedom. The uprising that took place in the island of Santo Domingo (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic) on the night of the 22nd to the 23rd of August 1791 shook the foundations of slavery to the core and marked the start of the process that led to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
"This celebration, which concerns at once historical truth, development, solidarity and human rights, must mobilise all nations and civil society as a whole".
The march is intended to draw the public opinion’s attention so that the resolution of international disputes be assumed by a reformed UN system and be carried out through missions of international police. It aims at gathering support for the creation of a European Civil Corps of Peace and it opposes the creation of a new common European army.
Movimento Nonviolento: email@example.com
The report finds that in post-war Nicaragua many people are struggling with socio-economic hardships, with 48 per cent of Nicaraguans living below the poverty line and 18 per cent living in extreme poverty. The country also faces the immediate challenge of determining how to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights and improved living conditions and opportunities for youth. Sixty per cent of Nicaragua's population is under 25 years old. The report was published by UNDP and the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency (SETEC), with support from the governments of Spain, the Netherlands and Nicaragua.
“All different, all equal”: conference against racism, Strasbourg, 11 to 13 October
Rules of conduct for corporations
Some 50 multinational corporations and 12 labor and watchdog groups signed a U.N.-sponsored "Global Compact" intended to promote labor, human rights, and environmental standards. The companies -- which include Royal Dutch/Shell, Nike, and DaimlerChrysler -- agreed to incorporate nine loosely worded principles into their missions and each year note progress toward meeting the principles on a U.N. website. The non-corporate partners in the compact, including the World Wildlife Fund and Amnesty International, will be able to respond to the companies claims on the same website. But Greenpeace and other environment and human rights groups criticized the compact because it does not include any monitoring or enforcement, and it could help corporations appear more socially responsible than they really are.
Debate on PVC becomes tougher
The European Union opened debate on more
restrictions for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, a commonly used but controversial
material. The EU has already banned some baby toys made with PVC because
the chemicals used to soften the plastic may pose health
problems for children. Now the EU is considering cracking down on PVC products such as pipes, window frames, packaging, and household appliances. Studies have found that PVC is difficult to recycle and can release harmful chemicals when buried or incinerated. Greenpeace
is calling for a total ban on the substance. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, is expected to make recommendations on the issue early next year.
Uganda: NGO attacks Members of Parliament on car loans
The Uganda Debt Network, an NGO advocating for reduced debt levels, has opposed demands by Members of Uganda Parliament that the Government waives the interest rate of 12% per annum on the motor vehicle loans they took. The NGO also opposed extension of the repayment period beyond the life of this parliament. Over 160 MPs signed a petition demanding that the debate on the national budget be put on hold so that the House debates the loan scheme. The organisation reminded MPs that Uganda rely on international donors for 53% of its budget and the demand for more privileges would simply increase the country's debt burden, undermining at the same time the public confidence in the national institutions.
This year's conference provided a forum for representatives of NGOs, the United Nations system and Governments to explore concrete ways in which civil society can work with the Organization and Member States to implement the actions plans that were agreed upon during the major world conferences of the 1990s.
The burgeoning power of NGOs has led to potent civil society campaigns, such as those banning landmines, establishing an International Criminal Court, cancelling crippling foreign debts and addressing the negative aspects of the current global financial architecture.
The conference looked at existing campaigns and explored new areas where progress can be made. Some of the questions raised are: what makes for successful campaigns; how can they be replicated from country to country; how are priorities set; and what kind of working relationships between NGOs, the United Nations and Governments will ensure sustained success?
The number of NGOs associated with the Department of Public Information is now 1,641. All organizations conform to the principles of the Charter, operate solely on a non-profit basis and demonstrate a long-standing involvement with United Nations issues. In addition, they have well developed information programmes to reach large or specialized audiences, and have demonstrated the commitment and means to disseminate information about the Organization. That capacity is a unique criterion for association with the Department.
How can a voice be given to voiceless people? An action is urgently needed to create alternative opportunities of life and of humanity. With a great desire to celebrate, to listen in order to give back, the institutes and the laymen of the Comboniani order, together with many associations and groups from all over Italy, will be marching to celebrate the jubilee of the oppressed people. From 2 to 10 September a convoy of witnesses from the World South will cross eight Italian cities to speak about land restitution, debt waiving, sharing of resources, and slavery today. The march will eventually reach Verona for a conference on September 9 and 10 on these four themes of the jubilee.
11th week of education to globalization – Courmayeur, Italy, 23 to 30 August
The role of Jerusalem in the peace process in the Middle East; the Jubilee 2000 campaign on debt cancellation; the role of WTO in the international trade: these are some of the subjects examined this year at the international meeting of education to globalization that VIS – International Voluntary Service for Development – has held in Courmayeur, Aosta Valley. Also this year the themes discussed have raised fruitful reflections.
Beyond 1 billion: India is designing a strategy to curb down population growth
Two months after India became the second nation in the world with a population greater than 1 billion, government leaders are now designing a new strategy for slowing the nation's population growth. Since the birth of India's symbolic billionth baby on May 11, another 3.5 million children have been born in the nation. India is now home to 16 percent of the world's people, and if it continues to grow at its current rate, its population could surpass China's by the middle of this century. After the Indian government launched a mass sterilization program in the mid-1970s, many citizens became highly suspicious and fearful of contraception and sterilization, and the government is still trying to recover and convince people of the benefits of family planning programs.
INFOTERRA 2000 - Global Conference on Access to Environmental Information
Organic farming expands in Europe
Organic farming is undergoing a boom in Italy and other southern European countries. Thanks to rising demand and generous European Union subsidies for the conversion of farmland to organic growing, the land area in Italy devoted to organic farming has doubled in the past three years, and organic farming is quickly gaining ground in Spain as well. Egypt and Tunisia are also aiming to meet European demand, with a number of products awaiting organic certification.
Reactions in USA to genetically modified crops
A coalition of U.S. consumer and environment groups started a big campaign to pressure major food companies to abandon the use of genetically modified (GM) crops. Its first targets will be the Campbell Soup Co. and Kellogg's. The activists hope to encourage tens of thousands of consumers to call directly on companies to end the use of GM foods in their products, or at the very least label products that contain GM ingredients. They argue that some companies have begun to eliminate GM ingredients in foods they sell in Europe but refuse to do so in the U.S. The campaign is also aimed at raising public concern before the September release of new Clinton administration rules on genetic engineering, which activists say are likely to be far too weak. The coalition could spend $1 million or more, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to the $50 million that a group of biotech companies have committed to spend over the coming years to tout biotechnology.
Church Ethics Group in UK refuses genetically modified food
Ethical advisors to the Church of England have recommended a ban on genetically modified crops amid concerns about the ‘corruption of nature’. The Church ethics group said, “Until further research has been conducted into the ecological risks, new agricultural leases should contain a clause excluding the planting of GM crops on Church land.” This comes as a blow to the biotechnology industry and Government plans for trials they believe will prove the benefits of the controversial produce.
The Church of England is the country’s biggest owner of farmland, with 128,000 acres under cultivation. It joins the country’s second-biggest farmer, the Cooperative Wholesale Society which has already pulled out of the Government-backed trials.
Positive News, Summer 2000, www.positivenews.org.uk
Fuel cells: Daimler-Chrysler and Ford ready by 2004
After humble beginnings in a derelict former motel in Arizona, Ballard Power Systems has become the world's leader in fuel-cell technology, which many believe will be core to a clean-energy future. Ballard has teamed up with DaimlerChrysler and Ford Motor Co. and pledged to have fuel-cell cars on the road by 2004. But people may encounter fuel cells even sooner in other products, including stationery off-the-grid systems that can provide uninterrupted power to hospitals and computer centers, small generators that can power lawnmowers and camping lights, and cell phones, camcorders, and computers that are powered by micro fuel cells instead of batteries.
Solar power for the Olympics in Australia
The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, which will begin on Sept. 15, are expected to be the greenest ever. Most of the events will take place in Homebush Bay, once the polluted site of a slaughterhouse but now transformed by a big environmental cleanup. The Olympic Village, where 15,000 athletes and officials will live during the games, is being called the world's largest solar-powered suburb. Food waste generated during the games will be composted by worms, and extensive recycling plans are in place.
Bangladesh Goes Solar
Grameen’s rural power programme Grameen Shakti, an affiliate of the Grameen Bank, is planning to install 5,000 solar home systems in Bangladesh over the next three years.
USAID has contributed $4 million to help the not-for-profit company electrify rural villages. The Grameen Bank pioneered microcredit in Bangladesh, an idea which has spread worldwide.
Positive News, Summer 2000, www.positivenews.org.uk
In the continuing search for an effective therapy for cocaine addiction, acupuncture, an ancient Chinese therapy, combined with modern Western treatments, may hold promise.
In the August 14/28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers report that cocaine dependent patients who received a course of auricular acupuncture (acupuncture needles inserted into four specific points in the outer ear) were more likely to be free of cocaine during treatment than those not receiving acupuncture.
"This study shows that there may be merit in using acupuncture in combination with other therapies as a treatment for cocaine addiction," said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health, the principal biomedical and behavioural research agency of the US government.
Hundreds of young entrepreneurs between the ages of 21 and 35 who own and operate small and medium-sized enterprises in 100 countries travelled to New York City at the end of August for the 7th World Summit of Young Entrepreneurs. Thousands more participated via private and public access on the internet in their homelands.
The Summit's goal is to expose young women and men to the new opportunities emerging from development and globalization. Participants from all regions of the world have the chance to network with peers and corporate CEO's, initiate international joint venture projects, and participate in a global virtual trade show. Awards will also be presented to select young men and women for their outstanding entrepreneurial achievements and for promoting socially responsible businesses.
Most people will have heard of DNA, which is a molecule found in every cell of any organism, whether human, animal or plant. The DNA can be regarded as containing the complete set of instructions on how to build an organism. It therefore stands to reason that the DNA of different organisms is different, simply because the set of instructions for creating a frog must clearly be different from the set for creating an apple. Similarly, many readers will have some idea that genes and DNA are related. In fact, genes are short stretches of the DNA molecule, which is very large – so much so that thousands of genes can be found along it. Each individual gene is one instruction to produce particular chemicals within a living cell, an instruction which is carried out by other parts of the cell. Depending upon the chemicals produced, so the nature of the cell, and consequently the organism, may be altered.
Changing the genes
Hence if you change one or more of the genes of an organism – by either inserting a new gene or by altering a gene already present – you change the set of instructions for how it is to be built, and therefore you change the organism. This, in a nutshell, is what genetic engineering means. However, the change which is produced in the organism is not always entirely predictable. This is because the chemicals which an individual gene produces may affect the ability of other genes to produce the chemicals for which they are responsible. In other words, as recent research suggests, the sum-total of all of the genes of a particular organism – called the genome – can be regarded as an interacting network. It is therefore quite understandable that inserting a gene from say, one plant into another won’t necessarily produce the change you want simply and neatly – for you are inserting the gene into a new network of relationships which may affect how it reacts in unexpected ways. An example of this occurred when scientists took a gene for red colouring in maize and inserted it into petunia flowers. Although the petunias did go red, they also displayed lower fertility and more leaves and shoots. Another factor to bear in mind is that there is not always a simple one-to-one relationship between a gene and a trait (such as height, colour, resistance to a specific disease, etc. etc.) of an organism: one gene may affect several different traits, and conversely, many separate genes may combine to produce one trait. And finally, there is the factor of the environment of an organism to take into account: particularly in the case of complex psychological traits, for example musicality, genes only pre-dispose to their expression, and unless the organism is in an environment which tends to draw out that trait, it may remain unexpressed. Thus if a person with genes for musicality never had the opportunity to play an instrument, they might never discover their gift.
So it is evident that genetic engineering is not simply a matter of deciding exactly what trait you wish an organism to express, finding another organism with that trait, and then “transplanting” the trait. To suggest an analogy, if we were to move an animal from one ecosystem to another, we would need some understanding not just of the animal, but of both ecosystems, to be able to predict with any certainty what its effects in the new ecosystem might be. Similarly, it may be that to predict the effect of a gene in a new genome, both the context of that genome and the genome from which it is coming require consideration.
The possible and the permissible
Because all living organisms have genes, it is theoretically possible for the gene from any organism to be transplanted into the genome of any other organism. So genes from a human may be inserted into an animal; genes from an animal may be inserted into a plant; and plant genes may of course be inserted into animals or humans. It is perhaps these examples of genes being transferred between the different kingdoms of nature which give most pause for thought, particularly when human genes are involved. Because there is no obvious way in which this could happen naturally, our instinctive reaction is one of unease; and our intellect struggles to find guidance in a situation which has only now become possible. The British activist, academic and ecologist George Monbiot has said, “Not everything that is possible should also be permissible.” But what can guide us as to what is and is not permissible?
Perhaps the only way to judge such a difficult matter is to seek out the true motive and purpose of the specific genetic alteration, and then to see whether it is consonant with the highest principles with which our hearts intuitively resonate. This means that there is no general rule which we can apply to every case, as motives and purposes are manifold. Can we assign a general motive and purpose to genetic engineering as a whole? Certainly, there is some evidence which may help guide us in this. For example, one factor which a number of projects have in common is the concern for human health. Sheep have been engineered to produce a human protein in their milk which may be used to treat cystic fibrosis; and human genes have been inserted into pigs in order to try to make their organs more suitable for transplantation into humans. Another factor which many projects have in common is the “improvement” of plant and animal varieties, which may help in the alleviation of world hunger.
Because the main purpose of these and other projects is to benefit humans, they reinforce the assumption that only human beings are of major value, and that all other forms of life can be subordinated to human ends. This is an assumption which a growing number of people are questioning, proposing that every creature within the great web of life is intrinsically valuable. If we accept this premise, then every relationship which humans enter into with other creatures becomes morally important, and should be characterised by goodwill. At the very least this would call for national and international regulatory processes to govern genetic engineering experiments. These should involve all interested parties, including the public, and should proceed cautiously and according to stringent safeguards. Education would form a necessary part of these processes, as without an understanding of the issues and access to all of the relevant information people could not be expected to participate fully. (…)
Regrettably, there are other factors involved which tend to act against caution and freedom of information. Because there is the potential to make large profits, those companies which are engaged in research are keen to press ahead. And because in this area information is so important to obtain a commercial advantage, commercial confidentiality is also invoked. But surely a matter with such unpredictable and potentially vast consequences should not be decided by the values of the market place? A wise and compassionate caution should be the keynote of work in this field, which can change the face of Nature itself. Until we know much more about genes and genomes and the environments into which genetically altered creatures may be released, the long-term consequences will remain uncertain. Therefore it is simply common sense to suggest that the human family should collectively take a long, hard look at all of the ramifications of genetic engineering before we proceed. (…)
Cloning and evolution
Cloning raises the possibility of “mass-producing” organisms with the same genetic make-up: so if a set of desirable traits has been carefully engineered into a particular organism, there would no longer be the prospect of the dilution or loss of those traits through the normal processes of sexual reproduction. This process of cloning seems to go against one of the main trends in evolution, the creation of genetic diversity. Indeed, diversity seems to be the rule not only within the gene pool of individual species, but also within ecosystems, from the smallest right up to the planet itself – as suggested by James Lovelock with his concept of Gaia. Given the complexity of the diverse interlocking relations between organisms thoughout the Earth, can it be wise to begin trying to reverse the trend towards diversity in the animal kingdom? If, as many believe, evolution itself is an expression of a deeper underlying divine purpose, do we have the right to interfere in this way with something which we do not yet understand?
The same considerations apply to the possibility of cloning humans, with the added dimension of the importance of cultural diversity. It might be argued that cloning yourself, or someone you love, should be permitted on the grounds of reproductive freedom. But it should be remembered that because of environmental factors, the personality of the clone would differ from the original person. Also, many who believe that the human psyche is not purely the result of material factors would suggest that the soul of the clone would not be identical, leading to further differences of character. Given that the personality, the factor which is most essential in our relationship to others, would be different, and yet would be housed in a physical body identical to the original, the prospects for psychologically healthy relationships between the clone and the person(s) who sought its creation look unpromising. Surely the need to ensure the psychological well-being of the infant should caution against this mode of reproduction.
Finally, what changes are likely to occur in the vegetable kingdom? Already, crops have been created which have genes that provide resistance to specific herbicides; others produce an insecticide in their leaves; and it has been proposed that the production of a vaccine could be engineered into bananas. Many other examples of alterations already in place or in preparation could be given, as plants are more readily manipulable than animals. There are a number of major concerns about this rapidly expanding field of genetically “enhanced” agriculture. Will it lead to increased use of potent agrichemicals, thus posing a threat to the environment and human health? Will the purchase of these chemicals and the payment of royalties on engineered seeds prove prohibitively expensive for farmers? Are the effects on human health of consuming foods made from engineered crops sufficiently understood? It is disquieting that these questions remain unanswered while these crops are becoming more and more widespread, and clear labelling schemes for foods are not yet in place.
In this area, as in the human and animal kingdom, we should be endeavouring to seek a more harmonious relationship with all living things. This requires of us the courage to transcend our urge to mould nature for our own short-sighted purposes, and instead to have the patience and sensitivity to attend to nature’s intricate and delicate web of relationships, recognising our place within this sacred whole. We can be sure that if we adopt this attitude, we will gradually learn to identify the times and the ways in which it is lawful for us to intervene, so that all the kingdoms of nature may benefit.
From World Goodwill Newsletter n.4, 1997.
Good News Agency’s next issue: September 15.