May 06, 2008
THE LATE, GREAT, PLANET EARTH INVESTIGATE: MAR 03
Sometimes ignorance can be bliss, but science writer Nick Sault argues the world needs to take the threat of asteroid strikes a lot more seriously...
Over the last few decades there has been a great deal of debate about the level of danger posed by impacts from asteroids and comets. Though the furore has settled down recently with various authorities downgrading the danger, I have been doing some of my own research into the phenomenon of impacts from space, and there are some really worrying aspects that I believe are being overlooked. It looks like it may be the smaller asteroids that we have to look out for, as there is mounting evidence that impacts from some of the tens of thousands of these rocks that have buzzed Earth throughout civilised history, have been responsible for some of the major disruptions to the growth of human societies. I really do not intend to be unduly alarmist, and rather than being fatalist, I believe that we can realistically counter the danger, because the objects that most commonly impact Earth destructively are within our means to destroy.
People have taken comfort in the fact that the sort of impact that is almost certain to have caused the de-mise of the dinosaurs happens only every many mil-lions of years. I do not dispute that time scale, and admit that in any case we probably could not counter an object 10 kilometers wide travelling at many kilometers per second. However, new detection techniques are revealing that much smaller bodies, a few hundred meters wide or less, criss-cross the Earth’s orbit constantly. The problem I see is that the authorities and even some of the experts in the field are not taking seriously the possible effects of an impact of one of these objects.
The Tunguska event of 1908 is pretty much documented now as the aerial explosion of a small asteroid over central Siberia. It is deemed by many experts that this exploding object that laid waste to 2000 square kilometers of forest was only 30 to 50 meters wide - tiny by asteroid standards. The point is that even though the devastation was local and the rest of the world slept safely, this was a fortunate hit in that it was in an uninhabited region. It would be nice and cosy to think that impacts like the Tunguska event are separated by thousands of years, but I fear that this is not the case. So, how frequent are impacts of Tunguska-size objects, and what would be the effect if one hit in a populated area?
The answer to the first question is still not known for sure, but new detection technology by organisations such as LINEAR and NEAT is showing that many objects the size of the Tunguska asteroid buzz the Earth every year. NASA’s own web site provides a table (See http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/neo_ca) which shows all the objects detected that have made close approach to Earth. You can interact with this table and enter your own criteria, and if you apply the criterion that you want to display all those objects that approached within, say, 5 lunar-orbit radii (that is about 2 million kilometers), you find that there were 20 recorded for 2002. Then you find there were only 14 recorded for 2001, and only 6 for 2000.
This is a worry; that estimates of the likelihood of a hit are always based on the currently recorded detection rate, when it is quite obvious that more and more Near Earth Objects (NEOs, as they are called) are being detected as the technology improves (which is the obvious reason for the increased recorded rate for 2002, rather than there actually being more objects out there in 2002).
Another great worry is that for one of the closest approaches in 2002 (120,000 kms on June 14 – only about 8 times the diameter of Earth), the object was detected only AFTER it had made that closest approach; the day after, in fact. So, what is the true statistic; that is, how many asteroids would we find if we had the technology to detect all passing rocks?
What it boils down to is that those 20 near misses of 2002 could well be 60 or 100. There is a period in each day called "daylight" during which the observatories are unable to detect objects that small. If we are conservative and take a figure of 50 rocks greater than 50 meters wide, passing within 2 million kms of Earth every year, we can mathematically confirm that a Tunguska type event can happen a couple of times a century. That might lead some to declare "so what, these 50 to 200 meter rocks only produce local devastation – it is not the end of the world". That leads to the answer to the second question – what is the likely effect?
Firstly, what do we mean "end of the world". It would take the hit of a small moon to end all life. Some of the major extinction events of the past have proved in the long run to be more creative than destructive, in that the species that survived began a brand new order of life. None could be called "end of the world" events. The point is that the living world could go on happily without us. But it doesn’t require mankind to be obliterated completely for you and I to consider it the end of the world. Would we not call the end of our civilisation "the end of the world"?
What are we really afraid of? There are massive, almost moon-sized asteroids out there large enough to end all life within a few hours were they to hit us. But one of these has not hit our planet since the early days of its history; that is, billions of years ago. That scenario is not that scary in any case, as we wouldn’t know much about it if it did happen. At the other end of the scale are the hits that I think should scare us, as they are quite frequent (on an historic scale) and can leave us in chaos rather than wiping us out. I mean a Tunguska event on an urban area. What would be the effect?
I believe that the events of September 11, 2001 gave us some idea. Just several buildings of a city of thousands of buildings, produced a wave of economic turmoil; many companies failed, many were left in dire straits, and the American economy is still in low gear 15 months on. The Tunguska event is likened to 50 to 100 atom bombs. That would pretty much devastate the whole north-east seaboard of USA if it hit around New York. The physical and the natural world would survive, but would the American economy? If the American economy collapsed, how many smaller nations would collapse? If our civilisation collapsed, would we not call that the "end of the world"?
We have to ask ourselves what kind of economic collapse would bring on anarchy. When you look at the something like the crash of 1929, which really started just as a "paper" crash, accelerated by panic selling of stock, you realise how fragile are our first nation infrastructures. I think that people have not given enough consideration to the threat of relatively minor cataclysms which do not destroy great swathes of the planet, but have enough effect to bring down civilisations. And there is evidence it has happened before; many times.
What has brought this issue to head for me, and taken it from just an interest in asteroids and comets to something I believe we should be concerned about, are two very recent reports of impact craters that are quite definitely modern, in historic terms.
Very recently, a crater has been identified in Iraq that is known to be in an area of shifting sediment that was once an inland sea. This means that the feature could not possibly be older than 5 or 6 thousand years. This, of course, requires the confirmation of a research expedition, which might be somewhat difficult in the present political climate. However, there is a real and researched new crater in Italy. This one has been preliminarily dated to the 4th century AD. If that doesn’t ring any bells, then I remind you that the Roman Empire fell at that time and Europe was plunged into turmoil for 500 years or so.
If you want to follow up an interest in this subject, required reading would be Clube and Napier’s "The Cosmic Winter". The authors are astronomers, and their work is endorsed by many other scientists (except those that will never admit that impacts have shaped Earth’s history, which is as blatantly ridiculous as the sages who clung to the notion that the Earth is the centre of the universe). They cite researchers, some using tree-ring sampling and others analysing peat bogs in north-west Europe, who have confirmed dates of around 7000 BC, 3000 BC, 2300 BC, 1700 BC, 1000 BC, 500 BC, 550 AD, 850 AD, 1300 AD for effects likely to have been caused by multiple impacts from space. Many of these dates can be related to vast changes in early civilised societies. The 3000 BC or 2300 BC dates could match the Iraqi crater, and those eras are the very ones where great turmoil is reported in the Bible and other ancient scriptures, including Noah’s flood, which is a common theme of several scriptures from different sources. The 550 AD date coincides with the dark ages of Europe and also with that crater newly discovered in Italy.
Also, all experts make the point that small craters, like those found in Iraq and Italy, could well be part of swarms that might have pelted many parts of the world in their respected eras. In the case of the 2300 BC date, this could easily explain the flood stories from around the world, and would not require there to have been a global flood, for which there is no geologic evidence.
So, it can be shown quite clearly that the threat from a small asteroid or comet is quite real, and can create localised damage on a scale that could destroy cities or even provinces. This has not been perceived as a major problem simply because people approach the problem of impacts with an "extinction" frame of mind, whereas it is easily possible with smaller impacts, for civilisations to be destroyed while species remain intact.
I pose the question: what if a nation like USA was to face a 100 trillion dollar bill for cleanup after a small asteroid hits one of its larger cities? What would be the effect? Could their infrastructure sustain itself? The scenario that scares me and should scare others, is the "looter" effect. We all know that when a catastrophe like an earthquake or severe hurricane strikes a modern city, the looters take advantage of the temporary loss of control; services like police and military are directed to the catastrophe, which leaves a hole for the some of the underprivileged to go in and raid unguarded facilities. Multiply that a thousand times, and what happens? After a city is hit by an asteroid, the rot may not happen at once. Failing infrastructure would follow from inability to finance the police, fire department or military (who would do those dangerous jobs without pay?), and without the full force of those services, you can be sure that many of the underprivileged would take advantage of the situation. If you are a realist, you recognise that there are millions of people in the world who would love to see the fall of the west. With the fall of USA, most of the smaller countries of the world who rely on trade with that nation, would likely follow into financial ruin.
When Rome failed, the barbaric hordes, who were really looters on a large scale, rampaged all over Europe; looting, burning, raping and destroying. Europe took centuries to recover. The old order had gone, and it then took many more centuries for our new rising civilisation to attain what the Romans had achieved. The same pattern can be seen in the great gaps that separate the three kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. As with the fall of the Roman Empire, historians have only been able to speculate why those fantastically successful civilisations of Egypt were trashed and replaced by centuries of chaos. Now we have a pair of smoking guns in those dates 2300BCand 1700BC, where researchers have identified debris left behind by impacts of objects from space, and which coincide nicely with the dates traditionally assigned to the fall of the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Egypt. There are other examples of wrecked civilisations from this period of time; too many to mention here.
Statistically, even with a couple of potentially city-destroying impacts every century, most will miss populated areas. The majority of the Earth’s surface is ocean in any case. That is most likely the reason why there are few documented reports of impacts prior to the 20th century. When the population was much smaller and communications were slower than carrier pigeons, nobody would have related a tsunami in the Pacific or a massive explosion in the Sahara with the impact of a small asteroid or a train of comet debris. There are however indications from the researchers mentioned above that the periodic train of comet debris that may have produced mayhem throughout our history, returned much more recently and was responsible for what is called the "Little Ice Age"; a period around the 17th century during which Pepys in his diaries described ice-flows on the River Thames – a phenomenon never seen before or since. Back then, when most of the world had never seen the "enlightened" men and women of Europe, a train of comets coming down far beyond the European horizon would have gone unpublished, while those "enlightened" masses in their cities would have been scratching their heads wondering why their winters were arctic, or why there were few good vegetables in the market, or why their skies remained bright all night.
We cannot ignore the point that even if a city is not hit, but rather the corn belt of the Ameri-can mid-west was wiped out, a substantial drop in food production worldwide could produce similar stresses on society as a whole. Also, coastal hits in the ocean could produce damaging tsunamis that could devastate even larger areas than would a continental hit. The fact is that NEOs represent a great and real potential for a cataclysm that could severely stress or even bring down the western civilisation. And I believe that the current evidence should be sufficient to convince governments that efforts should be made to put in place greater detection capability and more importantly, to develop the technology to knock these things out before they become a danger.
These are not huge objects that require the likes of Bruce Willis and his team to go drill nukes into their cores (as depicted in the movie "Armageddon"). These are rocks that we could feasibly destroy with our current technology. All we need is better detection facilities, good enough to recognise the threat several million kilometers away, and also the unmanned transport to take the necessary weaponry quickly out to that distance. The money that is spent on armament to fight amongst ourselves would easily cover the cost. It would definitely cost less than the moonshots, which were massively expensive because most of the cost involved maintaining life-support systems.
The very real possibility of impacts from society-disrupting objects needs to be taken seriously because it is almost certain that the day will come when one of these things ravages a major urban area, and nobody could say for certain that the world could survive the financial shock. We are definitely not safe from a slide into the barbaric state, if financial institutions collapsed worldwide. To believe otherwise is to really bury one’s head in the sand.
1. It is not the big rocks like the one that destroyed the dinosaurs that should worry us, as they are rare in terms of their approach to Earth.
2. The smaller rocks, from 50-200 meters impact at speeds that can produce explosions tens or hundreds of times greater than an atomic bomb.
3. Possibly 5 of these objects approach within 8 diameters of Earth every year (2 of these were discovered in 2002). Since Earth presents a bullseye which is about 0.4% (1/250th) of the target area represented by these close approaches, we can calculate that one of these will hit Earth on average every 50 years (if the last one was 1908, we could be overdue).
4. Most of these will hit in unpopulated areas, but there is obviously a risk of a hit in urban areas.
5. It does not take total devastation to bring down society. An urban hit that bankrupts a country like USA, could bring down civilisation as we know it. We can be sure that many of the world’s burgeoning poor would seize the opportunity of our failing infrastructures to create anarchy.
6. There is mounting evidence that this has been the reason for the fall of a number of civilisations in the past.
7. In terms of fragility, our civilisation is perhaps more vulnerable to collapse than, say, the Roman Empire. Due to the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, there is a now a world of 4 or 5 billion potential barbarians ready to overrun any disabled first nations. And they are much more mobile than the hordes that overran Europe after the fall of Rome.
8. For the first time in history, we have the technology to prevent the next impact. An impact is inevitable, and apparently pending. So, why aren’t we taking the necessary steps to deal with the threat?
As we went to press, we learned that The Workshop on Scientific Requirements for Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids recently gathered 77 experts from the United States, Europe, and Japan. The outcome was that it was agreed that NASA should be given the task of dramatically increasing the search for Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), to the tune of something like $350 million a year. The task is expected to take 25 years in order to catalog all objects down to 200 meters in size. My comments are that, yes, this in encouraging, but that city-destroying asteroids can be anything above 50 meters across, and that means that there are substantially more dangerous missiles out there than will be cataloged by this 25 year effort. I guarantee that this threat is far more real than Iraq or North Korea, and should attract at least as much effort and hardware as the world currently assigns to the military.
That last point is my main point. In a way, it could bring the world together. It could provide a common enemy; a real enemy.
There is no doubt that with the funds that we currently use to wage war, this terror from space could be averted. The terror will surely come, because it always has.
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March 06, 2007
WAR & PEACE: ESSAY 2 INVESTIGATE: MAR 03
A 19 year old Iraqi exile in Britain, RANIA KASHI, tells her friends to welcome the war, not protest it
Dear All, I am writing this email after a lot of deliberation about whether I have the right to use my strange and unique position (within our group) to argue the case FOR an invasion in Iraq. But in the end I have decided that I have more to lose if I keep quiet.
Firstly, my parents, my family, are from Iraq. My parents fled from Iraq some 23 years ago leaving everything and everyone behind when at that point 17 of our relatives had been "disappeared" or imprisoned for no reason whatsoever. They sought refuge in Kuwait for 4 years, but once again were forced to flee with us (my brother and I) in tow when Saddam had the Kuwaitis deport the Iraqi men back to Iraq. On the border he had these returnees shot dead.
We were lucky; we made it safely to Britain. My father was lucky - his brother was caught trying to escape and tortured. So here I am, 19 years later, never having set foot in the country of my parents.
The anti-"war" feeling prevalent amongst people I speak to seems to me totally misjudged and misplaced. I have to be honest here and say that I feel it is based partly on a lot on misunderstanding of the situation in Iraq and partly on people’s desire to seem "politically rebellious" against the big, bad Americans. And let me say, that I also agree the American government is indeed big and bad; I have no illusions about their true intentions behind an attack on Iraq.
More than you or I, the Iraqis know the ignorant and truly atrocious attitude of the American government towards most of the world’s population. Iraqis felt the effect of this when America (and the rest of the West in fact) eagerly supported and supplied Saddam when he waged his war-of-attrition against Iran causing the death of 1 million Iraqis and Iranians and the disappearance of many more - there was no anti-war movement to help them.
They felt the effect of this attitude when America and the West ignored, supplied even, Saddam’s use of biological weapons on the people of Halabja, killing 5000 people in one day, and causing the deformed births of babies in the area to this day.
Iraqis know well the untrustworthy nature of the Western governments when the coalition gave Saddam permission, a few days after the end of the Gulf War, to massacre the uprising peoples of Iraq when they had wrested control from him in most cities of Iraq.
The people of Iraq echo our discontentment with America and the West’s policy in Iraq, for they know the realities of such a policy far better than any of us shall ever know.
I want to ask those who support the anti - "war" movement (apart from pacifists - that is a totally different situation) their motives and reasoning behind such support. You may feel that America is trying to blind you from seeing the truth about their real reasons for an invasion. I must argue that in fact, you are still blind to the bigger truths in Iraq. I must ask you to consider the following questions:
1. Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past 30 years, are you willing to allow him to kill another million Iraqis?
2. Out of a population of 20 million, 4 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their country during Saddam’s reign. Are you willing to ignore the real and present danger that caused so many people to leave their homes and families?
3. Saddam rules Iraq using fear - he regularly imprisons, executes and tortures the mass population for no reason whatsoever - this may be hard to believe and you may not even appreciate the extent of such barbaric acts, but believe me you will be hard pressed to find a family in Iraq who have not had a son/father/brother killed, imprisoned, tortured and/or "disappeared" due to Saddam’s regime. What has been stopping you from taking to the streets to protest against such blatant crimes against humanity in the past?
4. Saddam gassed thousands of political prisoners in one of his campaigns to "cleanse" prisons - why are you not protesting against this barbaric act?
5. An example of the dictator’s policy you are trying to save - Saddam has made a law to give excuse to any man to rape a female relative and then murder her in the name of adultery. Do you still want to march to keep him in power?
I remember when I was around 8 I went along with my father to a demonstration against the French embassy when the French were selling Saddam weapons. I know of the numerous occasions my father and many, many others haves attended various meetings, protests and exhibitions that call for the end of Saddam’s reign. I have attended the permanent rally against Saddam that has been held every Saturday in Trafalgar Square for the past 5 years. The Iraqi people have been protesting for YEARS against the war - the war that Saddam has waged against them. Where have you been?
Why is it now that you deem it appro-priate to voice your disillusions with America’s policy in Iraq, when it is actually right now that the Iraqi people are being given real hope, however slight and precarious, that they can live in an Iraq that is free of the horrors partly described in this email?
Whatever America’s real intentions behind an attack, the reality on the ground is that many Iraqis, inside and outside Iraq support invasive action, because they are the ones who have to live with the realities of continuing as things are while people in the West wring their hands over the rights and wrongs of dropping bombs on Iraq, when in fact the US & the UK have been continuously dropping bombs on Iraq for the past 12 years.
Of course it would be ideal if an invasion could be undertaken, not by the Americans, but by, say, the Nelson Mandela International Peace Force. That’s not on offer. The Iraqi people cannot wait until such a force materialises; they have been forced to take what they’re given. That such a force does not exist - cannot exist - in today’s world is a failing of the very people who do not want America to invade Iraq, yet are willing to let thousands of Iraqis to die in order to gain the higher moral ground.
Do not continue to punish the Iraqi people because you are "unhappy" with the amount of power the world is at fault for allowing America to wield. Do not use the Iraqi people as a pawn in your game for moral superiority - one loses that right when one allows a monster like Saddam to rule for 30 years without so much as protesting against his rule.
Some will accuse me of being a pessimist for accepting that the only way to get rid of Saddam is through force. I beg to differ; I believe I have boundless optimism for the FUTURE of Iraq, where Iraqis are able to rebuild their shattered country, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, communists - all peoples of any and all backgrounds are able to live in peace and safety and without fear of persecution. I beg you to imagine such an Iraq, such a democracy in the Middle East, and ask where in that do you see pessimism? Such an Iraq is what is being envisaged and sought by many millions of Iraqis; such an Iraq is where I hope I will be able to take my children.
If you want to make your disillusions heard then do speak out, put pressure on Blair, Bush & Co to keep to their promises of restoring democracy to Iraq. Make sure they do put back in financial aid what they have taken over the years, and make sure that they don’t betray the Iraqis again. March for democracy in Iraq. If you say that we can’t trust the Americans then make sure that you are a part of ensuring they do fulfil their promises to the Iraqis.
So I conclude by asking you to consider your REASONS for supporting the anti-"war" movement, and if you are going, the anti-"war" demo. If you still feel that what I have said does not sway you from this stance, then I can do no more.
In some ways I do admire the movement because it proves what people can achieve when they come together and speak out. Unfortunately for Iraq nobody spoke out earlier.
(*I use apostrophes with "war" because in truth it will be no war, but an invasion. A war presumes relatively equal forces battling against each, with resistance on both sides. A US-led force will encounter NO resistance from the Iraqi people or the army.)...
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GLOBALISATION, GM & THE PROPHETS OF BOOM INVESTIGATE: MAR 03
NOTE: full article in print edition
With the moratorium on GM due to lift in just a few months, disturbing new evidence is emerging from overseas about GM’s failures, but no-one seems to be listening back here...as HAMISH CARNACHAN reports:
It was a bizarre display really. Larry had the complete and undivided atten-tion of everyone in the room. In fact, he literally had the assembled journalists and high profile guests eat-ing out of the palm of his hand – the one that wasn’t attached to the cordless microphone. Perhaps it was because they’d been buttered up with crayfish tails and expensive French champagne. Perhaps it was because they felt privileged to be in his company. Regardless, Larry had wooed the usually tenacious media into a pack of slumber-happy puppy dogs. They hung on his every word – not daring to interrupt, not daring to spoil the ‘atmosphere’ with anything Larry might consider to be a remotely penetrating query.
Comfortably perched on a simple stool, beard neatly cropped, dressed in a black turtleneck top and casual slacks, he could have been any middle-aged gentleman. But Larry was seated centre stage, slightly elevated above his captive audience, with a multitude of strategically placed stage lights illuminating the Oracle like he was some divine apparition.
This was Larry Ellison, the multi-billionaire, the founder of the Oracle IT company, the owner of the eye-catching super yacht Katana, America’s Cup syndicate boss, and the fifth richest man in the world. This was the guy everyone knows simply as Larry, simply because everyone knows of him.
And hovering in his halo of light, Larry made headlines. Asked where young New Zealanders should invest for future financial success, he blatantly ignored his own industrial empire - IT was a maturing sector. According to the Oracle, biotechnology was the new growth area.
There it was – the headline: ‘Larry says biotech the way forward’. The fact that Larry offered no analysis for this proclamation didn’t really matter – coming from such a wealthy man this was a prophecy; apparently this was news.
A decade ago if you’d asked someone if they knew anything about biotechnology you probably would have been greeted with a blank expression: "Bio-what?" Today though, it is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating areas of science. It’s what has given rise to nano-technology, stem-cell technology, and other potentially "life changing" applications that we have been promised lie ahead, in the not too distant future. However, within biotechnology’s innumerable layers is perhaps the most controversial scientific ‘advancement’ of our time – genetic engineering and modification.
Just like early investigations in the field of nuclear physics, every so often science brings to light a technology staggeringly useful but at the same time breathtakingly dangerous. And just like the proponents of nuclear power promised a solution to the world’s energy demands, biotechnologists, and the companies behind their research, have been quick to voice the potential of the undertakings in their field.
New Zealand’s media has been equally as swift in reporting these endeavours as it was in pouncing on Larry’s declaration. Every day you can read and listen to reports about this brewing revolution - promises about radical new ways to deliver drugs; solving some of the world’s most pressing medical problems; relieving the food shortage crisis faced by so many impoverished nations – to name a few of the grand claims. But as was the case with the rapid development of nuclear science, some still fear the price of proceeding down the path of genetic engineering is environmental disaster.
The Government’s Royal Commission of inquiry on genetic modification (GM), which began in June 2001 and was released 12 months later, has ultimately paved the way for the "conditional" release of genetically engineered organisms in October this year.
Since the commission’s recommendation to "proceed with caution", calls to maintain the moratorium have, by and large, fallen on deaf ears. Despite increasing concerns about the technology surfacing overseas, few such findings have filtered into the public arena here. The New Zealand media have been either oblivious or deliberately indifferent to alarming reports that would appear to bode ominously considering this country’s current stance.
The Royal Commission was supposed to have conducted "the most extensive" public consultation and investigation into genetic modification of any country. But as this science has progressed so rapidly, how up to date are those findings and how well has the public been informed?
Those who oppose the release of genetically modified and engineered organisms into the environment believe there has been a distinct bias in the media. Jon Carapiet of GE Free NZ believes the country’s news organisations are not playing it straight.
"Stories are missed or hidden in business pages like the Herald reporting on the GE cheese from AgResearch’s cloned cows. It could be due to convergence of interests: companies with links to media outlets and biotech industry - our captains of industry being chums with senior editors.
"I believe the media are falling down on covering both sides and encouraging genuine debate on GM and other things too."
One of the strongest arguments for lifting the moratorium on GM in New Zealand is that the country would fall behind other nations if the technology were not embraced. Pro-GE groups have used the "knowledge wave" idiom – a phrase coined by the collective think-tank that endorses enterprise and research to increase the country’s economic prosperity - to advance their case.
Carapiet believes that far from sitting on the fence, the New Zealand Herald has pursued a staunch editorial line supporting the "knowledge wave", and it appears the message has also rubbed off on the Government. Late last year Environment Minister Marian Hobbs stated that calls to maintain the moratorium overlook "the need to preserve opportunities in the age of biotechnology".
To cynics, such claims are akin to lemmings competing to be first off the cliff - head-strong and injudi-cious at a time when caution is called for.
To date, limited research and development has been carried out in containment, but from October the Government plans to lift the moratorium on applications for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In the latest move, the Government has unveiled proposed legislative changes to the 1996 Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act, and related acts, under which the release and research of GM organisms is regulated.
The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) controls the release of new plants and animals, including GMOs. Under the proposed amendments ERMA will have the power to approve the conditional release of GMOs into the field on a case-by-case basis.
Although the new changes also stipulate penalties for companies that deliberately flout the law, and also terms for applications to be denied on cultural, ethical and spiritual grounds, parties opposed to the lifting of the moratorium say this is the wrong direction and New Zealand’s marketing image will suffer as a result.
GE Free New Zealand’s vision for "contained and ethical applications" of the technology is part of the "best way to pursue the ‘knowledge wave’ because it maintains the country’s clean green marketing image", according to Carapiet.
"The advantage of not introducing conditional release is that moderating controls on gene technology may help develop industry practices and innovations focussed on ethical contained uses.
"The most cost effective and practicable approach - achieving the purpose at the least cost - is prevention of contamination by approving only contained applications for GM organisms."
The Sustainability Council of New Zealand is also strongly opposed to these latest moves. It accuses the Government of rushing to clear the way for release of GMOs into the environment before it has assessed the economic impact on the country.
"New Zealand’s clean green brand is worth hundreds of millions a year and GM release directly threatens those earnings," says Sustainability Council chairman, Sir Peter Elworthy.
"There is no GM release in sight that could begin to contribute at that level of earnings in the next few years. The economic studies Government has commissioned to look at the risks to the clean green brand and the economy have yet to be reported. Government is flying blind after having explicitly committed to proceed with caution.
"Why the rush? The only prominent contender for early GM release is a disease resistant potato. When ERMA assessed such potatoes for field trials, it literally could not identify any sure benefits for New Zealand. It’s easy to see why when the US Department of Agriculture expects plantings of GM potatoes to vanish in America – because even the fast food chains don’t want them."
The reason fast food franchises refuse to accept genetically modified crops is because consumers don’t want them – there is a growing demand for traditional and organic products. This trend was no more graphically illustrated than when McDonalds, the world’s biggest fast food company, switched to organic milk in its United Kingdom restaurants in February this year. So far it will only affect carton milk but the company plans to change to organic milk for its range of ice creams and thick shakes too.
Surprisingly, recent reports from overseas that show growing consumer resistance to GM food in New Zealand’s key export markets – Europe and east-Asia – have been given little or no media coverage in this country to date. GE Free New Zealand and the Sustainability Council say these "clear market signals" fly in the face of those who suggest lifting restrictions on the release of GM organisms is the way forward to an enriched and prosperous nation.
As New Zealand moves closer to easing restrictions on the technology some European nations are moving in the other direction. Not reported here (again) was the recent news that the Swiss Chamber of Agriculture, responsible for giving farmers a voice in Swiss politics, backed a new people’s initiative for a moratorium on GMOs. If supported by the Swiss government this will effectively stop genetically modified plants, plant tissues and seeds from being imported, or put into circulation for five years.
European commentators have called the move "a clear signal of a realignment towards the consumers’ choice". According to the most recent surveys, 70% of Swiss consumers desire GM-free food.
And the British Medical Association (BMA) recently made a submission to the Scottish Parliament for a moratorium on GMOs too. It calls for all genetically modified crop trials in Scotland to be stopped immediately as a "precautionary measure to safeguard public health".
The professional medical body, which represents more than 13,500 doctors in Scotland and more than 80 percent of British doctors, states that "insufficient care" has been taken over public health and concerns are "serious enough" to justify an immediate end to trials.
The BMA goes on to say that the "most worrying" issue is the potential danger posed by GM crops in creating antibiotic resistance in humans, which has the potential to lead to new diseases.
"We believe there is a greater need for more comprehensive risk assessments which include interactions between GMOs and the long term effects on health and the environment before field trials are taken any further," it concludes.
Don’t be surprised if you didn’t read about these rev-elations in your local paper, they probably weren’t reported, suggests Carapiet - which is incredibly surprising considering the monumental step this country is about to take. Yet, even more dire warnings have gone largely unnoticed.
Alarming results from official trials of GM crops are threatening the British Government’s plans for growing them commercially. The study, the result of six years of monitoring farm-scale trials, shows, for the first time, that genes from GM crops are spreading on a large scale into conventional plantings, and even with weeds, as a result of interbreeding.
The report shows that genes from GM oil seed rape (OSR), specifically engineered to be herbicide-tolerant, contaminated conventional crops as far as 200 metres away from the trial area. The GM crop also interbred with a weed, which further highlights concerns about the prospect of inadvertently developing "super weeds".
Additionally, it was found that seed dispersal of the genetically modified crop occurred when "some combine harvesters were not cleaned after the harvesting of the GM crop, and the crop harvested subsequently flushed out the GM rape seed onto the ground causing contamination of the field".
The Independent says, "the report is so devastating to the Government’s case for GM crops that ministers sought to bury it by slipping the first information on it out on the website of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Christmas Eve, the one day in the year when no newspapers are being prepared."
On numerous occasions the British Government has stated that the results of these trials would answer any question about whether or not GM crops posed a threat to the environment.
This report, it would seem, certainly adds firepower to the opponents of lifting the moratorium in New Zealand. Especially when the report concludes: "The results from these larger trials and crops indicate that commercial scale releases of GM OSR in the future could pollinate other crops…" That one line proves what they have been saying since this science reared its head – "coexistence of GE and non-GE agriculture is impossible" for all practical purposes.
A survey carried out by Reuters at the end of January provides further proof. The poll showed that almost half of United States farmers could not comply with rules requiring more record keeping to control GE contamination. And yet New Zealand’s biotech industry, Government and government regulators believe they can guarantee compliance by New Zealand farmers and prevent cross-contamination.
Last month it was announced that two US biotechnology experts had been asked by the US Embassy to come to New Zealand to counter "misinformation" surrounding genetically modified crops. But with more international news reports detailing that the proclaimed increase in yields and profits, and reduced agrochemical use, have not materialised for farmers in the US, critics are wondering who is actually peddling the propaganda. What’s more, with these experts having scheduled lectures for MPs and local officials, those on the side of a cautionary approach query how well-informed the decision makers have been.
The Environment Minister claims that ERMA "is there to protect the health and safety of New Zealanders [and presumably their environment] and before approving any application ERMA must decide that the benefits outweigh the risks".
Carapiet says this approach is fundamentally flawed. As far as GE Free New Zealand is concerned, so far the Authority has: failed to act in response to international warnings; failed to rapidly assess new data and integrate it into a formal risk management model; and ERMA does not appear to be able to consider and accept, or reject, this information with clear reasoning and scientifically-supported data.
But perhaps the prob-lem is that the science of gene-technology is so new, and develop-ing so rapidly, that not enough is yet known to assess risks and benefits. If that’s the case, is a "precautionary approach" going to offer enough protection?
"Exactly," says Carapiet. "The insurance industry calculate risk on data, but as this is a new field it is refusing cover. Instead of doing the same, ERMA estimates the risks and then try to manage them - the risk is carried by the public purse. Who actually benefits financially is not clearly analysed.
"The national interest of our clean green image has clear value but does not get considered properly in the ERMA process. [ERMA] consistently ignore the advice of their own Maori consultants, independent scientists and others like the BMA."
Defending ERMA, the Chief Executive, Dr. Bas Walker, argues that the Authority "generally" monitors developments occurring overseas, both in terms of decisions made and the publication of research results and other articles.
"When a particular application is put forward then a more intensive review of overseas information is carried out, but will, for obvious reasons, only be directly referenced if it is relevant to the particular application."
So with evidence emerging that we may be heading down a dangerous path, how does ERMA suggest New Zealand can handle the experience any better when the moratorium is lifted in a few months’ time, and why aren’t these warnings being heeded?
"Overseas events of course give signals that we are very conscious of and will form a part of the background to future decision-making," says Dr. Walker. "It is impossible to say in advance however, what applications will be received and how they will be decided. In that sense the question is not really one that can be answered, except in the general sense of saying that the Authority will continue to be careful in making decisions that are robust and provide a high standard of risk management."
"The Authority is taking a cautious approach, and it probably is stating the obvious to say that the Authority believes it is being appropriately cautious. In deciding on the degree of caution to be exercised, an important factor is uncertainty and especially the extent to which this might lead risks to be greater than expected. This is almost always a factor.
In this sense, risk assessments cannot be expected to produce precise answers, although they need to be accurate within the bounds of uncertainty."
But, the Australian Insurance Council has issued a clear warning that "there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the exact nature of the risks arising from genetically modified food", which has unforeseen risks for the insurance industry.
"Any farmer thinking of entering into such an arrangement should ensure there is a contractual agreement in force making it clear that all liability resulting from the tests is picked up by the relevant bio-technology company," declares the industry statement.
The Age quotes the council’s executive director as saying the risks were similar to those associated with asbestos, where companies faced enormous claims 20 to 30 years later.
Exactly who would pick up the tab in New Zealand in the event that something goes wrong is not yet known and Carapiet suggests ERMA is taking a high-stakes gamble. He highlights AgResearch’s studies into GE cattle at Ruakura research centre, in Hamilton, where the animals are essentially already in the field.
"A contained lab is not a field with a fence. Again ERMA scientists said we know little about insects as vectors for GE gene spread but ERMA approved [this research] without controls to keep insects out i.e. keep experiments inside. Erma seem determined not to learn. In my view they are not following the precautionary principles despite more and more evidence of problems."
Presently, the Government’s "safeguards" to pre-vent GMOs entering the environment is legislation that stipulates "no commercial release". But some wonder what the difference is between AgResearch’s paddock of Friesian’s, with synthetic donor genes sourced from humans, mice, cattle, sheep and goats, and the cattle in the field next door.
As recently as early February, nearly 400 pigs used in bioengineering experiments entered the food supply in the US when they were sold to a livestock dealer – a direct violation of stringent US Food and Drug Administration laws that states the animals should have been destroyed.
Aside from raising concerns about so-called "containment", concerns have recently arisen about how the GE cow trials were sold to ERMA and the New Zealand public.
When the research centre gained approval to proceed with its GE cattle experiments, AgResearch released a statement detailing "plans to produce cows which express milk containing an array of therapeutic proteins, potentially of use in medical treatments which may counter a range of genetic and rare disorders".
The media jumped on the story. What a fantastic development for suffers of cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and other rare complaints. Probably for the first time, it offers some semblance of hope.
But what went largely unnoticed were the revelations that these GE cows, still being promoted to the New Zealand public as offering miracle cures, also "alter dairy products for human consumption and increase profits of cheese manufacturers," says GE Free New Zealand.
Scientists from AgResearch claim in Nature Biotechnology journal that they have discovered their experiments "enhance milk composition and milk processing efficiency…" and that the results show that "it is feasible to substantially alter a major component of milk in high producing dairy cows by a transgenic approach and thus to improve the functional properties of dairy milk."
Carapiet says it’s no coincidence that the dairy giant Fonterra supported AgResearch’s application at the ERMA hearing last September. He adds that the latest statements, reported to the world by the BBC, not only have the potential to damage New Zealand’s trade and exports by signalling a change into biotech food, but also show that the public has been misled.
"There has been a noticeable media push describing the unproven medical use of GE, which is being used by the pro-GE lobby to influence the public into accepting genetic engineering in New Zealand," says Carapiet.
"Fonterra are keen on [biotechnology]. Remember they threatened to take $150 million research budget overseas if they didn’t get their way on GM experiments. Talk about economic blackmail! To some extent the ‘cover’ story of medicines has now been blown by the announcement about the cheap cheese GE cows from AgResearch. The truth is out but do people know?"
Dr. Walker disputes that ERMA was misled though, because, he says, the benefits were always seen as being primarily scientific in character - the generation of scientific knowledge and understanding.
"Ultimate commercial uses - whether in medical use or in food production - were regarded as quite speculative at the relatively early stage of the proposed work."
Yet, while no one would want to de-prive the sufferers of rare disorders a potential cure, the facts show that for all the talk, nothing beneficial has been delivered. Some critics suggest that these groups have been "led up the garden path" to canvas public support.
"There is definitely an attempt to confuse issues of GE food and GE medicine and to use serious illnesses as a justification for it, without looking at alternatives," says Carapiet. "Also, prevention of disease rarely gets looked at. Families of the sick children grab hope and so want the experiments to go on though there are never promised outcomes, just ‘maybes’. The biotech industry has done it consistently for some years. There is now a push to say, ‘you have to accept it all’."
Dame Susan Devoy’s resignation as patron of the Cystic Fibrosis Association thrust the divisive nature of this debate into the spotlight recently. Devoy was, more-or-less, forced to quit after members became increasingly angry with her opposition to genetic engineering through her role in the Sustainability Council.
The Cystic Fibrosis Association of New Zealand acknowledge being pro-GM and GE in medical research but it does not have a policy or position on the use of the technology in food production. While the General Manager of CFANZ, Bruce Dunstan, says he accepts that its membership is likely to be divided on the food issue, clearly it could not tolerate the Sustainability Council’s approach.
"The food chain is not the business or concern of the Association. In the case of medical field trials, the benefit or potential benefit needs to outweigh the risk or potential risk," says Dunstan.
"Since the Cystic Fibrosis gene was discovered in 1989, gene therapy has been the major hope for a cure. Nothing has happened in almost 14 years to change this. CF families do everything possible to prolong life and improve the quality of life for any family member with CF. So do health professionals dealing with CF patients, and so does our Association. Why wouldn’t we all want everything possible done to find a cure? GE/GM offers our best hope for a cure."
But when pushed on how he knew the Association wasn’t being used as a pawn in the argument, and what GE or GM had delivered to sufferers, Dunstan couldn’t provide any answers.
Even Dr. Walker acknowledges that ERMA doesn’t investigate whether or not a claim, upon which an application may be granted, is legitimate or not. According to him, the issue of following through with claims has not arisen to any "appreciable degree" because benefits have usually been scientific in character.
"However, this will very clearly become more of an issue as projects move to a more commercial stage, so that commercial or economic benefits are more significant in decision-making," he assures.
Ah…promises, promises. Would anyone wantonly invest in a venture that has promised so much but delivered so little? Sure, biotechnology industries have a great deal of potential but it appears clear that potentially there is a great deal of risk. New Zealand is certainly on the verge of its biggest decision – a choice that will either make us millions, or bankrupt us of our environment and our way of life. Are we ready to make such a choice and will it be an educated decision?
But the most worrying factor is that somehow in New Zealand, whoever is pushing this, appears to have done a very good job at burying biotechnology’s failures – and there are plenty of these. On the face of what other countries have experienced, New Zealand seems woefully ill prepared to dive headfirst into this murky business.
In the Associated Press’ (AP) most recent report on the genomic revolution it says not only have there been few medical breakthroughs – but it has cost investors billions of dollars with few returns.
Goodness only knows where Larry gets his information on biotechnology from – maybe he’s been in the country too long. But who cares – he’s Larry. And as we’ve seen with Larry, what the big guy says is, unfortunately, all too often reported and digested as fact.
Perhaps we should remember Larry’s venture into the America’s Cup market. It proved to be a rather fruitless - not to mention incredibly costly - punt. He can afford to have the occasional slip-up though. Any investment entails some calculated risk but – say critics - is treading the GE tightrope a gamble New Zealand can afford to take?
DOES ABORTION CAUSES BREAST CANCER? INVESTIGATE: MAR 03
One in four New Zealand women have an abortion in their lives. One in ten will develop breast cancer. Now doctors suspect our soaring abortion rate is causing our breast cancer epidemic, as IAN WISHART reports
It was the court case that helped define the so-called permissive generation. Now, 30 years after the US Supreme Court’s controversial 1973 decision in Roe vs Wade to legalise abor-tion on demand, the abortion issue is once again set to dominate world politics and social dis-cussion, but not with the same old arguments. The crunch is on its way as a result of ‘conver-gence’ – the coming together of a range of separate threads in the issue to form what some regard as strong-enough evidence to once again see abortion outlawed in the United States, and placed under serious pressure in countries like New Zealand and Britain.
Whether that’s a move forward to enlightenment, or backwards to repression, depends on your sociopolitical perspective, but both sides are once again preparing for a bitter fight where the winner takes all.
Among the new ‘threads’ up for examination is a mountain of growing scientific and medical evidence indicating abortions may be the cause of the West’s massive breast cancer epidemic. New Zealand has, per capita, one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world. Ironically, we’re also a world leader on abortions as well.
But the evidence of a link goes much further than similarities in the ratio of breast cancer in the community to abortions performed. Over the past few decades, nearly three dozen scientific studies have been carried out on women who’ve had abortions. But it’s only recently that medical experts have gone back over the studies and looked for common themes. What they found astounded them.
Of the 33 major studies on the effects of abortion, 27 have shown, on re-examination, strong evidence that women who’ve had abortions are up to 50% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who haven’t.
A study with rats echoed the massively increased risk of breast cancer.
The reason is actually quite simple: early in pregnancy, during the first trimester, hormones stimulate breast development in preparation for milk production. That development occurs in two phases, both of which have to complete or the woman runs a risk of breast cancer. In the first phase, the hormone estrogen makes breast cells multiply rapidly. This rapid increase in multiplying breast cells continues until about the 32nd week. At that point, in a normal pregnancy, fresh chemical messengers instruct the breast cells to convert from multiplying cells to milk production cells. Once a ‘multiplying’ cell has been converted to a ‘milk production’ cell, it doesn’t ever switch back. Its ability to multiply is forever turned off.
In computer terms, it is the breast equivalent of the infamous Microsoft Windows "blue screen of death", where the programme fails to shut down properly and sends the entire machine into a tailspin because it never got to finish its tasks.
This ‘switch-off’ is critical: only breast cells still capable of multiplying can turn into cancerous cells later in life. Milk producing cells cannot. And the problem for the 17,000 New Zealand women getting abortions every year is that termination of pregnancy interferes in this crucial process. When a baby is aborted, the woman’s breasts never get sent the chemical message to switch off the multiplication. They’re left with breasts that can literally become cancer timebombs.
After a normal full-term pregnancy, on the other hand, a woman actually has fewer multiplying cells in her breasts than she did before she even became pregnant. Pregnancy, and milk production, actually reduces the risk of breast cancer substantially.
One in ten New Zealand women will develop breast cancer in their lives, according to Breast Cancer Foundation figures, and roughly a quarter of those will die from it. With almost 700 deaths a year, and 2,300 new cases diagnosed each year, breast cancer is a major problem and projected to worsen. By contrast, cervical cancer kills only around 80 New Zealand women a year. Ironically, sexual politics surrounds the cervical cancer issue as well though, with few women being informed that more than 90% of cervical cancers are caused by sexually transmitted genital wart infections and are therefore "avoidable".
But back to breast can-cer: roughly one in four women will have an abortion during their lives, and one in ten women will go on to develop breast cancer. Breast cancer rates have risen in direct correlation to the rising tide of abortions.
While the data showing breast cancer may be a direct result of abortion continues to mount, there appears to be no reference to the issue on the Breast Cancer Foundation’s figures. The question is, why not?
Perhaps because the New Zealand Cancer Society claims there is no link. The Cancer Society makes a big push every year for public donations through its "Daffodil Day" street appeals, and funding from various organisations. But despite seeking public money, it is refusing to warn women that there may be a link between abortion and breast cancer. Society policy advisor Betty Marshall prepared a summary of facts on the issue for the Cancer Society’s staff, and that summary states "there is currently no conclusive link between induced abortion and increased risk of breast cancer."
Marshall quotes a World Health Organisation factsheet making similar claims, and the Cancer Society in New Zealand confidently tells inquirers not to worry, there is no link.
But in the United States the National Cancer Institute has been in the spotlight for making the same claims, and getting punished for it. The NCI stated on its website at one point: "The scientific rationale for an association between abortion and breast cancer is based on limited experimental data in rats and is not consistent with human data."
But of course, the human data is extensive, and the rat study is merely icing on the cake.
As a result of being caught out misleading the public and the threat of a Congressional investigation into the deception, the National Cancer Institute withdrew the false denials of the cancer/abortion link from its website.
But cancer institutes around the world, and abortion providers, are still trying to minimise the scientific findings, by publishing the findings of one Danish study that did not discover a link.
As they say, one swallow does not a summer make, and the remaining studies show comprehensive evidence that abortion can cause breast cancer. So much evidence, that some critics are openly suggesting that the cover-up by cancer institutes and abortion providers is equivalent to the "Big Tobacco" cover-ups exposed by movies like The Insider.
Indeed, while the first study to show a link between smoking and lung cancer was published in 1929, the National Cancer Institute didn’t issue its first warning about the tobacco/cancer link until 1957. It may take time for the cancer establishment to join the dots, but researchers are confident they eventually will.
Nor does the New Zealand Cancer Society’s "no link" position stack up in the wake of the very latest study. Only a month ago, in a major US obstetrics journal, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, the University of Carolina’s John Thorp acknowledges the breast cancer/abortion evidence is overwhelming and recommends that it is time to inform the public about the link.
"We think, now, that clinicians are obliged to inform pregnant women that a decision to abort her first pregnancy may almost double her lifetime risk of breast cancer.
"A young woman with an unintended pregnancy clearly sacrifices the protective effect of a term delivery should she decide to abort and delay child-bearing," warns Thorp. His study was peer reviewed by abortion specialists who agree with his findings.
Thorp also found, as have others, that women undergoing abortions are more likely to suffer increased risk of future premature births – a cause of cerebral palsy – placenta previa, mood disorders and suicide.
Nor is Thorp a wet-behind-the-ears researcher. His qualifications list includes being the "Mcallister Distinguished Professor" of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the US. Thorp is so concerned about the link between abortion and cancer that he warns his medical colleagues they could be opening themselves up to lawsuits if they fail to inform women seeking abortions about the dangers.
"Failure to provide this information is a direct threat to maternal autonomy, diminishing a woman’s ability to give informed consent."
Womens’ groups in the US are delighted that the medical profession is finally starting to break its silence.
"We are pleased," says Karen Malec, the president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, "that after nearly a half century, doctors are finally being encouraged to inform women about the existence of ongoing research exploring an independent link between abortion and breast cancer.
"However, women also have the right to know that there is overwhelming biological and epidemiological evidence supporting an independent relationship between abortion and the disease. Clearly it is beneficial to women when their doctors are pro-information.
"If physicians inform their patients about the delayed first term pregnancy effect associated with abortion, then perhaps they can help turn around the soaring rates of breast cancer."
Malec’s Coalition has posted many of the studies online on its website, http://abortionbreastcancer.com, to help stimulate informed discussion and consent.
According to another researcher, Chris Kahlenborn MD, the average increased risk of 50% for breast cancer if a woman has an abortion can get much higher once age of the mother and the fetus is taken into account.
If you’re under 18, he warns, your risk of developing breast cancer rises by 150%. If you’re under 18 and the fetus is more than nine weeks old when it is aborted, your chances of developing breast cancer later in life rise by a massive 800 percent.
But why, if the risks are so high, haven’t the dangers of abortion to mothers in terms of cancer been shouted from the rooftops like the smoking/lung cancer link?
"It is more than a media bias, it’s a total media blackout – especially the medical media," Dr Kahlenborn told US journalists last year. "But that’s no surprise, because the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are officially pro-abortion and pro-contraception...so it’s no surprise that you don’t hear from them."
New Zealand seems to have a similar problem. One of the leading researchers on the link between abortion and breast cancer, Dr Joel Brind, was invited to New Zealand for a public lecture on his findings. According to the newspaper Pro-Life Times, details of Brind’s research and his meeting schedule were mailed to Dr Pippa MacKay, who’d just been appointed chairwoman of the New Zealand Medical Association. MacKay is also associated with and performs some of the eight abortions a day (1,964 a year) carried out at the Lyndhurst Abortion Clinic in Christchurch, the city where Brind was to speak.
When meeting organisers followed up their letter with a phonecall to ask whether MacKay would be interested in attending the lecture, MacKay allegedly answered "I am very aware of it. I have a prior engagement and I am not interested."
What about a private meeting with Dr Brind?
MacKay’s response was equally terse: "As I pointed out, I’m not interested. I don’t want to talk with him."
MacKay’s attitude came into even sharper focus recently, when news broke on the front pages of several New Zealand daily papers that "Growing numbers of doctors and nurses are refusing to perform abortions on ethical grounds."
The Dominion Post quoted the Abortion Supervisory Committee and Ministry of Health as describing the problem as "extremely sensitive", and the Ministry suggested medical students might have to undergo "increased abortion education" so as to overcome their moral objections to terminating babies.
The Christchurch Press ran this story:
Some pregnant Christchurch women wanting terminations are being "sabotaged" by their GPs, says Ilam doctor Pippa MacKay. Dr MacKay, who performs abortions at Lyndhurst, said some women were turning up for a termination without having an examination or blood test. Some GPs were failing to book their patients in for abortions, while others would not treat them or tell them where to go for help.
"Some GPs say they will arrange things but don’t, and women come in at 12 to 13 weeks which is beyond time (for a first trimester abortion). Some GPs deliberately delay them.
"Women are making a decision which is obviously difficult and GPs are being destructive. If GPs are uncomfortable they have an ethical obligation to tell patients where they can get the service," Dr MacKay said.
She said she suspected the increase in foreign doctors was compounding the problem.
"We get a lot of doctors who are not from Western countries. They are Arabic or Egyptian where they may not approve of abortion. But this is New Zealand and the law is what it is. Women are entitled to have an abortion."
MacKay, of course, draws a large chunk of her income from carrying out taxpayer-funded abortion surgery, which raises an interesting irony: having just accused anti-abortion doctors of "sabotaging" the process by not referring women, can consultants and surgeons who are paid to perform abortions be expected to offer truly objective advice to women that MacKay herself admits are in a "difficult" situation?
On the presumption that turkeys don’t vote for an early Christmas, are those who make a living from the abortion industry likely to be interested in, or pass on to patients, the kind of research that shows abortions may cause an 800% increased risk of breast cancer?
When Investigate caught up with Pippa Mackay and told her we wanted to ask some questions about abortion and breast cancer, her initial response was pungent: "Oh, God!"
Asked about the findings of the Thorp study in January of a 50% increase in the likelihood of breast cancer following abortion, Mackay was initially dismissive.
"Look, I’m sure if that were really true, there’d be much more made of it and it wouldn’t be being done in a fringe way."
"Are you suggesting the Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey journal is a fringe publication?"
Pause... "Ah, no, not at all. Look, I haven’t read the Thorp study, I don’t really want to comment. I specialise in abortions, not cancer."
"Well, Thorp says the link is strong enough that all women seeking abortion should be warned in advance of a possible doubling in their risk of breast cancer, as part of informed consent procedures. As an abortion consultant, would you be happy to give that warning?"
"Um...if there...No, I don’t think I want to comment on this. I’m sick of being harrassed by anti-abortion types every time I make some sort of public comment. I don’t want to talk about it."
But MacKay’s position looks increasingly difficult to maintain in the light of the growing furore in the US. A New Jersey-based breast surgeon, Angela Lanfranchi, told New Zealand and US audiences last month of her own discovery of the link between teenage abortions and breast cancer.
"When I first heard about it," she told America’s Whistleblower magazine, I thought it was bunk. Then I changed the intake form in my office and asked [breast cancer] patients for their complete reproductive histories. I found a third of my 30 year olds having had abortions, and no history of breast cancer in the family.
"Over the past three or four years, I have spoken with many authorities and people in a position to be well informed. Some have been straightforward and said they know it is a risk factor but felt it was ‘too political’ to speak about.
"Others have been evasive...Some have been openly hostile...some initially hostile doctors debated it with me and have changed their minds. Some pro-choice doctors have come to agree it is true and do tell their patients about the risk. Some doctors who were initially skeptical have started obtaining a complete reproductive history on their patients and found, as I did, that cases of breast cancer in young women are associated with an abortion history.
"Women have a right to know. It’s wrong to keep this from them," says Lanfranchi.
But as we said at the start of this article, it’s not just the latest scientific evidence casting doubt on the safety of abortion, there are some other major developments also thrusting the issue into the headlines internationally.
While feminist groups around the world celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Roe vs Wade in January, notably absent from those celebrations were two key players. Jane Roe, the alias used by the young woman whose fight to have an abortion went all the way to victory in the US Supreme Court, has now become one of abortion’s most ardent opponents.
Roe, real name Norma McCorvey, originally said she needed an abortion because she’d been raped. She later revealed, after the case, that she’d lied. She wasn’t raped, and in fact placed the unwanted child out for adoption. In her 1994 autobiography, McCorvey told of a past that included dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, alcoholism, an abusive husband, attempted suicide and lesbianism.
After winning her case McCorvey – in what some might say was a Providential intervention – ended up working at an abortion clinic. She is still haunted by images of her work. "Dead children in glass jars and freezer bags," is how she described one Dallas clinic.
And here’s another fateful ‘coincidence’: Jane Roe’s lawyer Sarah Weddington, the attorney who fought so hard for the right for women to have abortions, is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It turns out Weddington had an abortion at the age of 21.
Weddington, however, insists Roe vs Wade was a victory for women’s rights around the world, despite the fact that her former client now believes it was the worst thing she ever did.
Weddington told Associated Press in January that the 30th anniversary of the case that built her career would be a "melancholy" one, largely because Republican domination of both Congress and Senate, and President Bush’s opportunity to appoint more conservative Supreme Court judges, meant Roe vs Wade could soon be overturned and abortion clinics closed down across America.
Likewise, Norma McCorvey sees ev-ery anniversary as a reminder of the mounting human death toll. "It’s 30 years of legalised abortion. It’s the 30th year of knowing that 3,500 children a day are going to be killed by abortion."
For what it’s worth, around 64 babies are killed every weekday throughout New Zealand, which on a per capita basis would equate to a US abortion rate of around 6,000 a day. Little wonder New Zealand is a world leader in the field.
Not surprisingly, it is "damned lies and statistics" that helped sell the "pro-choice" message to the US public back in the early 1970s. The co-founder of one of America’s largest pro-abortion pressure groups, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, recently confirmed to WorldNetDaily.com’s Whistleblower magazine that the public relations push to convince the people was built on fabricated survey results.
"We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal, enlightened, sophisticated one," says Bernard Nathanson, MD. "Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls.
"We announced to the media that we had taken polls, and that 60% of Americans were in favour of permissive abortion. This is the tactic of the self-fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. We aroused enough sympathy to sell our programme of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the US. The actual figure was approaching 100,000, but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was one million.
"Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000.
"These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans, convincing many that we needed to crack the abortion law."
Dr Nathanson says another lie sold to a gullible public was that opening up abortion on demand would not create a huge upsurge in abortions, it would simply allow the abortions currently being performed illegally to be performed legitimately and safely.
"In fact, of course, abortion is now being used as a primary method of birth control in the US, and the annual number of abortions has increased by 1,500% since legalisation."
Nathanson, like MacKay, also made money from the newly-legalised abortion industry, setting up his own clinic in New York.
"At the end of the two years that I was the director, we had done 60,000 abortions. I myself, with my own hands, have done 5,000 abortions. I have supervised another 10,000 that residents have done under my direction. So I have 75,000 abortions in my life. Those are pretty good credentials to speak on the subject of abortion," he told Whistleblower.
Nathanson, like many others in the industry, now regards his actions as murder.