Category Archives: Ethics

Dirty Secrets of the Shrimp trade

Bangkok post article: http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/316585/dirty-hands-of-shrimp-trade

Dirty hands of shrimp trade

Thailand is the world’s leading food exporting country not only because of the country’s natural abundance, but also because the food produced here is cheaper than that of other countries. This is also true with the 100-billion-baht shrimp export industry which is now facing allegations of using child migrant labour and other exploitative labour practices to keep Thai shrimp cheaper than those of its competitors.

The shrimp industry has come under severe scrutiny after the broadcast of a documentary by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the United States last month. In the documentary which focuses on the situation in Samut Sakhon province, migrant workers talk of dreadful work conditions. Many workers are minors, working long hours, and underpaid. The documentary also touches on human trafficking, debt bondage, and police extortion.

As if on cue, the authorities and major shrimp exporters in Samut Sakhon immediately came out to deny the PBS report. This is unwise. Instead of going on the defensive, Samut Sakhon, as the centre of the shrimp industry, must come up with effective measures to regulate the shrimp industry to keep the loyalty of its US market, which is the industry’s biggest customer.

There is no use denying that child labour exists in this industry. It may not be a widespread phenomenon. But it does exist when it should not at all.

Abusive work conditions may not exist in large seafood factories. But the same thing cannot be said about the hundreds of small peeling sheds which supply the shrimp to those large factories.

According to official records, only 150 out of 700 primary seafood operators are registered with the Department of Fisheries.

The use of minors in the shrimp industry is just the latest international concern about the abusive treatment of migrant workers in Thailand. And it is among the easiest to solve. If the problem stems from a lack of regulation in the shrimp industry, then set up a proper regulatory system.

The law also requires that every child in the country, Thai or non-Thai, must receive a free compulsory education. If Samut Sakhon can show that it can provide education to all migrant children, then the child labour allegation will quickly go away.

It won’t be as easy with other problems plaguing the fishing sector, however. They include human trafficking, slave labour on fishing boats, physical abuse, underpayment, confiscation of legal documents, and the perennial problem of police extortion. It is Thailand’s inability to provide proof of any increase in efforts to solve these problems that has persuaded the US government to place Thailand on the Tier 2 Watch List for three consecutive years. If Thailand sinks to Tier 3, the country risks facing a range of boycott measures from the US.

At the heart of the maltreatment of migrant workers from Myanmar is ethnic prejudice. It is what makes Thais view migrant workers as a threat to national security. It is also what makes society turn a blind eye to the labour abuses and extortion faced by migrant workers.

If the authorities cannot change their mindset to improve the working conditions and welfare of migrant workers, they must do so for the country’s self-interest at least. Nowadays, the customer’s decision on whether to buy a product is increasingly influenced by rights concerns. If Thailand wants to retain its export markets overseas, fisheries authorities and the export industry must shape up before it’s too late.

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The first self-replicating artificial cell created

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We report the design, synthesis and assembly of the 1.08- Mbp Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cell to create new Mycoplasma mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including “watermark” sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication.


One year after synthesizing a synthetic genome, the Craig Venter Center finally published their results in Science. For this paper, Science has kindly allowed free access.

Of course this created alot of discussion amongst the scientific circle. Even President Obama penned a letter to the research team.

In the basic criteria of what life is like, most scientists agree that three basic components has to exist: a container, a way to harvest energy and an information carrier like RNA or another nucleic acid.

This is a step from similar protocellular work by Szostak from Havard Medical School. The Craig Venter Center team’s bacteria can grow and divide.

Reading list suggested by Carl Zimmer.

 

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HOME – Yann Arthus-Bertrand

HOME is a beautiful documentary by Yanns Arthus-Bertrand. Narrated by Glen Close, the story of how life began and how humans changed the environment as civilisation progress is beautifully told.

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Example on Sustainable Development – Oil Palm and Orang Utans

This article in New Scientist provides a good overview of how parties with apparent different agendas can collaborate to create a win-win outcome.

Excerpt from the article:

Banking on Biodiversity
Biodiversity-rich, cash-poor countries are coming up with ways to make conservation sustainable.

In 2008, Malaysia became the first such nation to launch a scheme to allow private investment in the rainforest that would generate “conservation dollars” – money specifically set aside for conservation. The scheme is voluntary, but the government is considering making such investment a requirement for land developers.

The Malua Biobank, which differs from the biobanks established in other countries to bank genetic material, covers a 34,000-hectare forest reserve in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, which buffers virgin rainforest from palm oil plantations. It sells conservation certificates for 100 square metres of forest at $10 each, making a total possible fund of $34 million. Of this, 20 per cent will create an endowment fund to restore the previously logged forest, says Darius Sarshar of New Forests, an international environmental investment management group with offices in Malaysia that advises Malua Biobank.

Buyers can either “retire” their certificates, effectively making a donation, or put them into a trading account. Once the endowment fund is secured, any additional profits will be split between the investors and the government.

The scheme is unlikely to compete with traditional stock markets, however, and so far the biobank has relied on companies wanting to reinvent their environmental image. Initial sales have been sluggish – it has sold 21,500 certificates for a total of $215,000, all to logging companies – but that will change if the government makes the scheme mandatory.

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Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Causes Cancer in Teenage Boy

From Discover Blogs, 80 beats

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new study shows that teenage boy developed cancerous tumors because of the stem cell therapy he received years ago for a rare genetic condition. The boy, now 17, suffered from ataxia telangiectasia, or AT, a neurodegenerative disease that interferes with the part of the brain that controls movement and speech. AT patients do not usually live past their teens or 20s, and the Israeli boy, whose identity was not publicly revealed, was taken to Russia for experimental treatment. The first neural stem cells, taken from fetuses, were first injected into his brain and spinal cord when he was nine, and he received further injections at ages 10 and 12.
His condition deteriorated and he was using a wheelchair by age 13, when he also began to complain of headaches. Tests showed two growths, one pushing on his brain stem and the other on his spinal cord. The tumors were removed in 2006 and his health has since remained stable. But scientists at Tel Aviv University who wanted to determine the origin of the cancer have been in the lab ever since, and their findings have just been published in PLoS Medicine. The team found that the tumor could not have arisen from the boy, because he [has two disease-causing versions of the gene] that causes AT, while the DNA from the tumor cells carried only the normal version [The Scientist].The tumor studied was the one removed from the spinal cord; they could not test the growth that appeared in the brain, but believe it was also caused by the injected tissue. Donor-derived cells might have been able to spark tumours in this patient because people with ataxia telangiectasia often have a weakened immune system, say the researchers. It is not clear whether the stem cell therapy helped his genetic condition [BBC].
The case raises a number of ethical questions. For all the promise, researchers have long warned that they must learn to control newly injected stem cells so they don’t grow where they shouldn’t, and small studies in people are only just beginning [AP]. And, because the patient’s immune system was impaired, it’s not yet clear whether the increased risk of cancer is specific to patients with suppressed immune systems, something particular to the procedure done in Moscow, or a danger with neural stem cell transplantation in general, said Uri Tabori, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist…. “It’s a cautionary tale for studies currently being done in the US and elsewhere,” said [Arnold] Kriegstein [The Scientist], a U.S. stem cell researcher.

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Clarifying cloning

This is a good summary from Genetics Policy Center on how cloning is achieved and its uses.

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Dr James Watson retires admist controversy

From BBC news:

A Nobel laureate who claimed Africans were less clever than Europeans has retired from his post at an American research institution.

James Watson, 79, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York announced his departure on Thursday.

The DNA pioneer triggered an international furore over his remarks in a British newspaper interview.

In his retirement statement, Dr Watson said his decision was “more than overdue” because of his age.

The scientist added: “The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.”

Suspended

Eduardo Mestre, chairman of the board of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, said in a statement: “The board respects his decision to retire at this point in his career.”

The laboratory, based in Long Island, suspended him after his comments appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine of London on 14 October.
He was quoted as saying he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

He said that while he hoped everyone was equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true”.

The Chicago-born academic also said people should not be discriminated against on the basis of race, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented”.

Speaking engagements were cancelled in the aftermath of the interview’s publication. He later apologised for the comments.

Dr Watson was a joint winner in 1962 of the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, the molecule that lies at the heart of heredity in living organisms.

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