Month: October 2020

Gene-editing innovations can save us (if we let it)

2020 marked a first in the history of the Nobel Prize. For the first since its creation, a science Nobel Prize has been awarded to two women. Jenifer Doudna from the University of California, and Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for the development of CRISPR-Cas9. The gene-editing method revolutionises the scientific understanding and practice of working with genetics, and has widespread applications in the fields of medicine and agriculture.

Together with the Genetic Literacy Project, the CCC released the first Gene-editing Regulation Index, that shows how the world compares in its regulation on gene-editing. Unfortunately, we see that regions such as Europe have, through outdated legislation, limited their ability to innovate.

Let’s take a look at three recent innovations in the realm of gene-editing.

Gene-edited trees

Researchers at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology in Belgium, together with researchers at the University of Wisconsin have discovered, through CRISPR-Cas9, a method of reducing the amount of lignin in trees, which eases the process of making paper. This would reduce the carbon footprint of the paper industry, as well as for the production of bio-fuels and bio-based materials. 

The communication from the entrepreneurial non-profit research institute VIB, which works in close partnership with five universities in Flanders, Belgium — Ghent University, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Hasselt University — also says: “The applications of this method are not only restricted to lignin but might also be useful to engineer other traits in crops, providing a versatile new breeding tool to improve agricultural productivity.”

Gene-edited salmon

Researchers at the Norwegian institute Nofima are investigating whether CRISPR-Cas9 can help reduce or completely squash the prevalence of sea lice in Atlantic salmon. It is known that North American salmon does not deal with sea lice, thus the scientists are trying to replicate the phenomenon through genetic engineering.

If successful, this does not imply that gene-edited fish will be available immediately, as there are still a lot of procedural and regulatory hurdles to overcome. That said, making Atlantic salmon immune to lice would mean more efficient fishing in European waters, and more affordable salmon for European consumers.

Gene-editing against opioid overdoses

With tens of thousands of people dying each year of opioid overdoses, Professor of Pharmacology at Oklahoma State University Craig Stevens writes that it doesn’t have to be that way. Using CRISPR-Cas9, he claims that gene-editing a patient’s brain would prevent opioids bind opioid receptors on respiratory neurons — in plain English: during an opioid overdose, the patient dies because he or she stops breathing. Through gene-editing the brains of 10% of opioid patients, Stevens claims that the United States could save thousands of lives and save $43 billion.

[EU] SCHEER Consultation: setting the facts straight

Last month, an EU Committee called the SCHEER launched a “preliminary opinion on e-cigarettes” that is ram-packed full of biased arguments against vaping, is missing crucial facts about vaping and avoids any form of comparison with cigarettes.

As is obliged of them, the SCHEER has sought feedback on their preliminary opinion from the scientific community and stakeholders. As the voice of 19 associations worldwide, representing tens of thousands of vapers, we believe that our voice is important in the debate – in particular, because the consultation is structured to make it challenging for individuals to submit their experiences or testimony 

Therefore, we – as an organisation representing consumers – believe that it is our responsibility and duty towards all the vapers who count on us to protect their rights, to make sure that we set the record straight. Our consultation response was officially submitted on 21 October, and you can read it here.

We wanted to make sure that the facts are out there, in front of the SCHEER Committee. 

  • Fact: “E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking.”
  • Fact: “Vaping is a gateway OUT of smoking, not the other way around.”
  • Fact: “Vaping is twice as effective as other smoking cessation methods.”

We will be closely following the developments around this opinion and hope to see the committee take into consideration much of the science on vaping that was seemingly ignored in their first draft. 

Meanwhile, we are here to support and amplify the voice of the millions of vapers worldwide who have had their lives changed for the better.

The Farm to Fork es una utopía política demasiado grande.

Para 2030, la Unión Europea tiene como objetivo lograr una amplia gama de objetivos, de acuerdo con la estrategia “De la granja a la mesa” de la Comisión Europea. Desde un punto de vista político, el documento es la confirmación de una tendencia: las ideas verdes están ganando importancia en la política del día a día de Bruselas y están logrando muchos de sus objetivos con esta hoja de ruta.

De acuerdo con la Estrategia de Biodiversidad, que se presentó al mismo tiempo que la Estrategia “De la granja a la mesa”, la Comisión Von der Leyen parece ser más ecológica que sus predecesoras. ¿Pero esto también es bueno para los agricultores y los consumidores?

En el corazón de “De la granja a la mesa” está la reducción a la mitad de los pesticidas para 2030, incluidos los que la Autoridad Europea de Seguridad Alimentaria (EFSA) ha considerado seguros. Esto debería plantear preguntas a primera vista: si estos productos han sido seguros hasta ahora, ¿por qué deben reducirse? Si no se ha comprobado que sean seguros hasta ahora, ¿por qué no se han prohibido antes?

El objetivo de reducir a la mitad es incomprensible en este sentido. Si los productos fitosanitarios son fundamentalmente perjudiciales para la salud humana, el 50% restante es tan maligno como los que se eliminarán gradualmente.

La verdad es engañosa. Existe una discrepancia entre la retórica científica y política. La mayoría de los productos fitosanitarios establecidos han sido clasificados como seguros durante mucho tiempo, tanto por estudios independientes como por varias instituciones nacionales e internacionales.

Esto no ha impedido que muchos los cuestionen de todos modos, y con razón. Cambios en el conocimiento científico: quienes tienen nueva evidencia están obligados a presentarla en interés de la seguridad alimentaria. La ciencia no es una construcción estática grabada en piedra como una verdad única y absoluta.

Para los que se oponen a estos medios, no se trata de un debate científico, sino de una cuestión ideológica de principio. Las intervenciones en la naturaleza se ven con escepticismo, independientemente de su importancia para la seguridad alimentaria.

Estos activistas deben saber que no todo lo natural tiene que ser saludable: por ejemplo, los mohos naturales transportan aflatoxinas, que son responsables de una gran proporción de los casos de cáncer de hígado en el mundo. En África, el 40% de todos los casos de cáncer de hígado se atribuyen a las aflatoxinas.

Estos se han combatido con fungicidas durante muchos años, pero ahora se prohibirán cada vez más de estos productos.

A menudo es suficiente tener una conversación con un agricultor. Por el momento, la mayoría de la gente se queja de la falta de lluvia, pero a largo plazo, el catálogo cada vez más reducido de pesticidas permitidos es un problema real. Los insectos se comen las existencias, independientemente de lo que diga o regule la Comisión Europea.

Esto conduce a precios más altos en el supermercado, lo que es desastroso para muchas personas de bajos ingresos, especialmente en vista del desequilibrio económico actual. Este no es un problema principal para el comisario holandés de Cambio Verde, Frans Timmermans.

En un discurso ante la Comisión de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural del Parlamento Europeo el 7 de mayo, dijo que estamos acostumbrados a la comida barata durante demasiado tiempo y que necesitamos un cambio de paradigma en términos de agricultura sostenible.

Si los consumidores soportan las consecuencias de tales experimentos y los agricultores no tienen otra alternativa que enfrentar los obstáculos de los problemas naturales, ¿no es hora de repensar nuestra política agrícola?

Originally published here.

Το «Farm to Fork» είναι μια ουτοπική πολιτική

Το νέο σχέδιο της ΕΕ για βιώσιμα συστήματα τροφίμων κινδυνεύει να βλάψει τόσο τους καταναλωτές όσο και τους αγρότες, γράφει ο Bill Wirtz.

Το «Farm to Fork» είναι μια ουτοπική πολιτική

Μέχρι το 2030, η Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση επιδιώκει να επιτύχει ένα ευρύ φάσμα στόχων, σύμφωνα με τη στρατηγική «Farm to Fork» της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής. Από πολιτική άποψη, το έγγραφο αποτελεί την επιβεβαίωση μιας τάσης: οι πράσινες ιδέες αποκτούν σημασία στην καθημερινή πολιτική των Βρυξελλών και επιτυγχάνουν πολλούς από τους στόχους τους με αυτόν τον χάρτη πορείας.

Σύμφωνα με τη στρατηγική για τη βιοποικιλότητα, η οποία παρουσιάστηκε ταυτόχρονα με τη στρατηγική «Farm to Fork», η Επιτροπή Von der Leyen φαίνεται να είναι πιο πράσινη από τους προκατόχους της. Αλλά αυτό είναι επίσης καλό για τους αγρότες και τους καταναλωτές;

Στην καρδιά του «Farm to Fork» βρίσκεται το μισό των φυτοφαρμάκων έως το 2030, συμπεριλαμβανομένων εκείνων που έχουν βρεθεί ασφαλή από την Ευρωπαϊκή Αρχή για την Ασφάλεια των Τροφίμων (EFSA). Αυτό θα πρέπει να θέσει ερωτήσεις εκ πρώτης όψεως: εάν αυτά τα προϊόντα ήταν ασφαλή μέχρι τώρα, γιατί πρέπει να μειωθούν; Αν δεν έχουν βρεθεί ασφαλείς μέχρι τώρα, γιατί δεν έχουν απαγορευτεί νωρίτερα;

Ο στόχος της διχοτόμησης είναι ακατανόητος υπό αυτήν την έννοια. Εάν τα φυτοπροστατευτικά προϊόντα είναι θεμελιωδώς επιβλαβή για την ανθρώπινη υγεία, τότε το υπόλοιπο 50% είναι εξίσου κακοήθη με αυτά που θα καταργηθούν.

Η αλήθεια είναι δύσκολη. Υπάρχει μια διαφορά μεταξύ της επιστημονικής και της πολιτικής ρητορικής. Τα περισσότερα καθιερωμένα προϊόντα προστασίας των φυτών έχουν από καιρό χαρακτηριστεί ως ασφαλή, τόσο από ανεξάρτητες μελέτες όσο και από διάφορους εθνικούς και διεθνείς οργανισμούς.

Αυτό δεν εμπόδισε πολλούς να τις αμφισβητήσουν ούτως ή άλλως, και δικαίως. Οι επιστημονικές γνώσεις αλλάζουν: όσοι έχουν νέα στοιχεία υποχρεούνται να το παρουσιάσουν προς το συμφέρον της ασφάλειας των τροφίμων. Η επιστήμη δεν είναι ένα στατικό κατασκεύασμα που τίθεται σε πέτρα ως μοναδική και απόλυτη αλήθεια.

Για τους αντιπάλους αυτών των μέσων, δεν πρόκειται για επιστημονική συζήτηση, αλλά για ιδεολογικό ζήτημα αρχής. Οι παρεμβάσεις στη φύση αντιμετωπίζονται με σκεπτικισμό, ανεξάρτητα από το πόσο σημαντικές είναι για την επισιτιστική ασφάλεια.

Αυτοί οι ακτιβιστές θα πρέπει να γνωρίζουν ότι δεν είναι όλα τα φυσικά που πρέπει να είναι υγιή: για παράδειγμα, τα φυσικά καλούπια φέρουν αφλατοξίνες, οι οποίες είναι υπεύθυνες για ένα μεγάλο μέρος των περιπτώσεων καρκίνου του ήπατος στον κόσμο. Στην Αφρική, το 40% όλων των περιπτώσεων καρκίνου του ήπατος αποδίδεται σε αφλατοξίνες.

Αυτά έχουν καταπολεμηθεί με μυκητοκτόνα για πολλά χρόνια, αλλά όλο και περισσότερα από αυτά τα προϊόντα πρέπει τώρα να απαγορευτούν.

Συχνά αρκεί να συνομιλείς με έναν αγρότη. Προς το παρόν, οι περισσότεροι παραπονούνται για έλλειψη βροχής, αλλά μακροπρόθεσμα, ο συρρικνωμένος κατάλογος των επιτρεπόμενων φυτοφαρμάκων είναι ένα πραγματικό πρόβλημα. Τα έντομα καταναλώνουν αποθέματα, ανεξάρτητα από το τι λέει ή ρυθμίζει η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή.

Αυτό οδηγεί σε υψηλότερες τιμές στο σούπερ μάρκετ, το οποίο είναι καταστροφικό για πολλούς χαμηλού εισοδήματος άτομα, ιδίως ενόψει της τρέχουσας οικονομικής ανισορροπίας. Αυτό δεν αποτελεί πρωταρχικό πρόβλημα για τον Ολλανδό Επίτροπο για την Πράσινη Αλλαγή Frans Timmermans.

Σε ομιλία του στην Επιτροπή Γεωργίας και Ανάπτυξης της Υπαίθρου του Ευρωπαϊκού Κοινοβουλίου στις 7 Μαΐου, είπε ότι έχουμε συνηθίσει για φτηνά τρόφιμα για πολύ καιρό και ότι χρειαζόμαστε μια αλλαγή παραδείγματος όσον αφορά τη βιώσιμη γεωργία.

Εάν οι καταναλωτές φέρουν τις συνέπειες τέτοιων πειραμάτων, και οι αγρότες δεν έχουν άλλη εναλλακτική λύση αλλά να αντιμετωπίσουν τα εμπόδια των φυσικών προβλημάτων, δεν είναι καιρός να επανεξετάσουμε τη γεωργική μας πολιτική;

Originally published here.

$143 Million Cannabis Bust Confirms Diversion From Medical Program To Illegal Marke

$143 Million Cannabis Bust Confirms Diversion From Medical Program To Illegal Marke

On October 22nd, Ontario Provincial Police announced that they have seized $143 million worth of illegal cannabis in the last 4 months. In addition to that, police confirmed that the seized cannabis was a result of criminal networks exploiting Health Canada’s medical cannabis personal and designate production regime.

David Clement, Toronto based North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center responds: “The OPP’s report confirms was we speculated in April, which is that organized crime has weaseled its way into the permit process,” said Clement.

“In April, via Access to Information Requests, we were able to show that the personal and designate program produces 2.5 – 4.5 times more cannabis than the legal market. Unfortunately that excess cannabis is being diverted into the illegal market. Health Canada should review the permit process to ensure that criminal networks aren’t using it to fuel their nefarious activities.

“That said, the government shouldn’t target legitimate permit holders. Doing so would violate their constitutional rights, and would be exceptionally cruel given how marginalized this group has historically been. Rather than trying to arrest their way out of the problem, the government should focus on transitioning permit holder growers into the legal market. Making it easier for for excess cannabis to end up in the legal market, coupled with a Health Canada review for criminal activity, would go a long way in stamping out the black market,” said Clement.

Originally published here.

The Best and Worst States To Vape, Ranked

The Consumer Choice Center, a US-based consumer advocacy group, recently released a report looking at vape laws across the US. The group sought to rate different states on their current vape laws. The US Vaping Index, as the report is called, looked at several factors to determine which states were vaping-friendly, and which were not.

The report grouped the states into three different categories. They also assigned a grade to each state. The Index is a useful tool for vapers. It is a convenient way to understand the regulations in their state. It also provides vapers with a way to start campaigns to get anti-vaping laws and regulations overturned.

What The Index Did

The Consumer Choice Center looked at vaping regulations at both the state and federal level. But it compared how each state responded to federal regulations, mostly to see if that state furthered regulations against vaping or lowered them. The Index looked at three main categories to determine their rankings. These include:

  • Flavor bans
  • Taxation
  • Online sales

Based on each state’s performance in any of these categories, they were assigned a score by the Index. If a state performed well in all three categories they received a score of between 21-30 points, which gave that state an “A” grade. The other scoring categories were as follows:

  • 11-20 points = “C” grade
  • 0-10 points = “F” grade

The Index is a comprehensive report as every state, including Washington DC, was examined. The Index did not look at pending legislation, like Michigan’s potential flavor ban. It also did not look at the laws of individual counties within each state. Instead, it focused on laws that were passed (or not passed) by statehouses around the US.

How States Compared to the Federal Government

The federal government does not have the power to impose further taxes than the federal sales tax. The Index looked at which states did impose further taxes on the sale of vaping devices, e-liquids, and other flavored vape products in their states. Whether they did or did not ultimately affected that state’s final score.

The same criteria applied to the federal government’s flavor ban. The Index did not penalize states that had participated in the ban, as it was an edict of the federal government. But the authors of the Index did penalize states that either went further on the flavor ban (by expanding it) or made their flavor bans permanent.

The federal government does not regulate online sales in any state. The rules regulating online sales are strictly the purview of state lawmakers. Again, the researchers looked at which states had either:

  • Total bans on online sales (no points)
  • A few restrictions on online sales (5 points)
  • No restrictions on online sales (10 points)

Best and Worst States to Be a Vaper

The Index ranked all fifty states including Washington DC (but excluding Puerto Rico, and US territories like Guam). The rankings were as follows:

  • 25 states received a grade “A” ranking
  • 20 states received a grade “C” ranking
  • 6 states received a grade “F” ranking

The Grade “A” States

The states that received a grade “A” rating scored highest in all the important categories. The grade “A” states are a diverse group as well ranging from Alaska to Florida. They were also politically diverse. They were equal parts Republican-controlled and Democrat-controlled.

The Grade “A” states did not impose further flavor ban restrictions, like Florida. Nor did they make it difficult for vapers to buy their products. Vaping products were not overly taxed, beyond federal sales tax, and cost much less than in other states that heavily taxed e-cigarettes, even more than tobacco products.

The Grade “C” States

The Grade “C” states were also a mixed bag. They stretched from Washington state (which imposed a tax on vapor products in 2019) all the way to Maine, which has a 43% excise tax on vapor products. Not surprisingly, most of the states with a “C” grade were the same states that imposed new taxes on e-cigarettes last year.

The CDC cited 20 states that did so in 2019. These states either imposed taxes on the sale of e-cigarettes or each millimeter of e-liquid or “consumable material” used by vapers. One Grade “C” state, Utah, even went so far as to outright ban direct-to-consumer online vape sales in 2019. Only licensed vendors are allowed to make wholesale purchases online.

The Grade “F” States

The Grade “F” states, while small in number, also include the most populous state (California), as well as some of the wealthiest (New York and Massachusetts). California has led the way in all three categories – imposing new taxes on e-cigs, restricting online sales, as well as introducing new flavor bans.

New Jersey not only imposed a 30% tax on the sale of vapor products, but it also imposed a restrictive flavor ban that hurt small businesses small businesses. The Index did not look at the impact bans, taxes and restrictions had on businesses. It only focused on the consumer aspect of these laws and restrictions.

Closing Thoughts

The US Vaping Index is part of a larger effort by the Consumer Choice Center to relax or reverse vaping hysteria across the US, as well as around the world. The Center believes in the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as harm-reduction tools. But it also stresses the importance of giving consumers the freedom to access products they deem useful.

While the Index is not an official study and is not peer-reviewed, it is merely a way for vapers to understand the laws in their states. It helps vaping activists target the jurisdictions that are most anti-vaping and organize accordingly to either reverse or eliminate those laws through grass-roots activism.

Originally published here.

The Farm to Fork is too much of a political utopia

The EU’s new blueprint for sustainable food systems risks hurting both consumers and farmers, writes Bill Wirtz.

By 2030, the European Union is aiming to achieve a wide range of goals, according to the European Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy. From a political point of view, the document is the confirmation of a trend: green ideas are gaining in importance in Brussels’ day-to-day politics and are achieving many of their goals with this roadmap.

In line with the Biodiversity Strategy, which was presented at the same time as the “Farm to Fork” Strategy, the Von der Leyen Commission seems to be greener than its predecessors. But is this also good for farmers and consumers?

At the heart of “Farm to Fork” is the halving of pesticides by 2030, including those that have been found safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This should raise questions at first sight: if these products have been safe until now, why do they need to be reduced? If they have not been found to be safe so far, why have they not been banned earlier?

The target of halving is incomprehensible in this sense. If plant protection products are fundamentally harmful to human health, then the remaining 50% is just as malignant as those that will be phased out.

The truth is tricky. There is a discrepancy between scientific and political rhetoric. Most established crop protection products have long been classified as safe, both by independent studies and by several national and international institutions.

This has not prevented many from questioning them anyway, and rightly so. Scientific knowledge changes: those who have new evidence are obliged to present it in the interest of food safety. Science is not a static construct that is set in stone as a unique and absolute truth.

For opponents of these means, it is not a scientific debate, but rather an ideological question of principle. Interventions in nature are viewed with scepticism, regardless of how important they are for food security.

These activists should know that not everything natural has to be healthy: for example, naturally occurring moulds carry aflatoxins, which are responsible for a large proportion of the world’s liver cancer cases. In Africa, 40% of all liver cancer cases are attributed to aflatoxins.

These have been combated with fungicides for many years, but more and more of these products are now to be banned.

It is often enough to have a conversation with a farmer. At the moment, most people complain about a lack of rain, but in the long term, the shrinking catalogue of permitted pesticides is a real problem. Insects eat up stocks, regardless of what the European Commission says or regulates.

This leads to higher prices in the supermarket, which is disastrous for many low-income earners, especially in view of the current economic imbalance. This is not a primary problem for the Dutch Green Change Commissioner Frans Timmermans.

In a speech to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on 7 May, he said that we have been accustomed to cheap food for too long and that we need a paradigm shift in terms of sustainable agriculture.

If consumers bear the consequences of such experiments, and farmers are left with no alternative but to face the hurdles of natural problems, is it not time to rethink our agricultural policy?

Originally published here.

Study: Vaping Looks Like a Gateway Out of—Not Into—Smoking

In the United States, federal agencies and private organizations have pushed the narrative that the use of e-cigarettes threatens to get more people “hooked” on combustible products, leading to laws that have reduced the availability of non-smoke alternatives.

A new study from the United Kingdom, a country that recognizes and promotes vaping as a harm reduction intervention to smoking, found that most adult vapers buck the behavioral trajectory alleged across the Atlantic.

In 2020, more than half (58 percent) of UK adult vapers are ex-smokers—a proportion that’s been trending upwards since 2014. Meanwhile the proportion of adult vapers who are also current smokers has been on the decline—this year hitting 38 percent, compared with 65 percent six years ago, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health, a US-based organization aiming to end global harms of tobacco. Only 2 percent of the vapers were never-smokers.

Overall, 60 percent of the adult vapers identified their health as their “number one reason for taking up e-cigarettes.” That parallels findings that the top three specific reasons for vaping are to help with quitting cigarettes (30 percent), prevent relapse to smoking (20 percent) and reduce the number of cigarettes smoked (11 percent).

For Michael Landl, director of the Vapers’ World Alliance, the YouGov results suggest that “vaping is a gateway away from smoking.” After all, “e-cigarettes target tobacco consumers,” said Maria Chaplia, European affairs associate at the Consumer Choice Center, something she noted that “[m]ost anti-vaping arguments fail to take into account.”

“Just like sugar substitutes help people to reduce their sugar intake, e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking,” Chaplia continued. “We don’t blame sugar substitutes for increased sugar consumption, yet doing so for e-cigarettes seems to be acceptable.”

To be clear, vaping does not work for everyone as a so-called gateway out of smoking. Almost half of smokers have tried but no longer use e-cigarettes. Most commonly, 22 percent of them said it “did not feel like smoking a cigarette.” Two other reasons were that they didn’t quell cravings (16 percent) and that they had just wanted to try it (12 percent).

But when 8 million people, worldwide, die of smoking-related causes each year, any widespread exit route is hugely significant.

Originally published here.

The Pope should back off on anti-capitalism

Idea global capitalism has failed us is objectively wrong and so is caveat that economic gains have been shared unequally

According to Pope Francis, capitalism is a “perverse” global economic system that consistently keeps the poor on the margins while enriching the few.

According to Pope Francis, global capitalism has failed the world. In his latest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All), he writes that “neo-liberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle.’ ” According to His Holiness, capitalism is a “perverse” global economic system that consistently keeps the poor on the margins while enriching the few. The Pope may be the Vicar of Christ on Earth for Catholics, but he couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to economics.

In the past 40 years, global capitalism has alleviated poverty at a rate never seen before. In 1980, over 40 per cent of people then alive lived in absolute poverty — defined as an income of less than $2 a day when adjusted for inflation. Fast forward to today, after half a century of globalization and “neoliberalism,” fewer than 10 per cent of people live in poverty.

China and India, which were once among the worst-off countries, have benefited immensely from a more globalized world. Since 1980, China has seen life expectancy rise by 13 per cent, infant survival by 80 per cent, inflation-adjusted income per person by 230 per cent, food supply per person by 44 per cent, and mean years of education by 49 per cent. India’s progress has charted that same path, as life expectancy has risen 23 per cent, infant survival 66 per cent, income per person 487 per cent, food supply 23 per cent and mean years of education 166 per cent.

To say these growth patterns are astounding would be an understatement. In fact, this wholesale reduction in poverty is so large it dwarfs the gains made during the Industrial Revolution, possibly even during our species’ domestication of agriculture over 10,000 years ago. If the Pope thinks this is failure, it’s hard to imagine what success would look like.

Critics of global capitalism might argue that poverty reduction is well and good but the progress has been unevenly shared. To a certain extent that is true but that gap is much smaller than most people realize.

Has the significant growth in the developing world come at the expense of workers in Canada and the United States? Hardly. Trade isn’t a zero-sum game, as the data confirm. Since 1980, Canada has experienced significant, albeit more modest gains on most of the measures mentioned. Since 1980 life expectancy has risen nine per cent in this country, infant survival 58 per cent, inflation-adjusted income per person 64 per cent, food supply 18 per cent and mean years of education 21 per cent. Those all represent substantial improvements.

But what about income inequality within Canada? Populists on the left and right will argue that the Pope is right and that globalization has exacerbated inequality here at home. That is the prevailing narrative these days. Every week we see headlines decrying the massive wealth of innovators like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. But the idea that Canada has become less equal as a result isn’t true either.

A country’s Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) shows how equal or unequal a country’s income or wealth distribution is. Its value is zero if everyone has the same income or wealth and one if only one person receives all of the country’s income or owns all its wealth. Although the Canada’s Gini coefficient for after-tax income has fluctuated, today it is about the same as it was in 1976, the first year for which Statistics Canada has data. In 1976, Canada’s after-tax Gini coefficient was .300. In 2018 it was .303 — virtually unchanged. Canada’s commitment to open markets and free trade, coupled with our strong social safety net, has allowed our country to experience economic growth without run-away inequality. People who suggest otherwise just don’t have fact on their side.

The idea that global capitalism has failed us is objectively wrong and so is the caveat that economic gains have been shared unequally. Whether we call it global capitalism or neoliberalism, the world is a better place because of it. We have all benefited from a more interconnected world. The rising tide has lifted all boats.

Originally published here.

Can things invent things? Do algorithms dream of owning patents?

In a new world of AI, and in light of AI policy being developed in a myriad of areas, we must not forget to determine how to reward and encourage innovation that derives from AI sources….

The first patent in human history was awarded in England in 1331, and in the 15th Century, many European nations began to use them, such as Florence who granted a patent for a marble carrying barge. The inventor of this vehicle was the first owner of an idea. In the 18th Century led by the United Kingdom and soon others such as the United States what we now understand as the patent system formed, and gave inventors incentives to disclose to the world their inventions in return for a monopoly period.

The ever-evolving legal framework governing the protection of inventions has played a crucial role in developing medicines and novel technologies across sectors. Modern patent law permits software to be patented. This has led to a revolution in innovation and catapulted humanity into the age of the knowledge society. The next frontier is to determine whether the owner of software or author of an algorithm can own the inventions by those electronic products.

Machine learning and the broader term artificial intelligence (AI) are the hopefuls of tech companies striving for more automation, tailored solutions, and faster research. While companies invest nearly 50 billion US Dollars on AI, there’s still a lack of clarity on how to protect the fruits of their inventions. Current patent law states fairly straightforward that inventions can only be made by humans. Bruce Love of the Financial Times describes this as ‘Things cannot invent things.’

Current patent law does not allow corporations to be the inventors of things but allows them to own patents. The challenge of AI inventing new ideas, technologies, and even drugs is that international patent law did not foresee that anyone but humans would have the actual cognitive capacity to create something inventive, and only humans would need recognition in a system designed to reward such ingenuity.

Recently, this focus on the human inventor has been tested: In 2018, several patent applications were filed in the name of Dr. Stephen Thaler for inventions purportedly invented by an artificial intelligence (AI) named DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience). On the grounds that DABUS independently conceived of the inventions, and that no human inventor could be identified, the applications list DABUS as the sole inventor.

Formal inventorship requirements vary across different jurisdictions, but the USPTO, the EPO and the UK IPO have all rejected the possibility that DABUS can be named as an inventor on the patent applications, reaching the common consensus that, under current legislation, an inventor must be a ‘natural person’ for the purposes of a patent application.

The question of whether an AI can be an inventor is not merely academic, but part of a broader point about AI inventions and their commercial reality. Being an inventor conveys certain legal rights, and is integral to the concept of patent ownership.  Under the UK Patents Act 1977, the right to grant of a patent belongs first to the inventor.  An AI has no legal personality and if it invents then no one has a right to the invention as a patent.

Whether the law requires an update is a question that has garnered increasing attention in with the UK government opening a consultation on the matter in September 2020, and a third WIPO session on Intellectual Property and AI scheduled for November 2020.  The level of interest is understandable when we consider the history of patents, the public policy rationale and the ‘patent bargain,’ which grants a 20-year patent monopoly to an inventor for two reasons: (i) To have inventors share what they learn, so others coming after them can build on their ideas; and (ii) to reward investment in research.  As we have seen, the starting place for the grant of a patent has so far been the human inventor, the ‘natural person,’ albeit a company can then own and exploit the patent.  However, as the DABUS cases show, the questions we need to be asking now are: Does it matter if there is no human inventor?  What does it mean for investment and transparent sharing of learning, if a company cannot obtain a patent because the inventor was an AI? 

These questions may not seem that pressing at the moment, so far there has been no outcry that businesses are failing to obtain patents because of arguments concerning AI inventors.  However, an inability for a company to see a return on its investment in research is likely to change the business interest in these questions quickly. If this happens, policy makers will have to consider the patent bargain, and grapple with questions such as: If patents for AI inventions generated by AI are not available, will businesses stop publicly sharing their knowledge and/or struggle to obtain investment, and is that a problem? Does the cost of development of using AI warrant patent protection, or are inventions generated by is AI based on a comparatively cheap form of research that shouldn’t be afforded the same protection as other inventions? Is financial investment in research worthy of policy protection at all, or is it the human endeavour which we seek to reward? In particular, policy makers will have to decide what the purpose of the patent system is and whether, on balance, there is a sufficient policy reason to change it.

With humanity being at the brink of a new age and about to unleash a massive acceleration in our innovative potential thanks to artificial intelligence development, we must ask if it is time to update our patent laws. Without reflecting the fact that machines and algorithms have inventive capabilities we might miss out on investments and innovations that can elevate all of mankind. Think of algorithms that might only need days to find a vaccine for a new virus, smarter law enforcement methods, or programs that help us understand interstellar travel better than we could have ever imagined.  

In a new world of AI, and in light of AI policy being developed in a myriad of areas, we must not forget to determine how to reward and encourage innovation that derives from AI sources.

Originally published here.

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