(en) Part 1, What's wrong with GE food? by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Mon, 29 Dec 1997 08:25:49 +0000

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Fri, 26 Dec 1997 11:59:57 -0800 (PST) From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG> To: "anon.list-members":; Subject: Part 1, What's wrong with GE food? by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (fwd)

I don't have a source address for this one - but the ideas seem sound - add weight to my opinion that each new creation ought to be locked-down until it has been proved safe - with the burden on the creator.

This involves the usual stuff about causality - those who can profit from new creations prefer to do so UNTIL the product is proved to be harmful. MichaelP ============================================= Subject: Part 1, What's wrong with GE food? by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

What's wrong with genetically engineered food?

I offer the following information. If this is something you have seen already, I apologize. I am a new subscriber. I am astonished that there is so little public interest in a subject that reaches into every kitchen cupboard in the world.

------David Sutherland


Dr Mae-Wan Ho Editorial introduction:

Genetic engineering biotechnology is inherently hazardous. It could lead to disasters far worse than those caused by accidents to nuclear installations. In the words of the author, "genes can replicate indefinitely, spread and combine." For this reason the release of a genetically engineered micro-organism that is lethal to humans could well spell the end of humanity. Unfortunately the proponents of this terrifying vtechnology share a genetic determinist mindset that leads them to reject the inherently dangerous nature of their work. What is particularly worrying at first sight is the irresistible power of the large corporations which are pushing this technology.

Suddenly, the brave new world dawns. Suddenly, as the millennium is drawing to a lose, men and women in the street are waking up to the realization that genetic engineering biotechnology is taking over every aspect of their daily lives. They re caught unprepared for the avalanche of products arriving, or soon to arrive, in their supermarkets: rapeseed oil, soybean, maize, sugar beet, squash, cumber ... It started as a mere trickle less than three years ago - the BST-milk from cows fed genetically engineered bovine growth hormone to boost milk yield, and the tomato genetically engineered to prolong shelf-life. They had provoked so much debate and opposition; as did indeed, the genetic screening tests for an increasing number of diseases. Surely, we wouldn't, and shouldn't, be rushed headlong into the brave new world.

Back then, in order to quell our anxiety, a series of highly publicized "consensus conferences" and "public consultations" were carried out. committees were set up by many European governments to consider the risks and the ethics, and the debates continued. The public were, however, only dimly aware of critics who deplored "tampering with nature" and "scrambling the genetic code of species" by introducing human genes into animals, and animal genes into vegetables. Warnings of unexpected effects on agriculture and biodiversity, of the dangers of irreversible "genetic pollution", warnings of genetic discrimination and the return of eugenics, as genetic screening and prenatal diagnosis became widely available, were marginalized. So too were condemnations of the immorality of the "patents on life" - transgenic animals, plants and seeds, taken freely by geneticists of developed countries from the Third World, as well as human genes and human cell lines from indigenous peoples.

By and large, the public were lulled into a false sense of security, in the belief that the best scientists and the new breed of "bioethicists" in the country were busy considering the risks associated with the new biotechnology and the ethical issues raised. Simultaneously, glossy information pamphlets and reports, which aimed at promoting "public understanding" of genetic "modification" were widely distributed by the biotech industries and their friends, and endorsed by government scientists. "Genetic modification", we are told, is simply the latest in a "seamless" continuum of biotechnologies practiced by human beings since the dawn of civilization, from bread and wine-making, to selective breeding. The significant advantage of genetic modification is that it is much more "precise", as genes can be individually isolated and transferred as desired.

Thus, the possible benefits promised to humankind are limitless. There is something to satisfy everyone. For those morally concerned about inequality and human suffering, it promises to feed the hungry with genetically modified crops able to resist pests and diseases and to increase yields. For those who despair of the present global environmental deterioration, it promises to modify strains of bacteria and higher plants that can degrade toxic wastes or mop up heavy metals (contaminants). For those hankering after sustainable agriculture, it promises to develop Greener, more environmentally friendly transgenic crops that will reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

That is not all. It is in the realm of human genetics that the real revolution will be wrought. Plans to uncover the entire genetic blueprint of the human being would, we are told, eventually enable geneticists to diagnose, in advance, all the diseases that an individual will suffer in his or her lifetime, even before the individual is born, or even as the egg is fertilized in vitro. A whole gamut of specific drugs tailored to individual genetic needs can be designed to cure all diseases. The possibility of immortality is dangling from the horizons as the "longevity gene" is isolated.

There are problems, of course, as there would be in any technology. The ethical issues have to be decided by the public. (By implication, the science is separate and not open to question.) The risks will be minimized. (Again, by implication, the risks have nothing to do with the science.) After all, nothing in life is without risk. Crossing roads is a risk. The new biotechnology (i.e. genetic engineering biotechnology) is under very strict government regulation, and the government's scientists and other experts will see to it that neither the consumer nor the environment will be unduly harmed.

Then came the relaxation of regulation on genetically modified products, on grounds that over-regulation is compromising the "competitiveness" of the industry, and that hundreds of field trials have demonstrated the new biotechnology to be safe. And, in any case, there is no essential difference between transgenic plants produced by the new biotechnology and those produced by conventional breeding methods. (One prominent spokesperson for the industry even went as far as to refer to the varieties produced by conventional breeding methods, retrospectively, as "transgenics".(1) This was followed, a year later, by the avalanche of products approved, or seeking, approval marketing, for which neither segregation from non-genetically engineered produce nor labeling is required. One is left to wonder why, if the products are as safe and wonderful as claimed, they could not be segregated, as organic produce has been for years, so that consumers are given the choice of buying what they want.

A few days later, as though acting on cue, the Association of British Insurers announced that, in future, people applying for life policies will have to divulge the results of any genetic tests they have taken. This is seen, by many, as a definite move towards open genetic discrimination. A few days later, a scientist of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh announced that they had successfully "cloned" a sheep from a cell taken from the mammary gland of an adult animal. "Dolly", the cloned lamb, is now seven months old. Of course it took nearly 300 trials to get one success, but no mention is made of the vast majority of the embryos that failed. Is that ethical? If it can be done on sheep, does it mean it can be done for human beings? Are we nearer to cloning human beings? The popular media went wild with heroic enthusiasm at one extreme to the horror of Frankenstein at the other. Why is this work only coming to public attention now, when the research has actually been going on for at least 10 years?

to be continued..... >>>>>>>>>>

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