Scoop: Feedback: GE, GE, GE… & GE

Published: Wed 31 Oct 2001 09:40 AM
In this edition: It Ain’t Meme, Babe… - It’s Only Natural – It Just Ain’t Natural – Les We GE
It Ain’t Meme, Babe…
Re: Steve McKinlay
Dear Sir, Please beware of people who quote Richard Dawkins...This is the man who wrote 'The Selfish Gene', where he claims genes really rule the world, operating to their own ends. People are mere pawns who don't even control their own thoughts. Instead, our minds are controlled by 'memes' - ideas with lives of their own that colonise our helpless brains...And this is presented as saner than the Greens' policy of 'don't use it until it's proven safe'?!
Also, please beware of writers who refer to those who are dubious about the safety of GE as 'a squealing minority'. We're not squealing, and we're not in the minority any more...Please take a reality check here!
Yours, Hilary Phillips
It’s Only Natural
If only politicians would read (and think) before they spoke. There are a great many issues relating to genetic engineering that require a scientific response, unfortunately it seems too few of our politicians are able to engage the debate at this level let alone give credence to any kind of logical argument. The latest misinformed palaver to come out of the Beehive regarding the debate is from the Christian Heritage Party, press release dated 24 October.
As spokesperson for agriculture I would have expected Grant Bradfield to have known better.
Bradfield’s 2 cents worth includes the following recommendations;
1. That transgenics be banned from agriculture.
2. That we uphold our clean green image.
3. That efforts be made to maintain the genetic diversity of our farming species.
4. That mandatory testing of GE organisms for negative traits be compulsory before their release.
Transgenics should be banned according to Bradfield, because it “obviously is not a natural process…”. I wonder what kind of process Bradfield considers pesticide and herbicide usage, artificial selection, and fertiliser application to be? I’d suggest to Bradfield that there isn’t a whole lot left in our world that is truly natural, unless of course you are living in a cave, gathering nuts and berries and hunting wild animals. Transgenic research might not be “natural” but nor are breast implants, artificial hips, false teeth, heart surgery or growing hybrid roses – should we ban these also?
There are challenges in transgenic research these involve among other aspects, pleiotropic interactions between genes and environment. Pleiotropy is the potential for transgene insertions to affect not only the target trait but interact with other genes thereby expressing proteins that involve secondary unintended outcomes. However, the risks need to be put in context. Since Mendel plant breeders have modified crops and flowers by selecting for desired traits by hybridization. This has evolved many organisms with increased pest resistance, larger brighter flowers or higher yields. This process effectively introduces massive amounts of unknown genes from the weedier species. GE crops in this sense are no more risky than traditionally developed crops.
Bradfield lauds “There are tremendous opportunities to increase production but also major pitfalls.” The issue of “increased crop production” is largely a red herring in the GE debate. The higher the volume of produce generally the lower the cost. Farmers in NZ just recently, it was reported, ploughed crops into the ground due to oversupply.
Increased production of food crops is not by a long shot the primary goal of genetic engineering. A critical starting point for the development of drugs is the cloning and expression of the recombinant protein of interest. This is often achieved by picking an organism (usually the E.coli bacterium) that is genetically engineered such that it expresses the desired protein. Transgenic plants have been engineered for large scale production of anti cancer antibodies, AIDs therapies and other pharmaceuticals. Using transgenic animals and cloning techniques bio-tech research groups have produced a variety of therapeutic recombinant proteins including enzymes and enzyme inhibitors that have been used in treatments for cancer to serious burns (see for some interesting case studies).
I’m sure no one disputes Bradfields second point, that we protect New Zealand’s clean green image. However this holds across all industries and sectors right down to the individual. There are many industries in NZ that create the potential for ecological disaster, from shipping to energy generation, from paper milling to waste and sewage management. New Zealand’s clean green image is everybody’s responsibility. The suggestion that genetic engineering it is incompatible with clean and green is simply a political opinion as is the opinion that New Zealand is in fact clean and green to start with.
Bradfields third point, that efforts be made to maintain genetic diversity in farming species is laughable. Firstly there is little or no “genetic diversity” in agriculturally grown produce (certainly not in respect of any “natural” plant). The process of artificial selection eliminates diversity, that is its purpose, hence the requirement to use pesticides and herbicides. Genetic diversity ensures survival during times of adverse environmental conditions. Most plant crops are the closest you can get to clones, any variation is eliminated summarily. Genetic engineering will have no more bearing on genetic diversity than artificial selection, our current method of genetically altering food crops.
Bradfields point, mandatory testing of GE organisms for negative traits. Isn’t a shame someone didn’t think of this before introducing gorse as an attractive hedging or possums in order to develop a fur trade industry. Oh, that’s right they were natural products!
Steve McKinlay
It Just Ain’t Natural
Re: Scoop Feedback: Three Readers Share Their Thoughts
I disagree with some of the comments in the above article. The correspondent equates natural selection which has produced our domesticated plants and animals with genetic modification. Natural selection is the process of selecting the best strain of plant or animal stock to suit our purposes. Genetic modification or genetic engineering is a scientific process which does not occur in nature which involves introducing foreign genetic material into the host plant or animal. A number of "scientific breakthroughs" in recent times have been detrimental to our health and environment for example nuclear energy and DDT.
I believe we must take every precaution with genetic engineering. There is no understanding of long-term effects. The proponents of genetic engineering have an ulterior motive since it is a potentially lucrative industry. This should make us wary because when there is a profit to be seen the truth takes a back seat.
Alan Liefting
Les We GE
Dear Selwyn,
Re: The Les Mills Pro-GE Advertorial Mystery
These "Adverts/articles" have been running in the Les Mills Fitness section for quite some time. I have answered at least three in the local papers. We have been informed that this last one (my reply below) was the brain child of Gary Mallet. It would not come as a surprise to me to discover the ACT party were behind such an anonymous ruse.
Robert Anderson
The Editor
Waikato Times
30 October 2001
Dear Editor,
"Swiss report gives GM food the tick"
25 October 2001
Gary Mallett
Either this article was inadequately researched or written with the sole purpose of misinforming readers. It would be more valuable to have factual material rather than such propaganda. This report has now been touted by several trying to substantiate their claims that GE food is now ok. This "Scientific Committee" was put together, and supported by, giant agrichemical and pharmaceutical and companies(1).
There are also several points which need clarification both in Gary Mallett's article and also in the report itself.
· I seriously doubt that importers would buy products from animals which have fed on plants of unknown qualities. Sri Lanka's recent rejection of our cheese should act as a salutary warning.
· It is seriously misleading to say "Field not confirm risks.." Of course not. Research has not been done on the impact of GE-crops on soils. Research on the ecosystem substantiates concerns.
· The Royal Commission's recommendations(2) are that ERMA carry out this very necessary research; obviously this to be BEFORE release of GMO's, not after.
· Transgenic crops are certainly not proving successful for farmers(3), and they cannot be grown along-side organic, as many scientists pointed out.
· Misinformation concerning dangerous bacteria such as E-coli in organic food is a ruse perpetrated by unscrupulous members of the biotech fraternity. This is also false.(4)
There is a constant attempt by the ACT party and others to represent the GE-debate as a Green's versus science. This is not true. The whole issue is a scientific one between those indentured to the industry - looking more to profit than consumer safety - and scientists who are not. Any reader can access the international scientists web site and check for themselves. It suits politicians to use this as a scapegoat and an election issue. It is neither.
In conclusion, perhaps Mr Mallett may be willing to explain why, at a recent lunch of UK Royal Society members, a notice proclaimed, "No GM food served here" or why the delegates of the previous APEC meeting in Auckland made a point of asking our Chefs not to use GE-food.
Dr Robert Anderson
Member of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics
REFS 1. Internutrition, the Swiss research group in Zurich whose sponsors include Novartis AG, Nestle SA and Monsanto. BLOOMBERG NEWS 2. RCGM Recommendations 6.12 and 7.1 3. Prof Clark, E Ann "Ten Reasons why farmers should think twice before growing GE crops" University of Guelph( 4. (1). Public Health Laboratory Services (PHLS) found no evidence for the presence in organic food of four key microbes - listeria, salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli 0157. "Over the last few years the size of the market for organic food has grown dramatically, and so has interest in how "safe" organic foods are... We did not find these potentially dangerous organisms in any of the 3,200 samples we tested...- Dr Robert Mitchell, PHLS tested more than 3,000 samples of uncooked, ready-to-eat organic vegetables for the presence of disease-causing micro-organisms. The researchers found that 99.5% of the samples were of "sound quality" UK May and June 2000.
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