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Here is an excellent summary, prepared by Dr. John Fagan, of the toxic tryptophan incident in 1989, when 37 North Americans died, and at least 1500 were permanently disabled after ingesting genetically engineered tryptophan.
JOHN B. FAGAN, PH.D.
Food supplements, such as amino acids, are often manufactured by fermentative processes, in which large quantities of bacteria are grown in vats, and the food supplement is extracted from the bacteria and purified. One amino acid, tryptophan has been produced in this way for many years. In the late 1980's the company Showa Denko K.K. decided to use genetic engineering to accelerate and increase the efficiency of tryptophan production. They genetically engineered bacteria by inserting several genes that caused the bacteria to express certain enzymes at much higher levels than normal and to express other enzymes that are not normally present in the original bacteria.
The enzymes expressed in these bacteria through genetic engineering altered cellular metabolism substantially, leading to greatly increased production of tryptophan. These genetically engineered bacteria were immediately used in commercial production of tryptophan, and the product placed on the market in the USA in 1988.
According to US law, Showa Denko was allowed to sell the tryptophan produced in genetically engineered bacteria without safety testing because they and other companies had been selling tryptophan produced in non-genetically engineered bacteria for years without ill effects. It was considered that the method of production (whether via natural or genetically engineered bacteria) was immaterial and that, since tryptophan had already been shown to be safe, the new material needed no testing. In effect they considered it substantially equivalent to the tryptophan that had been sold for many years.
This product was placed on the market, and within a few months it caused the deaths of 37 people and caused 1500 more to be permanently disabled (1). It took months to discover that the poisoning was due to toxin present in the tryptophan produced using Showa Denko's genetically engineered bacteria (1, 2). One factor that contributed to this time delay was the fact that the product was not labeled to distinguish it from tryptophan produced through conventional methods.
The disease caused by this toxic product was called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome or EMS, because the initial symptoms were elevated numbers of blood cells called eosinophils and myalgia (muscle pain). Over time many other symptoms developed in patients that led in some cases to death and in many other cases to serious long term disability. These symptoms included paralysis and neurological problems, painful swelling and cracking of the skin, heart problems, memory and cognitive deficits, headaches, extreme light sensitivity, fatigue, and heart problems (3,4).
It was later shown that the tryptophan produced in genetically engineered bacteria contained one or more highly toxic contaminants. The most prominent of these, called EBT, was identified as a dimerization product of tryptophan. It comprised less than 0.1% of the total weight of the product, yet that was enough to kill people (1). Based on fundamental chemical and biochemical principles, scientists have deduced that this compound was probably generated when the concentration of tryptophan within the bacteria reached such high levels that tryptophan molecules or their precursors began to react with each other (5). Thus, it appears that genetic manipulationsled to increased tryptophan biosynthesis, which led to increased cellular levels of tryptophan and precursors. At these high levels, these compounds reacted with themselves, generating a deadly toxin. Being chemically quite similar to tryptophan, this toxin was not easily separated from tryptophan, and contaminated the final commercial product at levels that were highly toxic to consumers.
Significant areas of ambiguity remain even today regarding this incident. Showa Denko has never released the genetically engineered bacterial strain that was used to produce the toxic tryptophan. Thus, independent scientists have been unable to study its characteristics and understand precisely the source of the toxin. Showa Denko claim that they destroyed all stocks of the bacteria when the toxicity problems first began to emerge (2). Such research would not only have provided data useful in assessment of the risks of genetically engineered organisms, but it would also have been useful to victims of tryptophan toxicity and their families, who eventually filed suits totaling over two billion dollars against this company.
From the research that has been done (reviewed in ref. 1), these facts are clear: (a) Batches of tryptophan produced by only one company, Showa Denko, were toxic. (b) These batches of tryptophan contained the contaminant EBT and possibly other compounds that are highly toxic and give rise to EMS-like symptoms when fed to rats. (c) Showa Denko had used genetically engineered bacteria in the fermentation process by which the toxic batches of tryptophan had been produced. (d) Showa Denko had also cut corners in the purification procedure used in preparing most of the toxic batches of tryptophan, reducing the amount of activated charcoal used in filtering the tryptophan from 20 to 10 kilograms per batch.
Unfortunately, the body of published research (more than 200 studies) does not definitively establish whether toxicity resulted primarily from the use of genetically engineered bacteria or from cutting corners in the purification procedure. The status of this question is expressed in the following quote from Science (2):
"Regardless of the legal details, the crux of the EMS case remains the issue of whether the disease is, in fact, due to genetic engineering. At the same time Showa Denko began using its new, genetically engineered bacillus (known as Strain V), it also reduced the amount of activated carbon used to filter the fermentation broth from 20 to 10 kilograms per batch-suggesting that inadequate filtration might have allowed impurities to pass through."
"That possibility is discounted by scientists at Showa Denko, says Richard Hinds, a Washington lawyer who represents the Japanese firm. The amount of powdered carbon used for filtration had varied before without ill effect, and it was not unusual for it to dip this low, Hinds says."
Genetic engineering is also implicated by two additional facts:
(a) The toxin has never been shown to be present in the original, non-genetically engineered bacteria. If the non-genetically engineered bacteria do not produce the toxin, it would seem likely that genetic engineering conferred the ability to produce the toxin.
(b) Tryptophan produced by other manufacturers, who have been using non-genetically engineered bacteria, has never led to outbreaks of EMS, even though these manufacturers are also likely to cut corners in their purification procedures from time to time, as Showa Denko did.
Based on these points, we conclude that it is highly likely that genetic engineering was the determining factor in generating this toxin.
...........................................................................Richard Wolfson, PhD
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Date: 24 Dec 1997 01:13:20 -0600
Subject: NCAMP/OFMA Press Release
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides,
701 E Street, Washington, DC 20003,
202-543-5450, (fax) 202-543-4791, email@example.com FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cissy Bowman, OFMA or Jay Feldman, NCAMP
WASHINGTON, DC (December 23, 1997) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program Proposed Rule is currently under review by the Organic Farmers Marketing Association and the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. Severe discrepancies exist between the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program Proposed Rule released for public comment December 16, 1997.
The organic production and distribution community, which now encompasses a multitude of small to moderate size private enterprises, has grown at a rate of 23% per year for the last 5 years without any government support or encouragement and is now a 3.5 billion dollar industry.
Demand is skyrocketing because organic farming stands for respect of the environment, acknowledges the consumer-producer partnership, provides for humane care of livestock and protects the farmers and farm workers who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs.
There were some positive proposals in the Rule such as the inclusion of organic fibers as a production sector and the process for establishing equivalency of foreign organic certification programs. But those attributes do not diminish the error of a Proposed Rule with little substantive content on, or guidelines for, organic farming and handling operation plans and such basic organic farming necessities like legume based crop rotations.
The rapidly expanding community of organic farmers, consumers, certification agents and handlers have expressed shock and horror upon reading the USDA's Proposed Organic Rules.
The USDA's Proposed Organic Rule violates:
Jay Feldman Executive Director of National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticide, an organization representing consumers, farmers, environmentalists and labor, called the USDA proposal "a disappointing effort that will have the effect of undermining organic farming practices, environmental protection and consumer support for the organic label in the market place. Rewriting this Rule to conform to the Organic Foods Production Act is of critical importance to all those concerned about pesticide contamination and poisoning, environmental protection and safe food."
Cissy Bowman, certified organic farmer and Secretary of OFMA said, "If the proposed Rule is adopted I will feel that the organic label will be terribly misleading and I will be selling the public a false bill of goods. Implementing the Proposed Organic Rule as is, without radically rewriting it so that it conforms to the OFPA, will result in the devastation of consumer trust in the term organic. In response to this deplorable organic Rule, consumers and organic farmers must form a solid, active and unyielding coalition to implement OFPA properly."
There is 90 days for the public to provide email, postal or fax comment. Copies of the December 16, 1997 Federal Register contain the Proposed Rule, frequently available at public libraries. The Proposed Organic Rule can be bought by calling 202-512-1800 or it can be accessed at www.ams.usda.gov/nop
The Organic Farmers Marketing Association is now preparing a side by side comparison of the Proposed Rule with the Organic Foods Production Act. Copies of the Proposed Rule, side by side and other relevant papers are available on the OFMA website at http://www.iquest.net/ofma/sdbysd.htm
I apologize if you find this a little upsetting, but perhaps it will spur more people into expressing concern about genetically engineered foods and other genetic engineering products, so that we can get them off the market. Thanks to Patricia Dines at Community Action Publications PDines@compuserve.com for forwarding this. Richard
Wed, Dec 17, 1997
© Copyright 1997 United Press International. All rights reserved. The following news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of United Press International.
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- A pair of University of Wisconsin researchers say they've been studying a strain of bacteria that kills pests by exploding their bodies.
Toxicology professor Richard ffrench-Constant told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, "This makes 'Alien' look like a cakewalk," in reference to the horrific sci-fi movie and its sequels.
The bacterial alternative to chemical pesticides invades an insect. As the pest begins to die, it starts glowing with blue light and then explodes, releasing hundreds of thousands of parasites that continue to eat its tissue.
Along with colleague David Bowen, ffrench-Constant is presenting his research today at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Nashville.
The researchers have been studying Photorhabdus luminescens, which kills its victims with chemical toxins.
DowElanco, which is part of Dow Chemical Co., and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation have a joint patent on the bacterium's toxin and the genes, and DowElanco plans to start selling field corn capable of producing the toxin within five years.
Photorhabdus luminescens is incubated in the roundworm, which latches onto a victim and gnaws a hole. Once inside an insect's bloodstream, it begins to release the bacterium, which then starts destroying cells on the lining of the insect's gut.
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed for research and educational purposes only. **
...........................................................................Richard Wolfson, PhD
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Date: 26 Dec 1997 14:02:19 -0600
Here is the subtle way in which the nation's PRESS brainwashes Americans into accepting the use of genetically engineered foods. The New York Times food writer, Marian Burros, in her most recent cllumn, EATING WELL (Wednesday, December 24, page F5) wrote:
"Tomatoes are the major dietary source of lycopine (pronounced LIKE-o-peen), the most potent of a group of nutrients called carotenoids, which include beta carotine. Like beta carotene, lycopine is converted in the body into vitamine A, which promotes healthy food and good vision."
Burros defines the health benefits, and before getting on to her recipes, subtly inserts:
"The tomatoes richest in lycopine are those grown specifically for canning of processed food. AND NOW, SCIENTISTS HAVE GENETICALLY ENGINEERED A TOMATO WITH TWICE THE NORMAL LEVEL OF LYCOPINE."
She then gives us her recipe for tomato-meat sauce.
Interesting how the psyche of a culture is influenced in such subtle ways.
Marian Burros, by the way, was a champion against the genetically engineered bovine hormone, rbGH. She mysteriously stopped writing about the hormone and controversy. I discovered that (what a coincidence) her son, Michael, received a high profile job with the GAO as spokesman for rbGH just at the time that Burros decided not to write about it!
I cannot forget nor forgive this sell-out!
Robert "NOTMILKMAN" Cohen http://www.notmilk.com
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 14:01:43 -0700
From: email@example.com (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: What's wrong with GE food? by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
URL (Website) of the whole essay:
My apologies for the reposting. We have many new subscribers from the Ban-gef list moving over to this list in a merging of forces. Many have heard about the brilliant Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and his writings, but this is the first most of us have actually seen Dr. Mae-Wan Ho's writing on the dangers of GE food. I want to bring the new subscribers up to speed on this important essay offered by David Sutherland, a new subscriber.
I offer the following information. I am astonished that there is so little public interest in a subject that reaches into every kitchen cupboard in the world.
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
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 technology 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?
The public are totally unprepared. They are being plunged headlong, against their will, into the brave new genetically engineered world, in which giant, faceless multinational corporations will control every aspect of their lives, from the food they can eat, to the baby they can conceive and give birth to.
I should, right away, dispel the myth that genetic engineering is just like conventional breeding techniques. It is not. Genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using the artificially constructed vectors to multiply copies of genes, and in many cases, to carry and smuggle genes into cells. Once inside cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host genome. In this way, transgenic organisms are made carrying the desired transgenes. The insertion of foreign genes into the host genome has long been known to have many harmful and fatal effects including cancer; and this is borne out by the low success rate of creating desired transgenic organisms. Typically, a large number of eggs or embryos have to be injected or infected with the vector to obtain a few organisms that successfully express the transgene.
The most common vectors used in genetic engineering biotechnology are a chimaeric recombination of natural genetic parasites from different sources, including viruses causing cancers and other diseases in animals and plants, with their pathogenic functions 'crippled', and tagged with one or more antibiotic resistance 'marker' genes, so that cells transformed with the vector can be selected. For example, the vector most widely used in plant genetic engineering is derived from a tumor-inducing plasmid carried by the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. In animals, vectors are constructed from retroviruses causing cancers and other diseases.
A vector currently used in fish has a framework from the Moloney marine leukaemic virus, which causes leukemia in mice, but can infect all mammalian cells. It has bits from the Rous Sarcoma virus, causing sarcomas in chickens, and from the vesicular stomatitis virus, causing oral lesions in cattle, horses, pigs and humans. Such mosaic vectors are particularly hazardous. Unlike natural parasitic genetic elements which have various degrees of host specificity, vectors used in genetic engineering, partly by design, and partly on account of their mosaic character, have the ability to overcome species barriers, and to infect a wide range of species. Another obstacle to genetic engineering is that all organisms and cells have natural defense mechanisms that enable them to destroy or inactivate foreign genes, and transgene instability is a big problem for the industry. Vectors are now increasingly constructed to overcome those mechanisms that maintain the integrity of species. The result is that the artificially constructed vectors are especially good at carrying out horizontal gene transfer.
Let me summarize why rDNA technology differs radically from conventional breeding techniques.
a. many are derived from disease-causing viruses, plasmids and mobile genetic elements - parasitic DNA that have the ability to invade cells and insert themselves into the cell's genome causing genetic damages.
b. they are designed to break down species barriers so that they can shuttle genes between a wide range of species. Their wide host range means that they can infect many animals and plants, and in the process pick up genes from viruses of all these species to create new pathogens.
c. they routinely carry genes for antibiotic resistance, which is already a big health problem.
d. they are increasingly constructed to overcome the recipient species' defense mechanisms that break down or inactivate foreign DNA.
Isn't it a bit late in the day to tell us that?, you ask. Yes and no. Yes, because I, who should, perhaps, have known better, was caught unprepared like the rest. And no, because there have been so many people warning us of that eventuality, who have campaigned tirelessly on our behalf, some of them going back to the earliest days of genetic engineering in the 1970s - although we have paid them little heed. No, it is not too late, if only because that is precisely what we tend to believe, and are encouraged to believe.
A certain climate is created - that of being rapidly overtaken by events - reinforcing the feeling that the tidal wave of progress brought on by the new biotechnology is impossible to stem, so that we may be paralyzed into accepting the inevitable, No, because we shall not give up, for the consequence of giving up is the brave new world, and soon after that, there may be no world at all. The gene genie is fast getting out of control. The practitioners of genetic engineering biotechnology, the regulators and the critics alike, have all underestimated the risks involved, which are inherent to genetic engineering biotechnology, particularly as misguided by an outmoded and erroneous world-view that comes from bad science. The dreams may already be turning into nightmares.
That is why people like myself are calling for an immediate moratorium on further releases and marketing of genetically engineered products, and for an independent public enquiry to be set up to look into the risks and hazards involved, taking into account the most comprehensive, scientific knowledge in addition to the social, moral implications. This would be most timely, as public opposition to genetic engineering biotechnology has been gaining momentum throughout Europe and the USA.
In Austria, a record 1.2 million citizens, representing 20 per cent of the electorate, have signed a people's petition to ban genetically engineered foods, as well as deliberate releases of genetically modified organisms and patenting of life. Genetically modified foods were also rejected earlier by a lay people consultation in Norway, and by 95 per cent of consumers in Germany, as revealed by a recent survey. The European Parliament has voted by an overwhelming 407 to 2 majority to censure the Commission's authorization, in December 1996, for imports of Ciba-Geigy's transgenic maize into Europe, and is calling for imports to be suspended while the authorization is re-examined. The European Commission has decided that in the future genetically engineered seeds will be labeled, and is also considering proposals for retroactive labeling. Commissioner Emma Bonino is to set up a new scientific committee to deal with genetically engineered foods, members of which are to be completely independent of the food industry. Meanwhile, Franz Fischler, the European Commissioner on Agriculture, supports a complete segregation and labeling of production lines of genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods.
In June this year, President Clinton imposed a five-year ban on human cloning in the USA, while the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) wants British law to be amended to ensure that human cloning is illegal. The STC, President Chirac of France and German Research Minister Juergen Ruettgers are also calling for an international ban on human cloning.
Like other excellent critics before me,(3) I do not think there is a grand conspiracy afoot, though there are many forces converging to a single terrible end. Susan George comments, "They don't have to conspire if they have the same world-view, aspire to similar goals and take concerted steps to attain them."(4)
I am one of those scientists who have long been highly critical of the reductionist mainstream scientific world-view, and have begun to work towards a radically different approach for understanding nature.(5) But I was unable, for a long time, to see how much science really matters in the affairs of the real world, not just in terms of practical inventions like genetic engineering, but in how that scientific world-view takes hold of people's unconscious, so that they take action, involuntarily, unquestioningly, to shape the world to the detriment of human beings. I was so little aware of how that science is used, without conscious intent, to intimidate and control, to obfuscate, to exploit and oppress; how that dominant world-view generates a selective blindness to make scientists themselves ignore or misread scientific evidence.
The point, however, is not that science is bad - but that there can be bad science that ill-serves humanity. Science can often be wrong. The history of science can just as well be written in terms of the mistakes made than as the series of triumphs it is usually made out to be. Science is nothing more, and nothing less, than a system of concepts for understanding nature and for obtaining reliable knowledge that enables us to live sustainably with nature. In that sense, one can ill-afford to give up science, for it is through our proper understanding and knowledge of nature that we can live a satisfying life, that we can ultimately distinguish the good science, which serves humanity, from the bad science that does not. In this view, science is imbued with moral values from the start, and cannot be disentangled from them. Therefore it is bad science that purports to be "neutral" and divorced from moral values, as much as it is bad science that ignores scientific evidence.
It is clear that I part company with perhaps a majority of my scientist colleagues in the mainstream, who believe that science can never be wrong, although it can be misused. Or else they carefully distinguish science, as neutral and value-free, from its application, technology, which can do harm or good.(6) This distinction between science and technology is spurious, especially in the case of an experimental science like genetics, and almost all of biology, where the techniques determine what sorts of question are asked and hence the range of answers that are important, significant and relevant to the science. Where would molecular genetics be without the tools that enable practitioners to recombine and manipulate our destiny? It is an irresistibly heroic view, except that it is totally wrong and misguided.
It is also meaningless, therefore, to set up Ethical Committees which do not question the basic scientific assumptions behind the practice of genetic engineering biotechnology. Their brief is severely limited, often verging on the trivial and banal - such as whether a pork gene transferred to food plants might be counter to certain religious beliefs - in comparison with the much more fundamental questions of eugenics, genetic discrimination and, indeed, whether gene transfers should be carried out at all. They can do nothing more than make the unacceptable acceptable to the public.
The debate on genetic engineering biotechnology is dogged by the artificial separation imposed between "pure" science and the issues it gives rise to. "Ethics" is deemed to be socially determined, and therefore negotiable, while the science is seen to be beyond reproach, as it is the "laws" of nature. The same goes for the distinction between "technology" - the application of science - from the science. Risk assessments are to do with the technology, leaving the science equally untouched. The technology can be bad for your health, but not the science. In this article, I shall show why science cannot be separated from moral values nor from the technology that shapes our society. In other words, bad science is unquestionably bad for one's health and well-being, and should be avoided at all costs. Science is, above all, fallible and negotiable, because we have the choice, to do or not to do. It should be negotiated for the public good. That is the only ethical position one can take with regard to science. Otherwise, we are in danger of turning science into the most fundamentalist of religions, that, working hand in hand with corporate interests, will surely usher in the brave new world.
What makes genetic engineering biotechnology dangerous, in the first instance, is that it is an unprecedented, close alliance between two great powers that can make or break the world: science and commerce. Practically all established molecular geneticists have some direct or indirect connection with industry, which will set limits on what the scientists can and will do research on, not to mention the possibility of compromising their integrity as independent scientists.(7)
The worst aspect of the alliance is that it is between the most reductionist science and multinational monopolistic industry at its most aggressive and exploitative. If the truth be told, it is bad science working together with big business for quick profit, aided and abetted by our governments for the banal reason that governments wish to be re-elected to remain in 'power'.(8)
Speaking as a scientist who loves and believes in science, I have to say it is bad science that has let the world down and caused the major problems we now face, not the least among which is by promoting and legitimizing a particular world-view. It is a reductionist, manipulative and exploitative world-view. Reductionist because it sees the world as bits and pieces, and denies there are organic wholes such as organisms, ecosystems, societies and community of nations. Manipulative and exploitative because it regards nature and fellow human beings as objects to be manipulated and exploited for gain; life being a Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest.
It is by no means coincidental that the economic theory currently dominating the world is rooted in the same laissez-faire capitalist ideology that gave rise to Darwinism. It acknowledges no values other than self-interest, competitiveness and the accumulation of wealth, at which the developed nations have been very successful. Already, according to the 1992 United Nations Development Programme Report, the richest fifth of the world's population has amassed 82.7 per cent of the wealth, while the poorest fifth gets a piddling 1.4 per cent. Or, put in another way, there are now 477 billionaires in the world whose combined assets are roughly equal to the combined annual incomes of the poorer half of humanity - 2.8 billion people.(9) Do we need to be more "competitive" still to take from the poorest their remaining pittance? That is, in fact, what we are doing.
The governmental representatives of the superpowers are pushing for a "globalized economy" under trade agreements which erase all economic borders. "Together, the processes of deregulation and globalization are undermining the power of both unions and governments and placing the power of global corporations and finance beyond the reach of public accountability."(10) The largest corporations continue to consolidate that power through mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances. Multinational corporations now comprise 51 of the world's 100 largest economies: only 49 of the latter are nations.
By 1993, agricultural biotechnology was being controlled by just (11) giant corporations, and these are now undergoing further mergers. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries are at this moment working in secret in Paris on the Multilateral Agreements on Investment (MAI), which is written by and for corporations to prohibit any government from establishing performance or accountability standards for foreign investors. European Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, is negotiating in the World Trade Organization, on behalf of the European Community, to ensure that no barriers of any kind should remain in the South to dampen exploitation by the North, and at the same time, to protect the deeply unethical "patents of life" through Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreements.(11) So, in addition to gaining complete control of the food supply of the South through exclusive rights to genetically engineered seeds, the big food giants of the North can asset-strip the South's genetic and intellectual resources with impunity, up to and including genes and cell lines of indigenous peoples.
There is no question that the mindset that leads to and validates genetic engineering is genetic determinism - the idea that organisms are determined by their genetic makeup, or the totality of their genes. Genetic determinism derives from the marriage of Darwinism and Mendelian genetics. For those imbued with the mindset of genetic determinism, the major problems of the world can be solved simply by identifying and manipulating genes, for genes determine the characters of organisms; so by identifying a gene we can predict a desirable or undesirable trait, by changing a gene we change the trait, by transferring a gene we transfer the corresponding trait.
The Human Genome Project was inspired by the same genetic determinism that locates the "blueprint" for constructing the human being in the human genome. It may have been a brilliant political move to capture research funds and, at the same time, to revive a flagging pharmaceutical industry, but its scientific content was suspect from the first.
Genetic engineering technology promises to work for the benefit of mankind; the reality is something else.
To be continued..... (part 4)
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 22:56:50 -0700
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: Signature and Addendum: USDA and Organic Integrity
The entire direction of USDA "progress" has been toward more pesticides, more factory farms, multinational corporate control, rBGH injected into cows, chemical drugs categorized as food additives, questionable conflicts of interest, questionable research practice, loyalty to Monsanto, etc.
With Genetic engineering of Organic Food they've gone too far. Let's put our collective foot down. They've crossed the line. Again.
P.S. The address follows below for letters to the regarding Organic Standards and GE food: (Eileen did not pen the above critical comments regarding the USDA. I WISH!!)
Eileen S. Stommes, Deputy Administrator
Ag. Stop 0275
P.O. Box 96456
Washington, DC 20090-6456
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 23:20:59 -0700
From: email@example.com (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: A Dangerous Race
"Today, virtually every major player in the agricultural industry has joined the race to derive commercial benefit from genetic technologies. To the extent that agricultural applications involve the release, purposeful or accidental, of genetically engineered organisms into the environment, they pose a serious risk. At this time, this risk is imminent because the implementation of these technologies is being guided, not by scientific evidence, but by economic and political imperatives."
---John Fagan, Ph.D.
"The Harvest of Agricultural Genetic Engineering:
Genetic Pollution and
Disruption of the Environment"
From the Book: **Genetic Engineering: The Hazards Vedic Engineering: The Solutions**
Dec. 29/97 (from a press release) ST. LOUIS, MO U.S.A.
Monsanto Company and IBM Corporation today announced a wide-ranging technology alliance that includes a genomics research collaboration.
Scientists from the two companies will work together to develop and apply advanced information technologies to identify and map the genetic structure of major plant groups and human diseases, building on Monsanto's existing genomics research. Using Teiresias, a next-generation pattern discovery algorithm developed by IBM Research, the scientists expect to significantly speed discovery of hidden patterns in DNA and protein databases, leading to faster development of new life sciences products by Monsanto.
"Monsanto sees genomics as a key enabling technology for dramatically increasing the speed and precision with which we can research, develop and bring to market new products," said Patrick Fortune, chief information officer for Monsanto. "This collaboration with IBM Research will add significant new technology tools to our expanding genomics capabilities.
Using Teiresias, for example, we expect to make discoveries that wouldn't be possible using existing analytical tools. "In addition, the other components of this alliance bring together powerful and complementary information technology (IT) skills that will allow us to more efficiently and effectively deliver value to our respective customers," Fortune said. "By working with IBM as our provider for certain services, we can concentrate our internal IT resources on analytical and software needs specific to Monsanto's life sciences operations."
The second component of the IBM/Monsanto alliance is the creation of an IBM/Monsanto Solution Center to help other companies implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. These are business management software systems that integrate financial data with other functions in an organization, such as inventory management and production, giving executives a comprehensive overview of operations.
The Solution Center will offer workshops, software and tools that help clients implement ERP systems in a cost-effective and timely manner. The final component of the alliance is a 10-year outsourcing agreement whereby IBM Global Services will provide Monsanto with data center management, help desk operations, and support for 8,000 desktop systems including local- and wide-area network management. IBM has offered employment to the 150 Monsanto IT professionals affected by this decision, giving them the opportunity to use and expand their skills with the world's largest IT services provider.
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 1997 10:00:27 -0500 (EST)
From: Mark Gold firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Monsanto Deals
Since we're on the topic of people / organizations that have made deals with Monsanto, here is a little news item from a recent issue of Genetic Engineering News:
Rutgers' Waksman Institute (New Brunswick, NJ) and the Monsanto Co. (St. Louis, MO) signed a research agreement that will provide the institute with funding over the next five years to develop a genetic-engineering technique for crop plants. Monsanto will have exclusive rights to the institute's research and its application in developing certain crops.
Date: Thu, 1 Jan 1998 08:28:16 +1100
From: "Meryl Dorey" email@example.com
Subject: Genetically Engineered Vaccines
I don't know if this is an appropriate forum to post this information or not, but here goes! ;-)
I wanted to let everyone know that it isn't just food, plants and animals that are being genetically engineered - the governments of the world through the United Nations are working on a vaccine that is being called the holy grail. It will contain close to 100 different antigens in the one vaccine, many of which are genetically engineered. They will be administered orally to a child at birth and will be micro-encapsulated so that they slowly time-release - like cold capsules do over 12 hours only these will take place over the life of the person - which I believe will be significantly shortened by this procedure.
It is very scary to think about a child, who may be sensitive to one or more of these components, being given the vaccine - especially at birth. Aside from the fact that human babies are basically born without an immune system and exposure to this many attacks at one time can be fatal, if they are allergic to something in this vaccine, and it time releases, they can have an anaphylactic reaction over and over again (if they survive the first one, that is). Not only that, but how could you ever blame it on the vaccine if it is months or years after it is administered? The pharmaceutical companies would be off scott=-free while the child would be dead or injured.
There are already genetically engineered vaccines in use - the Hep B and some influenza vaccines are based on genetically engineered yeast cells. Scientists use yeast because it multiplies rapidly and is very difficult to kill. Of course, these properties are just what makes it so dangerous to inject into the human body.
DNA vaccines are just around the corner and the WHO says that the 'holy grail' vaccine will be available soon after the turn of the century.
The vaccines that we currently use are suspected of affecting our genetic makeup. Injection of foreign protiens, viruses and bacteria that are known to contaminate these substances have been thought for many years to be responsible for everything from the increase in auto-immune problems to birth defects and SIDS. How much more damage would genetically engineered vaccines that are made specifically to affect the host's genetic make-up do?
Please excuse this if it's been covered on this list already, but just in case it hadn't, I thought you'd like to know.
Yours in health,
The Australian Vaccination Network, Inc.
PO Box 177 Bangalow NSW 2479, Australia Phone 02 6687 1699 FAX 02 6687 2032 firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.ozemail.com.au/~shotinfo
"All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident." (Schopenhauer)
Date: Thu, 1 Jan 1998 08:24:32 -0700
From: email@example.com (Peter M. Ligotti)
Subject: Organic Food Industry
December 31, 1997,
By Carole Sugarman
According to this story, during the seven years it took to develop a national, U.S. definition for "organic" foods, the real world of farmers and markets and consumers just went about their business and sales of organic foods grew 250 per cent.
Harvey Hartman, president of Hartman & New Hope, a Bellevue, Wash., market research firm that has extensively studied the organic industry, was quoted as saying, "The market isn't waiting for rules. The market is moving at an exceptional pace. It's the competitive juices that are flowing now."
The story says that organic producers have matured and grown more sophisticated, learning how to pack, distribute and market attractive, quality fruits and vegetables. And the arrival of packaged, processed organic foods like canned tomatoes and frozen organic dinners gave farmers a market for their ugliest-duckling produce. At the same time, the expansion of large natural-food stores such as the Fresh Fields/Whole Foods chain helped create a steady demand.
In 1996, the organic industry raked in $3.5 billion in salesQtiny when compared with last year's $421.8 billion in conventional food-store sales, but a huge leap for an industry that was selling $1 billion worth of goods annually just seven years earlier.
The story says that General Mills has started test-marketing a certified-organic version of its Gold Medal flour in Seattle and Portland. In October, Gerber Products Co. rolled out Tender Harvest, a line of organic baby food. Van Hindes, spokesman for the company, was cited as saying that the lack of national organic standards did not deter Gerber from introducing the new product and that consumers, "told us with increasing frequency that they wanted to see an organic line by Gerber."
The story goes on to cite a recent study conducted by Hartman & New Hope which found that many people are already purchasing organic foods without the benefit of certification, or with a certification system they know nothing about. Even though there are no federal standards, 17 states have laws governing organic foods, and there are 33 private certification organizations that verify organic production. Hartman said that his findings show that less than 3 percent of the public indicates "any interest in certification."
The segment of the food chain that is interested in certification is retailers.
Dec. 31/97, Bob Condor, Chicago Tribune
Another feature, this one saying that thanks to pending U.S. national standards for organic growers and producers, organic fruit, vegetables and meat are on the verge of becoming mainstream.
One organic marketing was quoted as saying that "My fear is that the quality will go down as things become more mainstream. A lot of large food companies are buying small natural food companies. And lot of those large companies are driven by money. I've already seen the quality go down a bit."
Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, was cited as expressing concern over the potential inclusion in the national standards of genetically modified organisms, food irradiation, the use of antibiotics in livestock and dairy production, and the use of sewage sludge on growing fields -- all abhorred by organic purists.
DiMatteo was quoted as saying, "These practices have never been a part of organic agriculture and we will fight to keep them out of the final regulations."
The story says that the organic movement, which traces its origins to traditional farming practices, preaches that the miracle chemicals of American agriculture are actually bad for us and that many recent health studies have agreed.
The story also notes that many big chain supermarkets today boast of stocking as many as 100 different kinds of organic fruits and vegetables. Surveys show nearly 90 percent of Americans will buy organic produce and foods if the prices were similar to non-organic foods.
Leslie Bonci, a Pittsburgh hospital nutritionist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association was cited as saying that organic produce simply feels like a safer choice to people, adding, "It gives you a peace of mind about what is not added to the food. Plus, it can actually be more convenient because you won't feel obligated to scrub and wash the fruits and vegetables." (oh, that is a good message; I guess organic means no bacteria -- dp)
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