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April 30, 2000


Ann Oaks comments


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dear Ann

You should not view Rachel Carson quite so sympathetically. In
many ways she implied that minimal impact on the planet was a best
hope for long term survival of mankind. Obvious. But the bird egg
scenario with DDT is a lot less clear and like so many things you
have to see the whole perspective, if that is at all possible, with its
ramifications. DDT was produced to kill mosquitoes and tsetse fly
and it was very effective. India malaria cases down from 70 million
to about 100,000 and with the banning of DDT back up to about 30
million. I do not know what is was for sleeping sickness from the
tsetse fly but I understand Africa still uses it. Malaria kills and large
numbers of people died because no credible alternative to DDT
was produced. So for the sake of some bird predators at the top of
the food cahin we traded the lives of third world people. I cannot in
any honesty ever condone that in my own mind and I am not sure
how many others can. Rachel Carson was also wrong in stating that
for the first time in human history every human being was exposed
to dangerous chemicals from birth to death. Again that statement
was wrong as was adequately shown by Bruce Ames; we have
always been exposed to dangerous chemicals in our food, it's just
that we didn't recognise it. Books are written in the framework of
knowledge at the time.

My own view is that everything in GM will come down to money in
the end. If GM crops really pay off then they will be consumed. But
the consumer has to see real benefit in terms of money and or
health advatanges otherwise they can see no reason to adopt them
with current agitation. Putting money in farmers pockets without an
added advantage to the consumer has never been popular. As for
long term testing of GM on human beings unless you can provide
me with a rationale for supposing that some long term thing is
actually there to be tested, the notion of long term testing has much
of the something that goes bump in the night , ghoulies and
ghosties, etc. As Patrick Moore (greenpeace origianlly) said it
supposedly creeps up on you in your sleep.Both DNA and protein
are digested in your stomach, in soybean flour processing has
already degraded the constitutents put in by GM and even if the
proteins survive to be eaten the effects of toxic proteins are acute
and immediate, not long term.

Half the problem in this business has been the labelling of these
technologies as something different to what went before and
nightmare scenarios constructed from suppositions of what
scientists can actually do. What we have at present is herbicide
resistant and insecticidal crops both of which we have also
produced by conventional breeding. It is far less than the brave
new world which was originally painted for GM. Lets be really
practical about it. GM should be very good for viral diseases;
making plants resistant to drought far more difficult; reliably
increasing yields, well despite the apparent breakthrough so far for
rice there is a long way to go yet. Get the priorities right. For most
of us scientists in university it is necessary to use knowledge to
improve the human condition, look where the human conditions
really need improvement and concentrate your attention there. But
be aware that if agitation about GM in western countries damages
the credibility of the technology then there will be serious knock-on
effects for those much less fortunate than ourselves.

kind regards

Tony (Trewavas)

My goodness we are a long way away from amino acids in plants.
Anthony Trewavas FRS
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
Mayfield Road
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Phone 44 (0)1316505328
Fax 44 (0)1316505392
email Trewavas@ed.ac.uk
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~gidi/main.html
To view the web site simply click on the address