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Date:

June 19, 2000

Subject:

Benefits of Biotech

 

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

From: Jim Mullen To: 'RLandEManning@compuserve.com'
Re: Your thoughts on biotech

>Is it likely to be effective in achieving positive results for the human
species?

ADAMANTLY YES!!! And it has been doing so for quite some time. It is well
underway in the field of basic research for attaining new knowledge.

It is used for the production of most pharmaceuticals. It has been used
for more than a decade in agriculture.

Examples. Penicillin and it's derivatives, Macrolides (a huge class of
antibiotics) and Light Beer. Do you think agriculture will show fewer
positive benefits?

>? Can the risks of long term damage to human health and the biosphere
>be evaluated well enough to conclude that the benefits justify the risk,
and what controls might be necessary to ensure this result?

I think you are late into the conversation here. Both have already been
well evaluated and results are in. There is no damage to either.

Poverty is by far the most damaging human situation to occur to the
environment and an individual. When one is impoverished, one does not even
consider the environment or it's future. For the impoverished it is the
here and now - and nothing else. Reduction of poverty is the most likely
end result of agricultural advances (i.e., gene transfer technologies,
breeding). But breeding will not get us beyond poverty quickly and may not
even keep pace with the rise in human population. If one is truly
concerned about the health of the biosphere, then one should be mostly
concerned with poverty. The impoverished use slash and burn, the
impoverished burn local dung, the impoverished look for food for today,
not tomorrow and certainly not next year. In risk assessment studies,
poverty is the biggest killer, estimated to taking 3 to 10 years off of
one's life span. On the other hand, current exposure to pesticides in the
USA is estimated to take about 3 days off of one's lifespan. Damage to
human health?

Here, I've run by this information at weed science conferences. Graduate
students like to show yield results from all treatments, including no
herbicide, when yield is one of their parameters of study. For all things
being equal in a study, the use of an herbicide increases yield in corn
6X, and in wheat 8X (similarly for other crops). Could you imagine paying
more than $3.00 for a can of corn (6X the current price)? Could you
imagine paying $4.00 for a loaf of bread (8X the current price)? Sure
these are extreme, probably, because a grower can alter their practice a
little bit, but suffice it to say, for the relative risks, pesticides
(herbicides, insecticides, etc.) sure do keep prices low and yields
abundant. Another aspect of pesticide use that people do not consider is
the use of these adequate controls have maintained low pest populations.
Before the advent
of pesticides a grower was nearly as likely to be wiped out by pests as by
weather. Nowadays the biggest worry is commodity prices. Damage to human
health?

And just think of how chemicals are applied, let's use BT as the example.
BT is applied by spraying it upon the plant in the field. This is how most
of our current counter measures for pests are applied. For a single field,
it is a 'global' application of some weight of chemical across the field,
wherein the pest is probably in a small localized portion of the field.
What the catch is, is the insect is usually INSIDE the plant not UPON the
plant. So a huge amount of chemical goes to waste as it never even comes
near the target. Now let's let the plant make the BT. Here it is inside
the plant, where the bug is located. BT is in the tissue that the bug is
trying to eat (i.e., a corn stalk). There is much less BT 'in the field'
because the application isn't 'global' for the field and the expression is
at a level that exhibits control which is far below the weight of compound
applied to the field. And the excess isn't out there in uncontrolled
dosages, contributing to a high potential of pests gaining resistance.

Besides, regardless of the resistance that develops (plant, fungus or
insect), a grower will do exactly as a physician would when encountering a
resistant pest. Switch chemical. If a physician encounters, let's say, a
penicillin resistant strain of pneumonia - Do you think that they would
increase the dosage of penicillin? Of course not. They would switch from
penicillin to another class of antibiotic, such as the Macrolides or
Tetracyclines or Chloramphenicol or a host of other antibiotics available
to them. The grower has these same tools and more. A grower can switch
crops, let the ground go fallow, alter cultural practice. All of these
things alter the competition on the resistant pest and decrease the
likelihood of it's survival. The grower is aware of how these chemicals
work, biologically speaking, so as far as I'm concerned all this hoopla
about superbugs and superweeds is a total joke. The Superpests would have
evolved long ago because our spray method is much more likely to breed
resistance by having too much misapplied chemical in the field AND growers
have greater intelligence about field management than any
environmentalist.

So which is better for the environment? For me, the more efficient
application of the toxin is best. Less manufacturing expense (and the
fossil fuels it takes to do it). Less transportation expense to get the
chemical to the grower (and the fossil fuels it takes to do it). Fewer
trips into the field on the tractor to apply the chemical (and the fossil
fuels it takes to do it).

Therefore:

Gene technology in plants leads to the following.

1. Better pest control with less chemical. 2. Decrease in the likelihood
of resistant pests. 3. Higher yields of conventional plants. 3.
Introduction of nutrients not native to the plant. 4. New uses for plants
that reduces the use of fossil fuels. 5. Saving from fossil fuel pollution
by reducing manufacture of chemicals. 6. Saving from fossil fuel pollution
by reducing transportation of chemicals.
7. Saving from fossil fuel pollution by reducing number of trips into the
field by the grower.
8. Helping preserve the Ozone layer by reducing the burning of fossil
fuels for the manufacture, transportation of chemicals and reducing number
of
trips into the field by the grower.
9. More land preserved as natural because of increasing yields. 10.
Reducing poverty that allows those individuals into other pursuits,
hopefully their nature will be to benefit humankind. 11. Low prices at the
grocery store.
12. A greater understanding of nature.
13. Development of agriculture method that preserves soil. 14. Development
of agriculture method that allows for more than one crop per field in a
single block of time.
15. It gives environmentalists something to vent about so they are not out
committing real crimes.

Detriments from the use of gene technology in plants.

1. I am truly at a loss here. I can't think of any situation that could
arise that humankind or nature herself can't manage. There will be no
over-application of chemicals, no survivable out-crossing of undesirable
plants. Plants will not become sentient, voracious, human-eating creatures
running amock on our planet.

Jim M
======================================
From: Jim Mullen To: "'Red Porphyry'"
Some thoughts on earning money in the sciences.

When individuals consider salary of scientists why is it no one ever
considers the salary of a technician? This is quite applicable for it is
distinguished with the same pursuit attributes of a scientist.

When one considers the average salary of professional baseball players,
aren't the professionals in the minor leagues also lumped in? The
profession is distinguished with the same individual pursuits.

Salary of a 'scientist' as one who performs science or scientific research
is far lower than you people are discussing. I consider these salary
discussions flawed because a huge sect of the research pursuing population
is circumvented. (Personally, I believe it is ignored on purpose. So we
can tell our children that not only is pursuit of science a moral high
ground, but you can make good money too.).

A flaw in analysis.

I taught CPR for several years. CPR instructors liked to spout a specific
statistic. "Most heart attacks occur while at rest." WELL NO DUH!!!
People who tend to have heart attacks, also tend NOT to exercise so yes
they will have heart attacks while at rest. This is poor use of a bad
statistic. One cannot properly examine with a statistic unless the
population being examined is properly addressed.

Never do I see technician salary lumped in with scientist AND THAT is the
population being examined. Therefore spouting salaries of scientists
without including technicians is poor use of a bad statistic.

And if you classify the type of research of the salary ranges, I suspect
you will find that ag sits lower than most. i.e., petroleum and medical
researchers.

Case in point.

I have a friend who told his grandfather he was going to do scientific
research. "Great," his grandfather said, then asked, "What are you going
to do for an income?"

I hope many will spouting out the myth that you make a lot of money in
science.

At least until they examine the whole research population. We'll find
there isn't a lot of financial reward.

Jim M