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Date: Jul 02 2000 19:36:22 EDT
From: Marcus Williamson
Subject: Engineering Environmental Disaster
>Times of India
>June 30, 2000
>Genetics is in the news, thanks to the Genome map of human genes. In
>fact, gene maps already exist for some plants. Channapatna S Prakash,
>director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research at the
>Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA, and his group have developed the
>genetic map of the cultivated peanut. That is just one among their
>many achievements in the field of biotechnology research. He spoke to
>Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla about the opponents of biotechnology who ignore
> What is biotechnology (BT) and what are its uses?
> In the simplest of terms, it is the modification of any living
>organism around us to help improve our quality of life. In the modern
>sense, BT has been around for more than 30 years. Genetic
>engineering, which is the altering of DNA, has also been around for
>several years and is no different from what we have been doing for
>5,000 years. Only now, the process is more precise and scientific.
Genetic modification is not to help improve the quality of life, it's
to line the pockets of the board members of agrochemical companies and
to take control of India's food chain. See the report "Selling
Suicide: Farming, False Promises and Genetic Modification in the
Developing World" by Christian Aid for the truth :
The genetic modification process is *not* precise and not well
understood, as this article shows :
30 May 2000 - Monsanto seeds contain 'rogue' DNA (Scotland on Sunday)
> Biotechnology can take on world starvation. Research in BT can be
>used to help feed the world's population, what with more than one
>billion people starving in the world right now.
As CS Prakash is well aware, biotechnology is *not* required to take
on world starvation. The world's food problem is primarily because of
food distribution, not lack of food. See the Christian Aid report
referred to above for further details.
> Is BT safe? Why do we need to adopt it here?
> Yes, it is safe and a tool that we have always used. Cross breeding
>and hybridisation are age-old techniques farmers and researchers have
>used for generations to develop new crops or improve existing ones.
>Today's wheat, sweet corn, tomatoes and virtually all crops on the
>market are the result of centuries of crossbreeding and
>hybridisation. Biotechnology builds on the benefits of foods produced
>through traditional methods by precisely segmenting specific traits,
>so that benefits can be enhanced.
It's not safe, as none of the products has ever been properly tested.
Genetic modification has a very specific meaning which is not at all
equivalent to standard cross breeding techniques. Nature does not
permit genes from foreign plants and animals to cross in the way that
genetic modification allows.
See here for links to the USDA approval notices, which show that GM
crops now approved have only been through minimal "assessment" without
full testing :
> In India, we are in dire need of an infusion of technology to move
>from subsistence farming to profitable farming. This could be that
>technology. The World Bank has predicted that by 2020 India will be
>the fourth largest economy in the world. India cannot afford to
>propel itself into a global economic power without first transforming
>its agriculture into a more productive enterprise. Almost two-thirds
>of Indians depend on land for their livelihood. A lot of poverty here
>is due to the sheer unproductive farmland.
Introduction of biotechnology will just lead to more monoculture
and more control by the biotech corporations of the lives of the
farmers. India will be much better off now and into the future by
maintaining and promoting sustainable agriculture systems which do not
require expensive external inputs and licensing fees.
> Don't you feel modern scientists like the idea of playing God with
>these developments and are merely tampering with nature?
> No, not at all. In fact, the Church of England and the Vatican have
>both issued statements that there is nothing unnatural about human
>beings using God-given talents to address human problems. One has to
>also understand that since the dawn of civilisation, man has tampered
>with nature. None of the cropland in the world today would survive or
>be productive in the wild if it was left in its natural state.
In fact, The Church of England has forbidden the growing of GM crops
on its land. See here :
> Using BT, scientists have developed trees that suck up mercury from
>the soil. Before this, there was no known way to remove mercury from
>the soil. The tree releases mercury into the air through its leaves
>in safe quantities now. And we have developed plants that produce
>vaccines against rabies and cholera, which afflict millions each
>year. A new rice strain has the potential to prevent blindness in
>millions of children whose diets are deficient in Vitamin A. Edible
>vaccines, delivered in locally grown crops, could do more to
>eliminate disease than the Red Cross missionaries and the UN task
>forces combined, at a fraction of the cost.
Releasing mercury into the air will take the pollution out of the
earth and into the sky. This is completely irresponsible. The solution
in this case is to prevent the pollution in the first place or to
remove the contaminated soil by conventional means.
"Vaccine" plants bring horrendous possibilities for environmental
contamination. It is bad enough that farmers' crops should become
contaminated with GM pest resistance or herbicide resistance. What are
farmer to do when their crops become contaminated with other crops
containing a vaccine?!
Vitamin A rice has not been tested. It's just a public relations
gimmick dreamed up by the biotech industry to try to impart some
positive "spin" to their products. Over several months, I have
repeatedly asked Ingo Potrykus, one of the developers of vitamin A
rice, for information about safety testing done on this crop, and have
not received any reply...
> Shouldn't crops produced through BT be intensely regulated? Are
>consumers mere guinea pigs for this new technology?
> It is really plain and simple. If crops derived through BT were not
>rigorously tested and found to be safe, they would not be on the
>market today. Yes, we have to regulate it. We cannot import anything
>without ensuring that it is safe and sound. Regulators need to be
>like doctors. They are not here to prevent the medicine from coming,
>they should make sure that that medicine is safe. BT crops are
>extensively tested in the laboratory and greenhouse several years
>prior to small-scale field trials and subsequent large-scale
>commercialisation. International organisations such as the World
>Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture
>Organisation, will not give their blessing unless the improved
>variety is found to be substantially equivalent to or as safe as the
>conventionally produced variety. Moreover, the government of India's
>department of biotechnology and other scientific agencies too have
>developed a strong and reliable regulatory mechanism to deal with
>safety issues of genetically improved crops. And no, consuming these
>products are not capable of generating Frankenstein monsters, as its
>opponents would have us believe.
GM crops are not properly tested. They are merely "assessed" by the
USDA, which relied on data supplied by the manufacturer :
The WHO and UN FAO have not been given the option to allow or disallow
GM crops. Neither have they ever given their "blessing" for
genetically modified foods.
> Is BT an expensive proposition?
> It is not very expensive compared to many other technologies. Again,
>economies of scale will decide, for a farmer will not grow anything
>unless it is profitable. They may spend a few more rupees to buy
>genetically modified (GM) seeds but they will cut down on their
>purchase of insecticides, which is one of the major benefits. And,
>more importantly, they will have a choice. No one is going to force
>the farmers to grow anything. If a farmer doesn't want to grow GM
>cotton because he has a moral opposition to it or it is not
>economically viable, he will not do it. But he has to understand,
>that a competitor who uses this technology will get yields three
>times higher and will have that much more money coming in.
Crops which are genetically engineered to resist herbicide require
both the seed and herbicide to be purchased from the same
manufacturer. This is not therefore just a matter of a "few rupees".
The farmer is paying "technology licensing" fee and is not permitted
to replant the seeds the following year. He/she must buy new seeds the
following year to comply with the licensing agreement. Thus,
genetically modified seed will be *much* more expensive to plant and
Unfortunately, once GM cotton is out there, the farmer may not have a
choice whether he wants to grow it, as his/her crop will become
contaminated by the GM version.
> So it all boils down to profit?
> Every industry is driven by profit and farming and medicines are
>both industries. A farmer wants more money coming out of his farm, a
>pharma company, out of its lab. Profit is not a dirty word. And
>genetic engineering should not be seen as any different from other
>forms of scientific advance.
That's correct. It all boils down to profits. The agrochemical
companies want to make more money and they don't care about the
environmental, animal and human damage done along the way...
> Who funds most of this research?
> Much of the BT research is funded by major corporations worldwide.
>Multinationals have vast resources with a huge edge in their
>knowledge base, and can play a constructive role. We must remember
>that few Indian companies have such resources or a willingness to
>invest in long term projects with little hope of immediate revenues.
> Because technology is transferable, a study used to produce hybrid
>corn grown in Montana may also be used to improve rice grown in
>India, where BT can solve many of the problems unique to the Indian
>ecosystem. We have the means to end hunger on this planet and to feed
>the world's six billion or even nine billion people. For the well-fed
>to spearhead fear-based campaigns and suppress research for
>ideological and pseudo-science reasons, is irresponsible and immoral.
It is not irresponsible and immoral to insist that any new technology
of this type be fully tested prior to being released into the
environment. Responsible science would insist on full testing, to at
least the same standard as new pharmaceuticals, before allowing the
use of these products as food.
Current GM crops are already causing environmental damage as can be
seen from these articles :
In this case herbicide resistance has already resulted from GM canola
(rapeseed) crossing with other GM canola to produce GM canola
resistant to multiple herbicides, creating a "superweed" :
10 February 2000 - Triple-resistant canola weeds found in Alta
In another case, the EPA has had to insist that at least 20% of corn
planted by farmers is not genetically modified to produce Bt
insecticide. This is because insects are already becoming resistant to
Bt insecticide incorporated into the corn.
14 January 2000 - Bt Corn insect resistance management announced for
2000 growing season (EPA US)
Comments by Marcus Williamson, 3 July 2000
Editor, "Genetically Modified Food - UK and World News"