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August 16, 2000


An interesting exchange between Marcus and Alex Avery


The following exchange is pretty relevant to the recent discussion of the
motives of anti-biotech activists and potential clinical paranoia. Having
a mentally ill and hospitalized sister who suffers schcizophrenia and true
delusional paranoia at times, I must say that the activists seem even
crazier than my sister at times.


Marcus Williamson wrote:

Alex, This is not just about a debate being "lost" or "won" - GM foods are
the most serious threat to life on this planet since the invention of the
atom bomb.

It's in your interest to promote GM food because the organisation that
employs you and your father is paid by the GM companies to do so. If you
had no financial interest, I suspect you would not be so vocal in your
defence of GM and attacks on organic food.

Marcus Williamson

Alex Avery replied:

Marcus, you are paranoid. I have been fascinated and thrilled about the
potential for biotech science practically my entire life. I have avidly
followed developments in the field since I realized as a junior high school
student that the gene for spider silk might one day allow humanity to
manufacture a range of amazing products and materials. As my father was an
agricultural economist, he explained the far greater potential for biotech
in crop improvement, especially for the developing world. I also knew from
having a step-mother who lived for more than two decades in Africa that
many people still live meager and often miserable lives.

As an undergraduate student, my goal was to become involved in crop
improvement for farmers in poor countries. In fact, I became a McKnight
research fellow at Purdue University working with a research team to
develop drought and disease resistant sorghum varieties for Africa,
specifically the Sudan.

Eventually, I realized that my talents would be better spent communicating
the benefits of this technology to the public. This is partially what I do
now. You automatically assume that I wouldn't defend biotech if it wasn't
for the money donated to Hudson by biotech corporations, however you are
wrong. I came to work for Hudson, not because of the money (I could make
considerably more if I were to join my best friend as a house painter!),
but because it is a job that allows me to do what I feel is truly important
and which I am truly passionate about--helping to advance technology that
will improve the lives of billions of humans around the world.

This is the same motivation that drives the hundreds of biotech scientists
I've met and talked with, both in academia and in industry. You can
belittle us and impugn our motives, but we know that what we do is
important and will someday make a difference in peoples lives--just as the
work of other scientists such as Pasteur, Salk, Borlaug and all of the
supporting scientists that worked with them have done.

We build, you tear down.

Marcus replied:
Now it's "paranoid" to add to the "silly" and "truly meaningless" insults
which you increasingly hurl. Is this how you conduct face to face debates
also? I'd really relish the prospect of discussing the GM topic in a panel
in front of hundreds of people. We'd see how your money-motivated argument
stood up then.

Perhaps I have the same fascination for science as you. But, I have to
temper the fascination with the concern that science and technology is
always invariably abused by those who want to make money and those who want
to wage wars. Do you know what the gene for spider silk is now being used
to make? : bullet proof jackets... Yes, with all that research and
wonderful technology, man is developing better ways of killing and maiming
his fellow human beings.

The use of GM in food is not about improving conditions for poor people
around the world. It's about the organisations which fund the Hudson
Institute (Novartis/Monsanto etc) taking control of the food chain and
making more profit. Nothing less.

The PR "spin" may be about vitamin A rice (trying to fix the problem of
monoculture), anti cancer brocolli (trying to fix the problem of bad diet),
spider silk milk (bullet proof jackets), anti polio bananas etc but the
truth remains that the only real benefit in GM crops is for the biotech

You say "We build, you tear down". On the contrary, you attack the world
with poisons and mutant crops for the sake of money, and I attempt to
defend the world against those attacks.

Marcus Williamson

My final reply:
Marcus writes "science and technology is always invariably abused by those
who want to make money and those who want to wage wars." Gee, according to
that argument, we should just throw out all technology and science and
revert to being cavemen. Although, even cave men used "technology" to wage
wars and create wealth (flint points, fire, spears, etc.)

Perhaps we should just all kill ourselves. After you, Marcus, after you.

Alex Avery