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September 27, 2000


biotech and "natural" plants


Dear Dr. Thakur:

Thanks for your email and I agree with you on the need for control.
There is already such controls as all of our research, development
and testing is regulated by the Govt agencies and we cannot do it in
a secret. However, it is also easy to cheat and abuse the system, if
one wants to do it. Thus, we need to put adequate safeguards.

But with plants, it is not necessary to use biotech to make them bad. We
can justas easily go out and get natural plants with toxins and poisons.


Dear Dr. Prakash,

I am regularly reading mails from AGBIOVIEW. Is it possible to compare
the production of GMOs with the diasatrous situations which arose with
atomic research? Atom can be used for useful purposes and also destructive
purposes. Similar situations can arise with the use of GMOs. As to why
people are opposing this concept ? There is no harm using these GMO, but
I suspect some people with ill intentions may take up research leading
to genetic war.Scientist may kindly suggest me in this regard. This may
even be the case with the GMOs. Gene transfer can occur between same
genus or beween different genera in the natural environment ( Reference:
Thakur et al 1991, an environmental assessment of biotechnological
procesess, Adv. Applied Microbiology). As a recent controversy on how AIDS
virus has escaped the Lab in remote Africa to be a pandemic is now
disturbing the world of research ( Reference: Deccan Herald(India)/The
Guardian, September 19, 2000. (SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY-The first day of

Therefore it is wise to have some control over transgenic research.

M.S. Thakur

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

(From Agnet.. Douglas A Powell
Charlottetown Guardian September 21, 2000 Opinion A7

Abigail Salyers, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology, University of
Illinois Urbana, IL, USA writes in this letter that on Sept. 13, Dr. B.
Christie responded to a letter of mine in which I argued that the
antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically modified plants did not
pose a health risk. Dr. Christie questioned my credentials as a
scientist. He also said that he doubted the validity of my arguments,
although he presented no counter evidence. Anyone interested in the
scientific basis for my conclusion that marker genes in genetically
modified foods are not a significant health problem should visit
http://www.roar.antibiotic.org, where a paper I wrote at the request of a
regulatory agency is available.

Moreover, nearly 3,000 scientists, including Nobel Prize winners and
other world-renowned scientists, have signed a petition stating their
belief that there is more than adequate scientific proof that genetically
engineered foods are safe. This petition can be viewed at
http://www.agbioworld.org. Rather than getting into a debate over
scientific details, I wish to try once again to direct your readers'
attention to a much larger problem than resistance genes in engineered
plants: the increasingly distorted media presentation of antibiotic
resistance issues. As a scientist who has done research on antibiotic
resistant bacteria for over 20 years, I can assure you that resistant
bacteria are a serious health problem, a problem that is only likely to
become worse in the future. People are already dying of infections that
are no longer treatable with antibiotics. The cause of this problem is
overuse of antibiotics by physicians and (possibly) widespread use of
antibiotics in agriculture.

Doesn't it make sense to place our emphasis on solving real problems
rather than debating purely hypothetical safety concerns connected with
genetically modified plants? If a gang of criminals was trying to break
into your house, would you want your local police to be tied up in
discussions of whether Martians might one day land in your town? For that
matter, if food safety is your concern, does it make sense to ignore the
real and continuing problem of bacterial contamination of foods in favor
of hand-wringing over hypothetical food safety issues? Bacteria and other
microbes in the food supply are causing widespread sickness and death.

This is a fact. The increasingly ridiculous debate over the safety of
genetically modified foods is diverting significant resources and
attention from the real problems we face. As for my credentials, I have
published over 150 articles on bacteria and antibiotic resistance in
scientific journals and have been called in as an expert witness on
resistance genes in genetically engineered plants by the U.S. FDA, a
subcommittee of the U.S. Congress, the European Union, Canadian
regulatory agencies, and the Nordic Ministers. In the course of my
travels, I have talked to hundreds of scientists who are experts in this
area. My remarks reflect the consensus of all our views. They also reflect
the official position of the American Society for Microbiology, a
40,000-member scientific society.

Now, can we get back to reality - before reality takes an even bigger
bite out of our futures and our childrens' futures?


A Bioethicist Responds
September 15, 2000 Purdue University - Press Release

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.-Scientists say that genetically modified foods
are safe, but many people are still uncomfortable about eating them,
saying they're unnatural. Others, especially those in the science
community, become dismayed when discussing biotechnology with people who
use such a vague term as "unnatural."

Paul B. Thompson, the Purdue University Department of Philosophy
Joyce and Edward E. Brewer Distinguished Professor in Applied Ethics, says
even people who label foods as unnatural don't always have an exact
explanation for why they think the way they do. "It's not exactly a
religious view, because it's not something they would have learned in
church," he says. "It's quasi-religious, because it's a
particular way of thinking about nature that's not in the direction
that science has gone."

According to Thompson, there is a disparity between what people have
believed since antiquity and what science is telling us about the
world today. "Part of the anxiety about genetically engineered foods is
that our view of how the world works is eroding away from underneath our
feet," Thompson says. "It's a shame that this anxiety has been attached so
strongly to genetically engineered foods, because the feeling really
exists in many areas of life."

Thompson, author of books on the ethics of food and agriculture,
including "Food Biotechnology in Ethical Perspective," says there are
reasonable explanations for why people might think genetically modified
foods are unnatural.

Pure, unadulterated foods have been important as long as people have
been on earth, because contaminated foods are a danger to one's health.
The idea that a gene has been added to a food that wasn't originally part
of that food makes it seem impure, which, according to deep-rooted
beliefs, makes it seem harmful, Thompson says.

But he points out that there is a problem with that type of reasoning.
Scientists are finding that foods we might consider pure aren't, at
least with respect to their biochemistry. "For me there's nothing that
connotes good food more than a late summer ripe tomato," Thompson says.
"But is it pure? The tomato was developed from a plant that was poisonous,
and that same tomato I love to eat contains mutagens, which are
biochemical substances that can induce changes in cell growth. But current
scientific thinking is that mutagens in our food are counterbalanced by
other compounds that are anti-mutagens. That's
what makes an ordinary tomato safe to eat."

The idea that foods considered pure and natural may contain harmful
or cancer-causing substances conflicts with deep-rooted moral and
cultural notions about food, Thompson says, and simply adds to the anxiety
about food.

Another reason that people might consider genetically modified foods
to be unnatural has to do with an idea that all living things, including
crops, have some kind of natural essence. This natural essence gives each
living thing a level of moral standing that varies.

Although scientists and others may pooh-pooh the idea that foods
contain life forces, Thompson challenges them to think about how they
would respond if they were served a dish made from the meat of a dog or
cat. "There is nothing scientifically wrong with eating dog or cat meat,"
Thompson says. "It is eaten routinely in some parts of the world, but few
Americans would want to eat it. Now why is that?"

Dogs and cats have a special place in society as companion animals,
and because of that they have a moral status that food animals do not
have. "This belief that living things have a natural essence or life
force-call it what you will, it is a character that makes them
distinctively what they are-is deeply embedded in our outlook on the
world," Thompson says. "But it is a belief that is becoming less and less
easy to interpret in scientific terms."

Just as companion animals have a different essence or moral standing
than food animals, some people seem to attribute a higher moral standing
to crops that have been selectively bred using conventional means than to
those that have had a gene inserted in a laboratory.
There is a general belief by some people that these conventional crops
have been provided by nature or a Supreme Being to ensure the health of
our bodies (scientists who have spent their careers cross breeding crops
might dispute that), and that because genetically modified crops were not
provided by nature, they have a lower moral standing.
Thompson says such an outlook has deep cultural and moral roots. "It
drives me crazy when someone stands up and says that our food decisions
have to be based on science," he says. "It sounds like they're saying
that our culture and values are somehow irrelevant or illegitimate."

Because beliefs about food are so entrenched, there will always be
those who are opposed to genetically modified foods. "There's one segment
of people- they're not nuts or crackpots-that is committed to a holistic
way of understanding the world. They are not going to be easily persuaded
by any scientifically reductive account that talks about molecules and
building blocks of nature," he says. "These people aren't going to revise
their beliefs just because science has a better theory." Thompson says
society has a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure that these
people aren't forced by the marketplace to eat foods that they are opposed

"One of the mistakes people in the food systems have made is to think
that everyone would accept genetically modified foods," he says. "Let me
be clear: I have no objection to them myself, but a minority out there
won't accept them under any circumstances. Does their right to hold that
viewpoint have to be respected and protected? I think it does." Because
the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued guidelines that say that
genetically modified foods cannot be labeled organic-despite protests from
some in the scientific community who argue that there is nothing inorganic
about genetically modifying the crops-an inadvertent system has been set
up to allow people to avoid eating genetically modified foods.

"If this is enough to protect their right to opt out of genetically
engineered foods, then perhaps we can have a productive conversation
about genetically engineered food with the other 80 or 90 percent who
basically want to know whether agricultural biotechnology is safe and
environmentally sound," Thompson says. "We need a food system that allows
us to be informed by the best scientific thinking on food safety and
environmental risk, but not one that requires people to take a 13-week
course on molecular biology in order to plan a meal, or to sort out their
feelings about genetic engineering."