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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  November 2003

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE November 2003

Subject:

Steven Rose and Robert Mann on GM food

From:

Maurice Bazin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 5 Nov 2003 21:07:03 -0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (194 lines)

Dear SftP friends,
I found the interview of Steven Rose as criticized by Rbt Mann quite
interesting.
The original interview was obviously for a "left" public. Mann
criticized from a technical angle and beyond as I would love to be able
to do.  But I am not that expert and could not decide who was more
right or less wrong...
So I forwarded Mann's comments to Rose privately. Rose decided to take
the time to do some replying and sent that to me.  I now share with you
all the reply of Steven to Robert's comments...    with all the
paraphernalia of reply to reply to reply <  <<   or colored bars in the
left margin   (you can all  figure out that postmodern logic!)

>
>> From: Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>
>>        May I comment on part of the recent interview with Prof
>> Stephen Rose?
>>
>>
>>> Q.  What are your views on GM crops?
>>>
>>> A.  It has so far been done without any clear benefit to the
>>> consumer, but
>>> with huge benefit to agribusiness and the big companies.  We should
>>> focus not just on the technology, but the whole context of
>>> agribusiness.
>>>
>>>       < right on
>>>
>>>
>>> There's nothing intrinsically dangerous about inserting or removing
>>> genes in plants or animals.
>>>
>>>       < this is largely misleading.  The methods of inserting foreign
>>> genes are so unlike any natural process that they are virtually bound
>>> to cause a wide variety of exotic mutants.  In the current methods,
>>> most of the target cells are killed; of the minority that survive,
>>> most are
>>> obvious monsters and therefore discarded.  Of the tiny minority
>>> remaining, some exhibit the desired new property  -  e.g
>>> biosynthesizing a
>>> modified version of a Bt toxin, or growing in a higher concentration
>>> of Roundup
>>> than kills normal plants.  Other properties, e.g lower yield of
>>> soybeans,
>>> remain to be discovered in the large-scale duping of farmers now
>>> going on.  I think it's fairer to characterise such exotic processes
>>> of
>>> genes-insertion as intrinsically dangerous than to make the opposite
>>> extreme statement as Rose does.
>
> Rose's Response - I don't think this is true - organisms have built in
> plasticity
> which makes it far more likely (at least in the world of animal
> knock-ins
> and knock-outs) that there is 'no phenotype' rather than an exotic
> dangerous
> mutant. In fact in my view the claims for GM's benefits are as extreme
> as
> this comment albeit in the opposite direction. Of course, as I keep
> emphasising, 'genes' are not little logic bits that can be pulled out
> or put
> into a genome without any consideration of context - the context of the
> rest of the genome, and more importantly even the developmental context
> within which particular lengths of DNA are processed and proteins
> expressed
>>>
>>>
>>> It all depends - and that is the problem. Organisms are not
>>> computers.
>>> You can't just take out a gene and put in another gene as if you were
>>>  rewiring a bit of machinery.  Genes express themselves in very
>>> complex
>>> ways depending on context - including all the other genes in the
>>> cell.
>>>
>>>       < very good
>>>
>>>
>>> The idea you can have one gene which can convey, for example, frost
>>> resistance to strawberries
>>>
>>>       < this is an urban myth.  The undocumented 'ice minus' caper -
>>> the first GMO field test, by Genentech of Oakland Ca, ripped up by
>>> the
>>> dreaded activists - was not based on any notion of a gene conferring
>>> frost
>>> resistance on strawberries but on a deletion in a bacterium that
>>> lives on the plant surfaces.  There was no claim of any gene
>>> 'conveying'
>>> frost-resistance. It is slighly worrying that Rose appears not to be
>>> familiar with the
>>> most elementary facts on this caper.
>>>
> Rose's Response: I'm sorry I picked the ice minus example almost at
> random
> from so many, in the interview; I certainly haven't checked the
> literature on this
> recently and it would have been much better to concentrate on some of
> those that are
> worrying in the present debate in the UK  on e.g. oil seed rape
> (canola I
> expect to those transatlantic) and the 'round-up ready' games with soy.
>>>
>>> and that is the only thing it does under all circumstances is
>>> manifestly untrue.
>>>
>>>       < right on  -  see esp D Schubert, Nat Biotech _20_ 969 Oct
>>>                             2002 (I can frwrd a pdf to anyone who
>>> requests it)
>>>
>>>
>>> If you say to me, "Is it hazardous to eat GM foods?" I think there
>>> are a lot more toxic things in the environment that we should worry
>>> about.
>>> However I won't buy a GM tomato, because I don't want to contribute
>>> to
>>> Monsanto's profits.
>>>
>>>       < This is reminiscent of the old Soviet-&-stooges line 'nuclear
>>>           power is OK as long as it's done by the State' - obviously
>>> a pile of
>>>           crap, even before Chernobyl.
>>>       < The general theoretical statements just before are pretty
>>>          good; why then is Rose so sanguine about GM food?  It
>>> appears to be capable
>>>          of killing & maiming on a considerable scale:
>>>          http://www.connectotel.com/gmfood/trypto.html
> Rose's Comment - a. I somewhat resent the comparison. I didn't say GM
> was good, I
> said I was prepared to consider arguments on merit - but in any event
> you
> can't divorce the technoscience from the social framework within which
> it is
> embedded - and we can all agree that the framework is not exactly
> people-friendly - but where does all this overblown rhetoric about
> killing
> and maiming come from? There's no evidence that I know of?

So, I, Maurice, come in with my reading of the
http://www.connectotel.com/gmfood/trypto.html reference
given by Mann.   I read it and saw references to articles in Science.
Anyone who has read this far
into this e-mail should go read the reference. If it is not exactly a
case of "killing and maiming", directly
attributable to GM products, it is a case where they were being made
with lateral consequences (the killing of people was due to bad
filtering, said the merchant...).  But I was struck by the rhetoric
that appeals to parallels with other events (Mimamata in this case),
using some businessman's absurd discourse and fitting it onto another
situation where it becomes just as absurd.  I wonder why one would need
so much "proof" of absurdity. I frankly prefer Rose's less extreme way
of evaluating the situation and recognizing his goof when he goofed.
I personnally need this kind of exchange to get to understand better
the GM situation, although I know that it is not at all a pure matter
of genetics but of gains and greeds of those who control agribusiness,
sustained by the general mystique of technological solutions supposedly
solving the problem of the last technological solution's difficulties,
but always leaving aside and destroying the people's historical
solutions (yearly seed selection by peasants in a given ecological
situation, for instance), this in turn sustained by the "informative
statements" offered by the multinational companies as copy for
etherized journalists.
So, please, be calm, so I can seee the round-up with the GM seed, the
whole business, that is. It is still the herbicide, the pesticide or
the fertilizer, the products of comercial chemistry that affect our
health and that of our natural surroundings.    It is the style of
"commerce über alles" and free-but-gainful-for-the-rich enterprise that
destroys the quality of our lives.

By the way, the brazilian government simply believes in 'science and
progress' and imitation of the "developed", the same way that
communists believed in fusion energy. But it also listens to the big
land owners who mechanized soy cultivation on a large scale and play
golf with their buddies who "represent" Monsanto. Question of class, my
friends.   It seems however that the power of scientificism is here
even bigger than the commercial profit motive and class interests:
Brazil is still a place where most soy can be sold to Europe and Japan
because it is not GM soy. You would think that this would be recognized
as quite an advantage over, say, Argentina that has gone over to GM
seeds with roundup several years ago (and does not get better yields
with it than Brazil with conventional seeds) and lost these markets.
But growers planted GM seeds on the sly, illegally, anyway.  Brazilians
always think that things that come from the North are better than
nationally produced ones, from guitar strings to flower seeds.  That is
why many stores and outlets use names that sound American... although
they do not recognize Texas in Texaco gas stations, nor see Bush oiled
in that gasoline; but that is another story......another facet of the
same story of minds being constantly colonized.

Maurice Bazin,  Florianópolis,   Brasil
Tel: 55 48 237 3140
Fax: 55 48 338 2686 (may need oral warning; pode precisar avisar)

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