... can I claim goodie?
P.R. LANGUAGE-SABOTAGE PROMOTES GENE-TAMPERING
L R B Mann
Almost every significant public utterance from the
gene-tampering trade has been massaged, morphed, varnished and warped
by the depraved trade of mercenary deception - PR. Last time I
heard, Monsanto had a couple dozen PR operatives.
The very term 'genetic modification', adopted by the Minister
for the Environment for the name of the Royal Commission, is
deceitful. Some student should trace its origin (a decade ago). The
earlier term, 'genetic engineering', while tending to ingratiate
gene-splicing by the implication that the processes amount to a
technology planned for foreseeable effects (a lie), has the weakness
- from the viewpoint of the PR twister - of subtly menacing
overtones. 'Modification' mollifies the image; it resonates better
with the principal lie that the artificial gene-splicings developed
just this past couple of decades are no more than speeded-up natural
processes. Having established this newer, gentler term
'modification', the PR liars then crooned soothingly "genetic
modification has been going on for centuries, in the form of
conventional breeding", which they had not tried on back in the
mid-1970s when gene-splicing was invented and came under some ethical
scrutiny in New Scientist and a few other scientific magazines.
But going back to 'engineering' will not go far enough.
Uncontrolled insertions of spliced 'constructs' of synthetic DNA
"copied" from various kingdoms of organisms and from virus genes can
be called technology only at the risk of insulting proper
technologies such as comprise actual engineering.
One step further back, let us reconsider the first word in
the PR labels for these novel drastic gene-tamperings: 'genetic'.
The organisms created are, in many cases, of unknown genetic
propensities; it is not known how many, if any, generations they can
breed, and there is good reason to believe they will not breed true.
Furthermore, their genomes are likely to emanate infectious pathogens
e.g. novel virus with modified cauliflower mosaic virus promoter
causing horizontal gene transfer to mammals including man. Of
course, the ultimate in anti-genetic engineering would be the fabled
'Terminator' seed - not yet real, but under development in the labs
of Monsanto and other corporations - sterile if the parent crop's
seed was treated with a specified chemical. But even current
gene-jiggered soya, maize, oilseed rape, and cotton (the main
gene-tampered crop plants so far) have novel properties which can
hardly be called genetic. The lab-produced seed expresses the
transgenes so as to biosynthesize an insecticide throughout the
plant, or an enzyme which confers resistance to a particular
herbicide (e.g. one which is the main money-spinner of the
corporation selling the herbicide-resistant line of gene-jiggered
seed). Sure, transgenes are expressed; but genetics as she is known
is scarcely involved. Nothing is intended to be inherited, in the
commercial scenario protected by perverted patent law. Genetic
pollution is expected (as the Frankenseed purveyors refuse to admit),
but no worthwhile genetics. What is engineered is not genetics but
- for a few years - profits for the gene-tamperers.
It cannot be too often mentioned that benefits are not
expected, nor are they emerging, for the farmers, or the consumers,
or the distributors, of Frankenfood. To foist on all these sectors
ill-tested, possibly poisonous food must rank as one of the more
vicious triumphs of the mercenary deceivers.
The pollution of thought by PR has confused many who should
know better. For instance, the Royal Society of NZ has become a main
propagandist for gene-tampering. The RSNZ colluded with Monsanto,
subsidised by government funds, in a 'private trust' called
'GenepoolŪ' to maintain a thoroughly deceitful website and a series
of 'seminars' around the country with admission fees high enought to
keep out ordinary citizens. The then PresRSNZ, a leading physician,
wrote on behalf of the RSNZ about the Showa Denko GE-tryptophan
disaster thus: "Rare cases of EMS were known before the introduction
of the genetically engineered bacterium, which further supports the
hypothesis that EMS is not due to the genetic engineering event."
An exact analogue of that argument would run: "Rare cases of
seal-limb were known before the introduction of thalidomide, which
further supports the hypothesis that seal-limb is not due to
thalidomide." Misleading illogic abounds as never before in the
'debate' around gene-tampering.
Auckland university teacher of marketing Dr Judy Motion has
carefully studied the role of PR in the King Salmon caper, a field
trial of gene-jiggered salmon in tanks (near Blenheim) with
inadequate exit filters. The Royal Commission was told of this
expert but failed to subpoena her; they didn't really want to know
about the Liberian-registered company, owned by Koreans, which sued
for 'defamation' the only member of Parliament who has been talking
much sense on gene-tampering, Jeanette Fitzsimons - for giving the
media leaked PR advice to King Salmon by a PR agent who also ran
The most neutral, informative, widely intelligible term for
rDNA techniques is gene-splicing. True, it has a certain unsolemn
vernacular style to it; but it is far less misleading than either of
the main PR terms 'genetic engineering' and 'genetic modification'.
Of course, for polemical purposes one resorts to 'gene-tampering' or
'gene-jiggering'; but I think the normal term, with minimal
tendentiousness, should be 'gene-splicing'.
'Gene manipulation' may be one of the most widely suitable
terms, somewhat less neutral than 'gene-splicing' but far less
deceptive than either 'genetic engineering' or 'genetic modification'.
Can we look fw to a counterattack by, say, 'gene gentling' or
'gene caressing'? And then perhaps 'heritage fondling' ? :-}