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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  August 2010

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE August 2010

Subject:

Re: GM crop on the loose and evolving in the wild

From:

Stuart Newman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Mon, 9 Aug 2010 12:00:17 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (182 lines)

By prioritizing issues in this way (i.e, how many people are being killed by this
or that activity?) Michael is missing a major cultural dimension of the Science-
for-the-People and related critiques that started up in the late 1960s. If the
products of basic science can be appropriated by commercial enterprises in
league with the governmental regulators they buy and the academics and
science writers they enlist to produce and distribute supporting ideologies to
an extent that they can refabricate, brand and patent the most common
foodstuffs with barely a peep from the public, something major has happened
in the history of civilization. If this reconfiguring of food itself goes
unopposed, there is nothing that industry won't be able to accomplish.

By taking a role on the listserve that repesents the remnants of a movement
some of whose members remember the world (i.e., pre-Chakrabarty decision,
pre-Bayh-Dole Act) at the point where this consolidadation of the science-
govenment-industrial complex was just beginning, of saying "forget about it -
genetically engineered foods are not killing anybody," Michael is doing a
disservice to the original impulses of this late movement. Strictly on practical
terms, we haven't seen even the beginning of the effects of opening the
floodgates to GM foods.

At a meeting last month on the impact of the new genetics on reproductive
technologies, the market in human eggs, genetiic discrimination, and the
prospect of human cloning and germline modification, a well-known academic
feminist said to me that she thought prospective genetic engineering of
humans was no big deal - an issue mainly for male technophiles. After all, she
said, how many people will die from it?


On Mon, 9 Aug 2010 15:52:54 +0100, Michael Balter
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>I sometimes wonder what our priorities would be if, one day, Science for the
>People were reconstituted as a real organization. Perhaps it could never
>happen, as we might never find agreement about it. But I would like to think
>that fighting for an outright ban of genetically engineered products, which
>so has led to the deaths of very few people, would be far down the list
>compared to issues such as nuclear arms, global warming, universal health
>care, an academic boycott of Israel, university involvement in weapons
>research, the fast food industry, and maybe even nuclear power, and other
>other issues (not necessarily in that order, and other list members might
>have their own favorites) that potentially put thousands or millions of
>lives at risk or are actually leading to deaths in the here and now. The
>battle against genetic engineering made sense 35 years ago, when the
>potential risks were almost completely unknown, and when Science for the
>People was rightly raising concerns about it. Today, other than advocating
>for tighter regulations and more scientific evaluation before products and
>processes are approved, it's hard to justify devoting a great deal of
>activist effort to it. Which probably explains why so few activists do.
>
>MB
>
>On Sun, Aug 8, 2010 at 9:19 PM, Robert Mann <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>>
>> Genetically Modified Crop on the Loose and Evolving in U.S. Midwest
>> David Biello
>> Scientific American, 6 August 2010
>> http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=genetically-modified-crop
>>
>> *GM canola plant refugees from farms in North Dakota bear multiple
>> transgenic traits
>>
>> Outside a grocery store in Langdon, N.D., two ecologists spotted a yellow
>> canola plant growing on the margins of a parking lot this summer. They
>> plucked it, ground it up and, using a chemical stick similar to those in
>> home pregnancy kits, identified proteins that were made by artificially
>> introduced genes. The plant was GM - genetically modified.
>> That's not too surprising, given that North Dakota grows tens of
>> thousands of hectares of conventional and genetically modified canola - a
>> weedy plant, known scientifically as* Brassica napus* var* oleifera*, bred
>> by Canadians to yield vegetable oil from its thousands of tiny seeds. What
>> was more surprising was that nearly everywhere the two ecologists and
their
>> colleagues stopped during a trip across the state, they found GM canola
>> growing in the wild. "We found transgenic plants growing in the middle of
>> nowhere, far from fields," says ecologist Cindy Sagers of the University of
>> Arkansas (U.A.) in Fayetteville, who presented the findings August 6 at the
>> Ecological Society of America meeting in Pittsburgh. Most intriguingly, two
>> of the 288 tested plants showed man-made genes for resistance to multiple
>> pesticides - so-called "stacked traits," and a type of seed that
>> biotechnology companies like Monsanto have long sought to develop and
>> market. As it seems, Mother Nature beat biotech to it.
>> "One of the ones with multiple traits was [in the middle of] nowhere, and
>> believe me, there's a lot of nowhere in North Dakota - nowhere near a
canola
>> field," she adds.
>>
>> That likely means that transgenic canola plants are cross-pollinating in
>> the wild-and swapping introduced genes. Although GM canola in the wild
has
>> been identified everywhere from Canada to Japan in previous research, this
>> marks the first time such plants have been shown to be evolving in this
>> way. "They had novel combinations of transgenic traits," Sagers
says. "The
>> most parsimonious explanation is these traits are stable outside of
>> cultivation and they are evolving."
>> Escaped populations of such transgenic plants have generally died out
>> quickly without continual replenishment from stray farm seeds in places
such
>> as Canada, but canola is capable of hybridizing with at least two - and
>> possibly as many as eight - wild weed species in North America, including
>> field mustard (*Brassica rapa*), which is a known agricultural pest. "Not
>> only is it going to jump out of cultivation; there are sexually compatible
>> weeds all over North America," Sagers says. Adds ecologist-in-training
>> Meredith Schafer of U.A., who led the research, "It becomes a weed
[farmers]
>> can't control."
>>
>> There has been no evidence to show that the herbicide resistance genes
will
>> either increase or decrease fitness to date. The finding provides, however,
>> a warning for future genetic modifications that might increase fitness in
>> all kinds of plants; it will be difficult to keep those traits on the farm
>> and out of the wild. "The big concern is traits that would increase
>> invasiveness or weediness, traits such as drought tolerance, salt tolerance,
>> heat or cold tolerance" says weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith of Oregon
>> State University - all the traits that Monsanto and others are currently
>> developing to help crops adapt to climate change. "These traits would
have
>> the possibility of expanding a species' range." In the case of canola,
>> consider it done - at least in North Dakota.
>>
>> This is not the first transgenic crop to escape into the wild in the U.S.;
>> herbicide-resistant turf grass being tested in Oregon spread as well in
>> 2006. And GM canola is not a regulated plant, "therefore no protocols are
>> required by the regulatory agencies to reduce or prevent escape," notes
>> ecologist Allison Snow of The Ohio State University. "The next question is:
>> 'So what?' What difference does it make if the feral canola or any species
>> that hybridize with it have two transgenes for herbicide resistance?"
>>
>> Canola modified to resist either the herbicide glufosinate (brand name
>> Liberty) or glyphosate (brand name Roundup) has been available in the U.S.
>> since 1989 - and unregulated since 1998 and 1999, respectively for the two
>> herbicides. "These results are not new for Canadian researchers and to be
>> expected if two types of transgenic herbicide-resistant canola are
>> commercially grown," says Suzanne Warwick of Agriculture and Agri-Food
>> Canada, a government agency.
>>
>> A common source for GM canola in the wild is seed that has scattered
during
>> harvest or fallen off a truck during transport. "Because about 90 percent
>> of the U.S. and Canadian canola crop is biotech, it is reasonable to expect
>> a survey of roadside canola to show similar levels of biotech plants," said
>> Tom Nickson, environmental policy lead at Monsanto, in a prepared
statement.
>>
>> Nor does Monsanto claim ownership of the escaped plants, even those with
>> multiple transgenes, according to company spokesman John Combest. "It
has
>> never been, nor will it be, Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights
>> where trace amounts of our patented traits are present in fields as a result
>> of inadvertent means," although researchers would have to obtain a license
>> from the company to work with the GM plant.
>>
>> It remains to be seen how much sexual mingling such transgenic plants do;
>> U.A.'s Sagers plans to do greenhouse trials starting in a few weeks. But it
>> does provide a compelling example of how genes might move through a
given
>> population. "This is a good model for the influence of agriculture on the
>> evolution of native plants," she says. "We can imagine gene flow to native
>> species. If we can imagine it happening, it probably happens."
>> ................................................................
>>
>
>
>
>--
>******************************************
>Michael Balter
>Contributing Correspondent, Science
>Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
>New York University
>
>Email: [log in to unmask]
>Web: michaelbalter.com
>NYU: journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/balter.html
>******************************************
>
>"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor
>have no food, they call me a Communist." -- H�lder Pessoa C�mara
>

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