Re: snappy sound bites for Glowing Grass

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jul 10 2000 - 08:45:17 MDT

On Mon, 10 Jul 2000, R. Harrill wrote:

> ...when R. Harrill, small farmer of the non-toxic variety, expressed his
> frustration with a mostly untested "science" that is being rapidly loosed
> on the agricultural scene.

Rex, could you cite examples where biotech is operating in a distinctly
different way than traditional plant breeding? (Other than perhaps
say the problem of antibiotic genes in the plants, which were/are
an unfortunate engineering path that should be eliminated in the future.)

For example -- are "natural" hybrid crops subjected to the same testing
and environmental controls that the engineered crops undergo?

Bruce Ames has a wonderful story about a "natural" insect resistant
vegetable that was developed through traditional crop breeding methods
a few years ago. I believe it was giving rashes to the workers who
harvested it. Subsequent testing found that the reason it was insect
resistant was a mutation that significantly amplified its production
of "natural" insect toxins (many of which are mutagenic or carcinogenic).

What would be better -- "natural" food products containing toxins that
are known to have some mutagenic capacity or "artificial" food products
containing substances harmful to "pests" but harmless to humans?

[Whether such substances exists is an open question currently, but
knowledge of the respective genomes (pests & humans) gives some
hope that such substances might be eventually be discovered.]

> Do some serious research and you'll find that many of the people against GE
> bio-tech have serious concerns---they're not just anti-new. The biological
> web of life out there is rather delicately balanced. You can't just throw
> a glowing-grass monkey wrench in it and not reap unanticipated
> consequences.

The development of plants with antibiotic genes is probably undesirable.
As is the use of antibiotics in livestock production and fish farming.
So to be rational about it anti-Gene-Engineering activists should be
as active against current farming practices as they are against the
introduction of newly engineered products with what can be perceived
as "bad" attributes.

The bio-web is delicately balanced -- but as I've pointed out in the
Extropian list and at the Foresight conferences -- it is an uncontrolled
collection of self-replicating nanomachines with no agenda other than
to further copying their own genes. Consider for example the hundreds of
millions of people affected by that nasty little malaria parasite.
How exactly to you tradeoff their well-being and even survival
against the use of DDT to kill those pesky bugs that carry the
parasite, even at the risk of harming secondary species such as birds?

Can you define some principles or sets of moral criteria that would
allow weighing the goals and interests of live, breathing, conscious
humans against the maintenance of a "whole-istic" and deadly bioweb?


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