Re: SOC: Anti-genetic engineering hysteria growing

Robert J. Bradbury (
Thu, 15 Jul 1999 12:59 PDT

Greg Burch wrote:

> Based on the extent of the "anti-GM" hysteria I'm seeing increasing signs
> of in the UK, elsewhere in the EU and to a lesser extent in Australia,
> I think we may be facing a fundamental showdown on a key element of the
> transhumanist agenda much sooner than many of us expected.

Its fundamental economics. A lot of agriculture in Europe gets government subsidies (I suppose it does in the U.S. as well). The EU governments see the U.S. going to GM crops so they know in order to be competitive they have to as well. So they promote GM crops. The farmers see that GM crops will be more productive so fewer fields will be required to grow them. They see a reduction in subsidies and price supports and so they try to put pressure on the government to stop GM crops. When that doesn't work they respond by resorting to spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt). If they happen to get the ear of a sympathetic legislator (who isn't in one of the Science ministries promoting the GM trend), you then get labeling legislation that then feeds back to the public. Since the public knows nothing about science, if "labeling" is required, then there must really be something to fear about GM crops.

The GM trend is unstopable. I was stunned to find out in *1995* that the local university was testing GM crops in fields in *Trinidad*. The Chinese are also doing a lot of field testing that we hear very little about. Because GM of plants doesn't have huge capital startup costs or require "new knowledge" (i.e. barriers to entry are low) almost any country can set up a lab to do it. Send a few dozen students to a good Ag-school in America and they return home with all the knowledge they need in a few years.

While the farmers in Europe have an incentive to stop GM crops, the reverse is true in third world countries. When you are struggling to survive, anything you can do to increase your productivity is going to help.

Can you stop imports of GM crops by testing for added genes? Yes, that works for known genes (like Bt), but the number of possible modifications is huge. To test for them you are going to have to know what they are. A farmer wanting to sell his crop, or a government wanting to boost exports isn't likely to be up front about what those modifications are.

The only solution is to educate the public. There is a great story about some Ag-firm that had managed to breed a completely "natural" strain of one vegetable (cabbage I think) that turned out to be highly insect resistant. It was insect resistant because it had significantly amplified its production of its natural pesticides. [Many "natural" plant pesticides when tested with the standard tests qualify as carcinogenic]. This makes sense when you consider that the plants have been at war with the insects for ~300 million years.

Until you get the public to understand that "natural" foods consist of toxic & non-toxic chemicals and what matters is the quantities of both, the FUD will have an effect.

> Prince Charles declaring that ''Genetic modification takes mankind into
> realms that belong to God and God alone,''

That's going to have a big effect in Russia, China, Japan, India much of Africa where the prevailing religions have a much different perspective of that of Europeans/Americans. It also isn't going to have much of an effect in countries with extreme population pressures that need any agricultural advantage they can get.

The first plant genome (Arabidopsis) appears to be about 66% complete (86 Mbases out of ~130 Mbases). I think the estimated completion date is sometime this year or next year. Since this is public data it will open the flood gates on doing real work on plants. We may reasonably assume there are more than a few politicians from the American mid-west states applying pressure on the Dept. of Agriculture to get on with sequencing various plant and farm animal genomes. I would presume that this isn't going to receive much resistance from the religious right because these are animals & plants, not humans, we are talking about and farmers do care about their bottom line. As soon as the human genome is complete (2001-2003), the resources dedicated to that will move onto the other genomes (mouse & rat, then other genomes, presumably in some relation to the order of economic significance).

Now, if someone would just do the Komodo Lizard, so I could build my dragon, which was why I got into biotech in the first place. Hmmmphhh.