BIOTECH/GM: Biased books against and counterstrikes

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sun Jul 22 2001 - 09:54:47 MDT

Nature has a review of "Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge
to Genetic Engineering", B. Tokar (ed.). Zed Books (2001).

The general tone of the review seems to suggest that the book is
a complete hack job trying to "sell" the positions of the authors.
Kind of along the lines of the "radical-sell" that Greg suggested
Rifkin's books are at Extro 5.

Partial quotes (trying to stay within the copyright laws...):

> The approach of Tokar and his colleagues is illustrated by three items that
> do appear in the book. One stems from a 1999 article in The Guardian
> newspaper claiming that the British Diabetic Association had withheld
> evidence that thousands of diabetics may have suffered a deterioration
> in health after using recombinant insulin. Although the association has
> categorically denied both the alleged evidence and its alleged cover-up,
> the charge surfaces again here in a piece about "a suppressed 1993 report
> commissioned by the British Diabetics [sic] Association".

Then a reference to potatoes with a lectin gene causing a furore in '98
citing Arpád Pusztai's 1999 Lancet paper that did *not* back up his claims
that they caused adverse effects on growth or the immune system (refs below).
> Third, we read that "a single intentional change in a plant's DNA can cause
> other, unintended health and safety problems". Yet the single citation here
> is to a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine paper about an allergen gene
> from brazil nuts. The authors of the paper showed that this can be
> expressed in soybeans, which provoked allergic reactions in people already
> known to be allergic to brazil nuts. So what?

I've read the abstract from that paper and cited it in my previous
review of the whole GM area. It was good science funded by the
AgBio industry to determine whether allergens transfer across species
and the answer is yes so they are really careful to minimize the
allergenicity of genes that go into food crops.

> The real purpose of that research was to investigate and then remove a
> potential hazard. Alas, Tokar and his colleagues do not seem interested
> in these positive aspects of transgenic work. They do not even mention
> the most exciting potential of genetic manipulation regarding allergy --
> the possibility of eliminating potential allergens from foodstuffs and
> thus avoiding the misery, and worse, that they can cause.

> Many references in Redesigning Life? are to newspapers and magazines,
> reminding us of the role the media have played, particularly in fomenting
> hysteria over GM foods. That influence is examined crisply and perceptively
> in "A Grain of Truth: The Media, the Public, and Biotechnology (Rowman
> & Littlefield, 2001) by Susanna Hornig Priest, a professor of journalism in the
> United States. It should be read carefully by all who believe that the media
> get everything wrong, that journalists exercise excessive power over a gullible
> public or that they are too preoccupied with either doom or hype.

And then of course my new hero is Italian television producer of the science
prime-time show "Superquark" who is getting sued by homeopathists for his
'dissing of their profession.

Angela says:
  "Science is not like philosophy, where viewers can listen to both sides
   and decide for themselves, science cannot be decided on by the vote
   of viewers."

- "Transgenic ills and otherwse", B. Dixon, Nature 412:275-6 (2001)
- "Transgenic food debate. The Lancet scolded over Pusztai paper."
   Enserink M.
   Science. 1999 Oct 22;286(5440):656.
- "Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing
   Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine",
   Ewen SW, Pusztai A.
   Lancet. 1999 Oct 16;354(9187):1353-4.
- "Disgruntled homeopathists seek remedy in court",
   A. Abbott,
   Nature 412, 261 (2001)

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