Re: SOC: Activism and the "Anti-GM" Movement
Sat, 9 Oct 1999 19:34:33 EDT

In a message dated 99-10-06 00:48:56 EDT, (Robert J. Bradbury) wrote:

> > While the news regarding Monsanto's decision to not deploy the
> > gene may actually be seen as a good thing by those advocating "open
> > genetics", I think it may mark an important and negative watershed.
> I think the saner minds within the company may have prevailed. Perhaps
> in part because of negative public opinion (or feedback from the farmers)
> but also because in genetic engineering the gene wars go to the smaller,
> faster, cheaper. Engineering a virus to correct something is probably
> much easier than engineering a plant to have a particular feature.
> If you can engineer sterility, it should be easier to "unengineer" it
> (because more than likely you know how it was engineered or can
> determine that with relative ease).

I agree with you here. In fact, the greens picked their battle very wisely in choosing opposition to the "Terminator gene" as a line to draw. That particular technology in a sense jumps ahead several steps in the public dialogue, making us face squarely issues arising from claims of ownership to genetic material. And, as you say, it might ultimately have been ineffective in accomplishing the company's stated goal, which was to protect their IP.

> It all comes down to price differentials. If the GE crop is only 5%
> cheaper to market, then you play to public opinion. If it is 50%,
> you as a manufacturer are going to start to be *real* worried about
> being undercut by the competition. So you offer both. Then the consumer
> gets to decide. Back to what I said -- GE products are operating at the
> margins now and because they don't have clear cut market advantages
> so the luddites can "claim" some success.

I'm not sure I follow your reasoning here: Are you saying that GE crops offering only a small economic benefit can't overcome ideological opposition, but ones that offer a larger incremental benefit should fare better? If so, I agree that there should be a differential impact of things like green opposition, in which case, let's hope for revolutionary breakthroughs before a serious negative "set" in public opinion (such as the widespread US rejection of nuclear power development) can take place.

> > No
> > doubt they looked to how quickly and easily the great mass of people
> > to
> > computers and advanced communication and entertainment technology and
> > simply
> > assumed that the same attitudes would ease consumer acceptance of their
> > products.
> Greg, this is off the wall. First the average biologist doesn't know
> anything about computers or advanced communication tech. You have to
> keep in mind lead times -- everything being announced by the biotech
> industry today was set in motion 3-8 years ago. They don't grow
> millions of seeds *overnight*! You should keep in mind that I
> haven't really been to any biotech conferences in the last 2 years
> (before the TIGR conference) and there is *virtually* nothing coming
> out that wasn't in the works 4-5 years ago. The majority of the
> GE backlash is due to the Mad Cow fiasco in England and that wasn't
> on *anyone's* radar screen 5 years ago. The only thing that I'm
> surprised about is that biologists are slowly waking up (a few
> at a time) to the potential applications of computer and automation
> technologies.

That the scientists and technologists working in the field didn't consider public reaction to their work 10 years ago when they began the projects that are currently bearing fruit doesn't surprise me, but isn't my point. My point is that the finance and marketing people who make the ultimate decisions about which products to bring to market, make such decisions on a shorter lead time and should be much more savvy about dealing with public reaction.

> The majority of consumers accept products on price, price and still
> more price. At the margins they go for quality or something different.
> The advantages in GE crops are simply not high enough at this point
> to make the price differentials that would move consumers out of
> "perceived" quality areas into the price realm.

Again, I agree with you about the small effect of a small differential benefit in price. But I believe that public opinion IS being molded in ways inimical to the ultimate goals of transhumanism by the greens during this period before the radical benefits of genetic technology are apparent. Unfortunately, this will be the window of time when legislation and decisions about long term product development may well be crafted in response to that perception of the direction of public opinion. For example, consider Gerber's statement that they were rejecting "GM foods" in their products to be "ahead of public opinion".

> With regard to the anti-GE folks, the proper response in all cases
> is "So what?" You have to trace down through human history and point
> out the cases where we have been breeding crops (and humans via
> selection paths we generally do not like to acknowledge) for
> millennia. Then you simply confront them with the paradox that
> isn't conscious engineering of desirable traits more efficent
> than choosing betwwen what nature has been willing to bequeth
> to you?

Here I think you are definitely overestimating both the rationality of the greens and their targets in the media and politics.

> > Organized groups opposed to rational use of genetic technology have made
> > the
> > complete banning of genetically modified food and the use of advanced
> > genetic
> > technology in human medical applications a key policy objective.
> Please cite references here for "use of advanced genetic technology in
> human medical applications" (unless you are refering to the "cloning"
> debate). I was absolutely floored to read that even the Catholic
> Church did not find Ventner/TIGR's work to "create" a bacteria
> out of of order (so long as you weren't trying to create "humans").
> That to me says that we have a green light from the only body that
> could offer signficant resistance. Everyone else is a fringe
> organization.

Here's a typical example from green academia:

Here's a draft of model legislation that would ban essentially all work involving genetic engineering of "fetal tissue" (defined as any multi-cell grouping that derives from stem cells). Because of the chilling statist rationale included in the preamble to this proposed legislation, I include some language from it:

"(8) Because of the complex moral, social, legal, familial, and economic issues involved, the decision to use genetic engineering techniques on human beings should not be left to the individual discretion of those who develop or have access to these technologies. These issues, and the conditions under which these technologies can be used, must most properly be resolved in the public forum and most specifically through the elected representatives of the people."

Here's a particularly chilling German combination of green pseudoscience and Christian religiosity:

... and an American example of the same kind of thing:

This is a typically postmodernist philosophical attack on the enterprise of genetic engineering (interestingly, defining Randian "Objectivists" as the archetype of "narrow-minded rationalists" who believe that genetic engineering can be done safely):

The preceding three examples being important because religious and "philosophical" objections to GE foods seem to provide the kind of ideological breeding ground for the deep rejection of all kinds of genetic engineering that I most fear.

And to see the full-blown type to which I'm referring, here's a UK group calling itself the "Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering", which explicitly opposes any manipulation of the human genome:

Finally, take a look at the "Genetic Engineering Network's" claimed membership:

"Corporate Watch, Earth First!, genetiX snowball, Genetix Food Alert, Green Party, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Women's Environmental Network and Gaia Foundation"

. . . that's at:

And just to put a real chill on your Seattle afternoon, Robert (if any were necessary), take a look at this from Kirkpatick Sales (it doesn't address genetics directly, but clearly articulates the anti-technology and anti-progress mentality behind the green movement generally):

> > By and
> > large, their media targets are not scientifically literate and come from
> > an
> > essentially anti-science background in university training in the
> > humanities.
> > There is no opposition to these anti-science groups that is nearly as
> > organized and, at least so far, nearly as articulate and effective.
> Your point is proved by the Kansas situation, but the response to that
> was pretty loud. It isn't the humanitarian reporters that we have
> to watch so much as the people who are trying to pass off works of
> historical drama as reality.

As I said in my first response, I fear you overestimate the rationality of both the media and the public, when it comes to matters that require scientific understanding. Only time will tell which of us is right; but of course it couldn't hurt to be more of an activist in explaining the truth and spreading a positive, rational attitude toward genetic technology.

> Horse puckies. While Monsanto was playing "big" & "friendly" to the
> public, the U.S. House was trying to out-do the U.S. Senate in
> increasing funding for the NIH. Genetic engineering of your food
> doesn't do much for you -- giving your mother or father a GE replacement
> heart does. Public opinion rises & falls on the degree of relevance
> to the individuals -- when economic times are good, incumbants get
> reelected, when they are bad, Hasta la vista babiee. When your life
> is on the line or the life of someone you care for, people will move
> heaven and earth to find new approaches or solutions. Public opinion
> is irrelevant in the light of highly motivated people -- witness the
> progress on prostate cancer driven by a single individual - Michael Milken.

I hope you are right, Robert. And I have not abandoned the optimism that makes me an extropian. But I urge you to consider that historical ages and cultural epochs do not begin and end abruptly. People did not wake up one day in the middle of the 15th century and say to themselves, "Whew, I'm glad the Dark Ages are over!"

It IS possible that a deadly, irrational backlash against human genetic engineering could take place. And consider that the people LEAST likely to see it coming would be those who spend their lives working in science and technology and communicating with people who share their knowledge, values and goals.

> > The forces of enlightened scientific and technological progress MUST
> > become
> > more effective in communicating their message or, I believe, the
> > will succeed in significantly slowing the pace of that progress.
> >
> In GE plants maybe, but that is only of "real" significance in 10-20 years
> when the population and agricultural productivity start to collide in a
> real way. If nanotech trumps biotech by that time, then the loss of
> GE plants *is of no significance*.

I agree, but I have vowed to not make plans or even develop my personal public policy based on a certainty that nanotech is "just around the corner".

> If I could make a reasonable case for
> demonstrable organ preservation technology based on GE in a few years
> it would be sellable. There is a *big* difference between selling
> someone a better tomato and selling someone a better heart.

I agree with you there 100%, which is why I am so anxious for radical benefits from human genetic technology to come onto the scene soon. The less time people have to fret about "Frankenscience" and the sooner they see grandpa get up out of his walker and take a hike, the sooner we can tell the green doomsayers to go blow it out their you-know-whats.

> [snip] Case in point --
> given the significant press and noise over the problems with silicone
> breast implants you would expect that women would have stopped having
> them. Is this the case? From my read, for a very brief period yes,
> but now they are more common than they ever were previously.

As tempted as I am to make a wise-crack from the city that was long known as the home of the augmented breast, I shall refrain . . . I ... may ... pop ... a ... gasket ...

> > Believing that the life-saving power of advanced biotechnology alone
> > will be sufficient to overcome opposition is naive: Most Western
> > democracies have already accepted the idea of government rationing of
> > health care.
> Yes because health care, is just that "care". It is assumed that you
> are going to die anyway, so why not get it over with. As the ideas
> that you do not have to die (cryonics) or perpetual immortality
> (uploading) creep up on individuals, they will put their own hard
> earned dollars on the line and then their active support behind these
> ideas.

Yes, but as I say above, there is no pre-ordained order to these developments. Opposition to "ultra-technology" IS growing. The Green Party shares in power in the current German government and they have a HUGE influence on public opinion in the UK (I urge you to spend some time listening to the BBC: It is indistinguishable from an official organ of Greenpeace.)

> People who are really aware realize that the actions in an individual
> country are irrelevent. So the luddites gain the upper hand in the
> U.S. or Mexico, do they also do so in the Bahamas or Lichtenstien?

... and I recall our correspondence about what you called "Plan 'B'"...

     Greg Burch     <>----<>
      Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                           Thomas Huxley