I want to start his by saying I love science. I believe that through science we may understand more about life, and improve our lives.
I also need to say that blind faith in the goodness of “science” is foolish. The scientific method requires investigation, proof, and peer review. Science can be used for good and evil, Just a few quick examples:
The Chemist Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in 1919 for his work in synthesizing ammonia. His aim was to increase the availability of fertilizers for crops. He also worked on pesticides, using a cyanide derivative. Other uses of his work include the poison gas used in WW1 and Zyklon-b, the gas used to exterminate Jews by the NAZIs.
Gregor Mendel discovered the effects of genes. His work has been used to create monoclonal antibodies which can cure cancer. Hybrid crops produce more food, and can be resistant to pests, hybrid cattle survive in more extreme conditions and produce more beef. Knowing that a fetus has a genetic disease, or even is just the “wrong” sex, can allow for it being aborted.
Albert Einstein discovered the ratio of equivalency between mass and energy. His principles have been applied to advances in medical imaging and the production of clean, safe, energy. They have also been used to produce the most devastating weapons known to man.
Using these three men as examples, Today I am writing about genetic modifications.
A byproduct of science is that many people don’t understand it. “Radiation” even though it has many meanings and applications, means “radioactivity” in the minds of the public. “Nuclear”, meaning the center, or nucleus of a cell, is so associated with radioactivity that MNRI, or Magnetic Nuclear Resonance Imaging, in which the magnetic resonance of the nuclei of cells is imaged, changed its name to “Magnetic Resonance Imaging” or MRI. Mary Shelly’s portrayal of medical experimentation gone mad gave us Frankenstein, so that Chef Georges Perrier could refer to genetically modified food as “Frankenfood”.
Genetically modified food, in and of itself, is nothing to fear. We have been eating hybrids for a hundred years. It is the introduction of unnatural traits that causes fear. One strain of wheat crossed with another is nothing new, last week both strains were ingredients in different breads. A tobacco plant crossed with a firefly is a little scarier, blending plants and animals for consumption might affect our genes.
Monsanto, known for its “Adventure through inner space” ride at Disneyland and “House of the future” to my generation, also bears the legacy of Agent Orange. They are a chemical company well versed in public relations, now referring to themselves as a “sustainable agriculture company”. Not that I’m going to number each of them, but I’ll call that “Lie number one”. Their products are not only not sustainable, they are addictive, in that farmers must purchase the products every year.
While making a field fertile for corn or soybeans, it is also made fertile to weeds, which steal the nutrients from the desired crops. Following on the success of Agent Orange, Monsanto developed Roundup, herbicide extraordinaire. You might have some in your garage, it works great. It works so well, that it can end up damaging the very crops it’s supposed to be protecting. So Monsanto came up with a plan to genetically modify the crops so they would be resistant to Roundup. What better business model than to sell both the poison and the antidote?
These crops are not engineered to produce more or healthier food, they are designed to be resistant to a poison, so that more of that poison can be applied and enter the food chain (okay, the actual reason is to sell more poison, ending up in the food chain is a natural result). The point is, Monsanto is not in business for any other reason than to make money. The after effects of their products are of little or no concern to them. That doesn’t make them bad, it makes them capitalists.
You know that if you’re pregnant you shouldn’t smoke, and you should control your alcohol use. Certain drugs, even vitamins, should be avoided when pregnant. How about food? That’s right, the Roundup which is in your body affects your fetus. Your cell lines (or your partner’s) may have already been affected anyway. The solution? Stop eating. GMOs are in everything. You can try to avoid them, but the fact is corn, corn oil, corn syrup, and corn meal, is in almost everything you eat, and much of it is from GMO sources. The same applies to Soybeans, alfalfa, and wheat. If not directly in your food, it may be fed to the livestock you eat. You’re probably wearing GMO cotton.
Up until now I’ve been focusing on direct effects, your personal health. What about other species? Those that we might want to have around? Instead of reverse documenting (.1 mcg of roundup in a human relates to .007 zg in a honey bee), there is the direct evidence that these substances are severely toxic to insects. In fact, Monsanto’s Bt Corn (available at Walmart) is registered not as a food, but as an insecticide.
Just as we have observed with antibiotics, super weeds and super insects will evolve in the face of the rampant use of poisons. It is less likely that the tangential insects will rebound as well. Corn borers will evolve as long as there is corn, but what about honeybees and butterflies? What about the plants that honeybees pollinate, or the species that eat the butterflies? While focusing on the profits of Monsanto, the balance of ecology was overlooked.
Monsanto is a powerful corporate entity, and has managed to push through congress the “Farmer Assurance Provision”, also known as “The Monsanto Protection Act”. Understanding the fear of GMOs, Monsanto has fought hard and successfully to not label foods as being, or containing, GMOs. I always thought that pride in your work involved placing your name on it, apparently Monsanto isn’t terribly proud of their creations.
So after all that, we touch briefly on the title of the article. As we look at the relative complexity of the human genome compared to wheat, and the errors we have made in the laboratory with gene manipulation, why are we comfortable altering the genes in humans?
Beyond the moral questions of selecting a fetus based on it’s sex, is manipulating stem cells to create organs, or antibodies to fight diseases, or even designing children down to hair and eye colour wise?
Unexpected consequences is the history of genetic modifications, and there are people who seriously intend to try this on humans?
Perhaps the ultimate irony will be that genetically modified humans may only be able to survive on organically grown foods.