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7-Misc: Struggle about genetic engineering in Canada intensifies



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TITLE:  Attack of the tomato killers
SOURCE: National Post, Canada, by Terence Corcoran
DATE:   May 4, 1999

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Attack of the tomato killers

A concerted campaign against industry, science, and biotechnology took off yesterday, with CBC Radio One as the launch pad. It began with morning news reports of a 'study' of health-care professionals who are said to be concerned about the risks of genetically modified (GM) food. It gathered steam later on CBC's This Morning with a radically slanted smear of biotech leader Monsanto, the first in a series of biotechnology reports to be aired through the week.

Another CBC Radio show, Ideas, last night ran the fourth segment of David Suzuki's From Naked Ape to Superspecies, an alarmist take on the 'unnatural' business of human research into biotechnology. In Ottawa, simultaneously, Senator Eugene Whelan's Agriculture Committee questioned Monsanto executives on bovine growth hormone. Other media can be expected to pick up the gene theme before the week of industry-bashing and alarmism comes to an end next Saturday in Ottawa. There, at a conference sponsored by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Maude Barlow will join a scare-mongering scientist from the United States and others in an attempt to modify Canadian public opinion by creating a generalized fear that our food may be unsafe. They want to save the world from killer tomatoes. It's a campaign that has worked well in Europe, where the introduction of genetically modified food has been set back a decade or more. Frankenstein Food is now part of the language in Britain. Genetic!
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 research has been compared with Nazi experiments in genetics. Intimidated by media hysterics and an alarmed public, supermarkets no longer carry genetically modified food. With the fall of Europe in the background, the anti- biotech forces are trying to invade North America, using Maude Barlow's Council of Canadians and the CBC as local command posts. If they can take Canada, then maybe the United States - the centre of biotech and genetic research - will be next. In view of what is obviously a national concerted effort, the Financial Post Comment page hereby declares Junk Science Week. Today's page is the first of five during the week that will examine some of the issues surrounding the spread of junk science as a vehicle for spooking people into believing that their food, environment, and virtually every man-made product pose health and environmental risks.

Throughout the week, the Comment page will contain reports outlining how science is being abused to create phantom risks, and how the benefits of genetic research and biotech are in peril of being lost in the global campaign. We'll examine how one scientist, a leading promoter of cancer fears, generates publicity with questionable research. A Canadian economist will suggest ways policymakers in Ottawa can begin to realistically address the risks and opportunities arising from new developments in science. Today's page contains a return to an earlier report on Greenpeace's campaign against intravenous bags and Baxter International Inc., one of the companies that manufactures them. Writer Michael LeGault responds to Greenpeace's claims. And immediately below is a brief synopsis of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to eliminate statistical significance as a relevant basis for conclusions about health and environmental impacts. The phrase 'junk science' does not si!
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t well with some. It seems extreme, and unconducive to constructive dialogue. But junk science can be usefully defined. A few years ago, a U.S. scientist identified two common denominators: disortion of scientific fact, and exaggeration of risk. I would take the definition further to include another element, the politicization of science. Junk science occurs when facts are distorted, risk is exaggerated, and the results are steeped in politics and ideology.

Ideology certainly dominated CBC Radio's This Morning show yesterday. Reporter Don Carty is a smooth-talking manipulator of words who gives his slanted reports a thin veneer of objectivity. For his biotech report, Mr. Carty used two sources with environmental and ecological biases to build a political foundation for an attack on biotechnology and genetically modified foods. One environmentalist provided voice-over for a montage of Frankenstein Food stories from Europe. The other ran through the history of Monsanto, portrayed as the provider of PCBs, dioxin, Agent Orange, and material that exploded in Houston harbour. The show could have been titled: Monsanto, the Killer Biotech Company that Wants to Wipe out the World with Genetically Modified Food. It was clear that the expert charged with recounting Monsanto's history had an agenda grounded in the familiar themes of extreme environmentalism, a world where it's taken for granted that PCBs are the most carcinogenic substances !
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known to man, and that new cancer- causing agents are being developed by industry every day. Mr. Carty, by the way, will chair one of the panels at next Saturday's PSAC conference on food safety. 



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