GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Re: plusses and minuses of GE

Thanks for your comments Jon, ( in RE: Survey shows Americans want labels..)
(I've sent this reply to the group because I thought this discussion was
still of interest)

Can I say a few more words ?? (Rather late due to the easter break!)

>But, I would like to point out the problems with some of your benefits
>listed below...
>>  While I agree that Genetic engineering IS a new technology, quite 
>>  distinguishable from traditional breeding practices, I wish to comment 
>>  on the view that there are no benefits to be had from the technology for 
>>  the public, the environment or for consumers and that the only benefit 
>>  is to be enjoyed in terms of profit by the companies involved.  It is a 
>>  view quite often expressed by posts to this list.  But take for example 
>>  these projects:
>Beware. These benefits are often required because of the drawbacks of
>previous "technology improvements". e.g. monoculture farming is very
>susceptible to pests. Therefore it requires pesticides. Therefore now
>people are worried about pesticides, so we have another hi-tech
>solution: biotech food. 
>The best solution to the *root causes* of these problems is often to
>go back to natural crop species and more traditional (organic) and
>diverse agricultural methods.

I am well aware of this link.  Good simple fix - just stop momoculture !! 
But the issues are more complex than to dismiss monoculture in this way. 
Personally, I feel quite strongly about the need for  a lower world
population and increased  diversity in our farming methods and in our crop
plants.  It works both ways, though - Greenpeace (see for example the post
to the list about the Cologne Cathedral) constantly make claims about the
devastating effect that GE will have in decreasing in decreasing
bio-diversity.  That is rather like shooting the messenger !

>>  Comsumers in the UK have been quite impressed with the (clearly 
>>  labelled) "genetically modified" tomato paste.  They have commented on 
>>  the superior taste of the product, are pleased that it costs less, and 
>>  the fact that in now occupies 17% of the paste market is testimony to 
>>  this.
>I'd love to know your source for this.

The regulatory affairs officer for Zeneca (the company producing the
tomatoes) Nigel Poole quoted these figures to me recently when he was
visiting Australia for a conference I was involved with.  The cans in
question (sold though Sainsbury's and Safeways, under these labels)are
certainly labelled clearly (quite boldly) - I have a can near my computer

>As a UK resident,
>   1. I have never seen such labelling on any products (i.e. they are
>      not widely available).

I was under the impression that the two supermarket chains above were
pretty widely distributed !! - But I would understand if they were not your
prefered place to shop. Currently, it is only the Tomatoe Paste that is
being sold from these GE tomatoes

>   2. I have never met anyone who has seen such labelling (and I talk
>      to a lot of folks about this topic)

I'm surprised !

>   3. UK consumers (a generalisation coming up here) are notoriously
>      bad at considering taste as an important buying factor. Just
>      look at the tasteless array of intensively produced bread,
>      chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, apples etc etc that is
>      predominantly bought buy us Brits. The two criteria used by
>      consumers here are price and appearance, *not* taste or
>      nutrition!
>>  "Bt cotton" in Australia has led to decreased spraying of cotton fields 
>>  with chemical pesticides (from between 6 and 16 spray runs a season down 
>>  to 2) - surely an environmental benefit.  (I spoke to a farmer recently 
>>  who said he was very pleased with this aspect and would use the cotton 
>>  again next season despite that it offers no  cost savings to him - 
>>  though Monsanto IS making a profit !!).  Similiarly, potatoes 
>>  genetically engineered to be resistant to viral attack are decreasing 
>>  the need for chemical spraying proviously used to control aphids which 
>>  transmit the virus.
>But as previously posted by many sources here, this is short term (a
>few seasons).
>Resistance to Bt will develop, and then pesticides will have to be
>used in even greater quantites, or another genetically engineered crop
>will be created, providing and ever growing market for biotech
>companies. Classic vicious circle.
>The root cause is monoculture farming on a huge scale.
>Root cause fix: organic farming and mixed crops, crop rotation etc.

The resistance cry, to me, is a bit rich.  We have been using the Bt toxin
as an aerial spray for  a long time (I don't know the actual time) - and in
huge amounts.  The nature of aerial spraying means that areas greater than
just the crop are covered with BT - It makes sense then that chances of BT
resistance building up (1) is NOT due to GE'ed cotton; (2) is LESS likely
with the GE crop because of more restricted "application" and NO run off;
(3) Monsanto wants to make alot of money, so wants to preserve the
effectiveness of the BT cotton -  they will certainly support measures to
decrease the emmergence of resistance.  
At the same conference that I mentioned above ("commercialisation of
Transgenic Crops) in Australia recently, Scientists, regulators and
Commercial interests together expressed concerns about resistance, and CAME
"sacrificial crops" near/within the Bt cotton; Mixing crops; crop rotation.
  The involved parties DO realise the complexities of the issues and the
potential risks.

>>  Various projects worldwide aimed at changing oil compositions in canola 
>>  and other common vegetable oil providers to increase the amounts of 
>>  unsaturated fats - a health benefit to those eating the product.
>Oh dear! This is the same theme as the great American dream of a
>"slimming drug".

NO! - not less fat, just more UN saturated fats - it won't be slimming,
just less heart-attack inducing ! - just like olive oil (which you

True - olive oil already exists, we don't need the GE.  

>There's a wealth of existing natural diversity of fruit and veg out
>there that will meet our needs far better than any lab will.
>I fundamentally disagree when it comes to food (food for humans *and*
>All these benefits exist in natural food already.

I think I agree (My job is to "educate people about GE - I take it
seriously - I'm interested in education not propaganda.  Still, my boss
finds it hard to believe that I can agree with statements like that one !!)

>Rant over.

Thankyou for your rant - Good to keep me thinking !!



Janelle Kennard
Education Officer, CRC for Plant Science       The "GREEN MACHINE"
                                               CSIRO Science Education Centre
Phone/Fax: (06) 246 5279                       GPO Box 1600                     Canberra  ACT  2601