GENTECH archive


Re: unexpected effects, archives 489 and 491

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Roush <>
To: Clive Elwell <>
Cc: <>
Date: Monday, 7 December 1998 19:31
Subject: unexpected effects, archives 489 and 491

Dear Clive:

For the first time that I can remember, I will go beyond a simple recitation of the facts in answering your question. I will editorialise.

Of course genetic engineering causes unexpected effects. So do most new medical procedures when first tried.
So the first thing you do is draw some arbitary comparison, some analagy. Comparisons can prove nothing, there is always some point at which the comparison fails. Where is that point? People generally use comparisons to justify themselves, or some action. (as in,"well, everyone does it" or "well, I didn't do it as much as x did" or" this country doesn't have as much poverty as Mongolia" etc  etc.
 However, we don't call for a indefinite moratorium on new medical procedures.
The consequences of a medical procedure going wrong might be the death of an individual -who might have died anyway. the consequences of the GE of crops going wrong in some way are - well incalcualable. I'm sure you heard some of the worst case scenarios.
Also, if I undergo a medical procedure, the risk is for myself. And I decide. The risks generated by a few companies experimenting for their own profit might extend to every person on this planet, and all those yet unborn. Most of the people put at risk, like myself, have not been allowed any say in the matter. It is forced upon me.
And once the procedures are approved to go beyond trial phase, the risks are considered to be minimal, at least compared to the alternatives.
So I utterly deny  the validity of the comparison you have chosen to make.

The opponents of genetic engineering would like you to confuse the unexpected effects of the trial phase with actual use in the field. They like to cite examples such as experimental insect resistant plants with proteinase inhibitors and lectins, which are not being commercialised.
I have been collecting examples of unexpected results of GE crops. They are almost all examples which occured in the field, under commercial conditions.
But in any case, unexpected behaviour ( I am not sure that the word pleiotropy exactly covers unexpected behaviour - we can't be sure where this UB stems from) in the lab seems to me just as disturbing as in the field. Because such UB points to the fact that the scientists don't really know what they are doing, and are not in control of what they create.
The obvious question arises, If UB happens that can be observed, that can be detected, how much UB is going on that we can't see, or can't detect at all? Or is going to show up in the future, or under a different set of environmental circumstances?
They cling desparately to claims that EMS was caused by genetically engineered bacteria because they have no other example of an unexpected effect that affected either health or the environment and that was not caught in the extensive testing that all products must undergo. And they like to claim that weaknesses of Bt cotton and Round-up Ready cotton were unexpected (both were either predicted or easily predictable).

In reply to CAM, it is a cartoon of modern population genetics to suggest that any organism reaches a "perfect" state even for a natural environment. It is even less likely for a human altered environment, in which we change conditions all the time. Starting perhaps 5,000-10,000 years ago, our ancestors bred grain crops so the seed does not "shatter" so that we can more easily harvest it. Dobzhansky starting more than 40 years ago began to erase the notion that there is any such thing as a "normal set of genes".
I must say I'm suprised to see a professor doing what so many proponents of GE do - confuse selective plant breeding with GE. You must know the clear differences.

Breeders and molecular biologists have most certainly not forgotten gene interaction or pleiotropy (multiple expressions of the same gene in different traits). To the contrary, as an example, classical breeders work hand-in-hand with molecular biologists to select cotton for improved performance once BT genes have been introduced into a new cultivar.

Ultimately, the question is not unpredictability but risk. I am convinced that for at least the genetically engineered crops that I have defended on this server, the risks are far lower than the benefits.
You may well be convinced, the Biotech companies may well be, the politicians and regulatory bodies appear to be convinced. But I am not convinced, and I resent strongly having to eat your convictions, and feed them to my children. I too live on this planet, why should i and my children, and all children, and those unborn, be exposed to risks because of your convictions?
You know well the list of things "declared safe", and later found to be anything but is enormous, and the consequences have been enormous. PCB's, dioxin, DDT, Agent Orange, nuclear radiation, BST. A quote comes dimly to mind, from the manager of the firm selling thalidimide, how its safety was beyond question.
The difference between me and many of my critics is that I will criticise some genetic manipulations while defending others. The critics appear to reject all of them. (Will either you or Jaan Suurkula name one genetically manipulated crop that either of you can accept?) How can it be that no genetic manipulation is worthwhile?
I have never said that no genetic manipulation is worthwhile. I reserve judgement on that.
But I don't think that I can accept any GE crop at the moment, because I see that the testing procedures are inadequate and incomplete. And often carried out by people who are not independent, to say the least. In fact who have a long history of falsyfying data and lying to regulatory bodies, and others.


Dear Rick

I want to ask if you accept, or not, that the process of genetically engineering can, and does, bring about unexpected, unpredictable effects in the plants which are the recipients of foreign genes?

Clive Elwell

From: CAM <<>>
To: Clive Elwell <<>>
Date: Sunday, 6 December 1998 05:43
Subject: Re: unexpected effects from GE

I wonder about the DNA set of any organism, that took thousand of years to get to a "perfect" and competitive equilibrium to survive; Then we humans distort it by breeding methods to induce it to a "Better" type to get economic benefits from some of hid parts, Now, we want more and disrupt the "normal set of genes" with any foreign gene. Afterwards we expect that it must continued being "NORMAL" for our commercial purposes. We forgot of gene interaction, of pleiotropic gene effects, and said that it doesn't occurs, that everything continues being "normal".

Richard T. Roush
Associate Professor and Director Phone +61 8 8303-6591
Centre for Weed Management Systems FAX +61 8 8303-7125
Waite Institute ;-_|\
University of Adelaide / \
Glen Osmond 5064 ( )
South Australia \_;-*_/
South Australia

Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management Systems:

"Weeds - Australia's most underestimated environmental threat"