GENTECH archive


who misleads most in the debate?

Dec. 10 /99
Washington Times
Steven J. Milloy
"Who plays God in the 21st century?" is the rhetorical title of a recent
full-page advertisement <> in
The New York Times attacking genetic engineering. The rhetorical reply
should be "Someone who takes more seriously the Ninth Commandment, 'Thou
shalt not bear false witness...'"
The October 11 advertisement was the first in a series lambasting genetic
engineering, "economic globalization," "industrial agriculture" and
"technomania." The series is sponsored by The Turning Point Project, a
coalition of anti-technology and environmental groups including
Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Ads appear weekly and will continue through Spring 2000.
The "Who plays God?" ad features a photograph of a shaved laboratory mouse
with what looks like a human ear attached to its back. The caption states
"This is an actual photo of a genetically engineered mouse with a human
ear on its back."
The text rails against genetic engineering: "The genetic structures of
living beings are the last of Nature's creations to be invaded and altered
for commerce... the infant biotechnology industry feels it's okay to ...
reshape life on Earth to suit its balance sheets... Who appointed the
biotech industry as Gods of the 21st century... So far, there exist no
half-human, half-animal 'chimeras' (like mermaids or centaurs) but we may
soon have them."
Dramatic language, indeed. But let's return to that mouse photograph.
In reality, the mouse with the attached "human ear" has nothing to do with
genetic engineering. That's not even a real ear attached to the mouse.
A template in the shape of a human ear was formed and then seeded with
human chondrocytes or cartilage cells. The template was then surgically
implanted on the back of a mouse under its skin. The chondrocytes
eventually grew into the structure resembling a child's ear.
Eventually this technology may help children who are either born without
ears or who lose their ears through injury. The advantage of the technique
is tissue grown from a patient's own cells avoids the problem of
Thanks to this "tissue engineering, " a whole host of other lab-grown body
parts are just around the corner," says Dr Charles Vacanti, an
anesthesiologist and director of the Center for Tissue Engineering, at the
University of Massachusetts Medical Center. "I believe that it's
technically possible at this time to replace any bone or any cartilage
lost in an accident... or to disease," adds Vacanti.
But nothing in this process involves changing the genetic structure of any
living thing. The ad claims "Biotech companies are blithely removing
components of human beings (and other creatures) and treating us all like
auto parts at a swap meet. An astounding array of new creatures is being
created. They include mice with human ears..."
Of course, if the pictured mouse reproduced, no "new" creature would be
created. A normal mouse would result because the mouse's genetic makeup
was not changed.
If the photo has no connection to the topic of the ad, what's it doing
there? Apparently, the Greens will stoop to any level necessary to make
their dubious points. Unfortunately, the "Who plays God ad?" is only the
tip of the ice berg. Subsequent advertisements haven't been any more
An ad titled "Genetic Roulette" features a photo of a Monarch butterfly
with the caption "Cornell University scientists discovered that
genetically engineered corn pollen killed 50 percent of Monarchs in their
test." The reality is somewhat different. John Losey, the lead Cornell
scientist, said in an interview last June, "Our study was conducted in the
laboratory and, while it raises an important issue, it would be
inappropriate to draw any conclusions about the risk to Monarch
populations in the field based solely on these initial results."
Subsequent research by Losey and others has made premature drawing of
conclusions even more inappropriate.
Another ad, titled "Unlabeled, untested... and you're eating it," states,
"In secret, genetically engineered foods are showing up on American
grocery shelves... the [Food and Drug Administration] still does not
require labels or safety tests." Not quite. The Turning Point Coalition is
lucky The New York Times doesn't require truth tests.
A long-standing approval process for genetically modified crops involves
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and the
The FDA standard for approving GM foods is whether they are "substantially
equivalent" to non-GM foods. Safety assessment procedures focus on unique
or novel components of GM-foods, such as proteins or metabolites. Foods
not "substantially equivalent," but deemed "safe" must be labeled as to
what is different.
This regulatory process was subject to notice and public comment prior to
adoption. The FDA is currently holding public hearings around the country
to determine whether the public wants more involvement. Where's the big
These ads aren't intended to inform; they're intended to scare. Who plays
God in the 21st century? I've got a better question: When will the Greens
tell the truth?
Mr. Milloy is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and publisher of