GENTECH archive


Re: GM Rating

I agree with your sentiment.  It would be very helpful to create some
kind of scale of "rate of genetic shift".  This is the core of the issue
in my understanding to date.  I think, however, that it would be a
fairly subjective scale at this stage; I have been asking this question
to genetic researchers for about 6 months now and there is definitely a
consensus within scientific circles as to how quickly they *feel*
evolution occurs, but attempts to identify a measured, natural threshold
of genetic change are still very much in their infancy.  Evolution does
not occur at a smooth rate - it comes in spurts, and explosions, and
trickles, and bubbles; it is as organic as the organisms it effects.  It
appears to me that it is similar to weather in its chaos.  For example,
your potato/fish scenario can certainly occur naturally (within a single
generation), but the odds are astronomically against it;  it is
infinitely more likely for the tomato to experience a subtle shift in a
protein expressing gene that results in a looser flesh.  It's a question
of rate of change combined with likelihood of change.  At this stage,
someone could give us their opinion - and it would be *infinitely* more
useful than current approaches to labeling - but it might be about as
accurate as a weather forecast and no one would agree on the authority
of the forecaster.  

Labeling isn't the only issue at hand.  We need more informed discussion
and even if it were some kind of peer juried opinion, it would be
incredibly helpful if we had a reference measure.  In canada, the Canada
Food Inspection Agency is creating a database of genetic modifications
in food crops since the late 1800's.  I will try to devise a methodology
of rating the severity of each shift in strain.  However, the likelihood
of a given genetic shift is fundamentally effected by how widespread the
crop is; I will have to arrive at some way to neutrally deal with the
reality of monocultures.  
Any ideas, anyone?

Trevor Lien.

Robert wrote:
> There is a lot being said about GM labeling, but so far I have not seen
> anything proposed about GM Rating.
> By "GM Rating" I mean how modified a GM organism is.
> Perhaps this is a silly idea, but I would be grateful is somebody could
> explain why.
> The GM industry argue that GM modification is just an extension of the
> selective and cross breeding that man has been practicing since he first
> grew crops and kept animals.
> That being the case you should be able to rate an organism by the number of
> generations it would require to produce the organism by traditional methods.
> A GM tomato that makes a better puree and contains only tomato genes might
> have quite a low GM Rating number. That would be because traditional
> methods could produce the same results fairly quickly.
> A GM potato containing fish genes to help prevent frost damage would
> probably have a astronomically large GM Rating number (perhaps the GM
> Rating numbers should be logarithmic).
> It is not quite clear to me how a GM Rating number would be calculated, but
> I don't think it would be an impossible task. Surely some mathematical
> models could be developed that would give a fair indication of the
> generations required ? The models could be based on our understanding of
> evolution so far. It might be best if the GM Rating number also had some
> factor for the time required to produce a single generation. Bacteria can
> produce many generations rapidly, but elephants reproduce slowly. A
> modified elephant requiring 10 generations should thus have a much higher
> GM Rating that a modified bacterium also requiring 10 generations.
> The big advantage of a GM Rating is that it would quantified how "alien" an
> organism is. Organisms with high GM Ratings would merit particular care.
> Any thoughts ?
> Robert
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