GENTECH archive


Re: A tale of two Luddites

Hi Heine,
Ok. I used the word inconsistencies. Ownby actually said the inability of
Trewavas to think a whole thought. Let me point out where I see them in Trewavas
story and where I think the thought has to ge deeper, without claiming to
mention them all.
One major point that struck me is where Trewavas on the basis of speciesbarriers
shows Lovins stupidity to think that crops may cross with totally unrelated
weeds but a bit further defends GE on the basis of "speeding up what happens
naturally anyway". You can't have it both ways. The rest of my comments are
inserted below.

"Heine J. Deelstra" wrote:

> Some comments on the Trewavas article.
> (If I didn't see the inconsistencies, Wytze asked; well write me about them,
> instead of replying that prof's esp. Trewavas are such dumb persons)

> Trewavas:
> >(snip) I am a plant biologist. I became a plant biologist from love of the
> > organism, from the statuesque command
> > and awe inspired by large trees, the exquisite beauty and wonder invoked
> by
> > so many flowers, the intricate
> > complexity of the flora of the smallest piece of wilderness landscape. 40
> > years of plant biology in a
> > university has given me a perspective, worlds away from Lovins. I am no
> > adherent of commercialisation or
> > patenting of plants or DNA. But this is the real world in which we
> currently
> > live.  If you don't like it, change
> > the economics; don't demean the knowledge.

I share the love and awe for trees and wonder invoked by flowers. This is one
reason why I dislike GE so much.
Apparently for Trewavas the knowledge is ok but the economics could be better
but that raises some questions. What does his love and awe and wonder really
mean? It does not stop him to take a gun or a needle to shoot on or in the same
plants he loves so much.

> > I also have a social conscience that says that priorities are feeding
> > people. People first, environment
> > second. God created man in his own image and that enjoined us to be
> creative
> > in turn.  Was that genetic
> > engineering?

This I find pretty weird.  I suppose Trewavas knows, as a plant biologist, that
we people are very dependant on plants and trees for our very basics. Since he
starts on God: if you read the story of Genesis, first an environment is
created, than comes man in His image
Btw. the foods to eat in Paradise are mentioned also. Was that GE? If he
acknowledges God, and asks this question, how comes he think our knowledge is
ok? Being creative does not mean being stupid.  How creative is it to destroy
the environment because people come first? Is that creative or is it stupid? My
view says kill the environment, and you have killed the people. Talk about
global warming. Indeed ask the people of Venezuela, Mozambique, India etc. how
good the policy of people first environment later is in their opinion?

> What solution does "The Tale" offer to the extra four billion
> > souls expected by 2050? Deep
> > ecologists regard man as a pollutant; their solution mass starvation. But
> > along with John Dunne I find that
> > completely unacceptable, "Every man's death diminishes me because I am
> part
> > of mankind".
> I always find phrases like 'feeding the poor' very irritating; it might be
> true, but I don't like the morality that speaks from it. From a more
> rational point; it is necessary to increase food security and above all, the
> world food reserve. This food reserve, a certain percentage of the total
> food production is in many years not achieved or proved to be very variable.
> A debacle like the Helminthosporium destructrion of a large part of USA corn
> could easily abolish such a reserve.

I share your irritation. In reality, nobody knows how many people there will be
on the planet in 2002, let alone 2050.  To follow the line of Dunn, so every
man's birth must enrich one. I could also see the opposite being true.
Your reference to food reserves. Europe had large piles of butter and meat which
were considered to be too expensive to keep, so they dumped them. I agree that
food reserves are a very good and wise policy and needed. (Old biblical wisdom).

> > Opponents of GM state that GM organisms, when released, can never be
> > recalled.  If true it should apply to
> > any crop plant, GM or not.  Ever since domestication started and we
> decided
> > to breed plants for our benefit,
> > there has been an exchange of genes between wild relatives left behind and
> > the plant species we evolved
> > for food, timber and clothes.  The plants we create for our benefit
> contain
> > genes of little use to their wild
> > relatives.  When we reduced the height of wheat and rice and increased
> > yield, changed seed dormancy and
> > life cycle times, some of those genetic changes would have hybridised
> their
> > way into a few weedy relatives;
> > but only as long as the crop continued in the field.  When left on their
> > own, such hybrids quickly disappear
> > in the struggle for existence.  Nature is indeed unforgiving.  Weediness
> is
> > a complex genetic trait, honed by
> > millions of years of evolution and one we cannot make more vigorous.
> Lovins
> > speculates that "Common
> > crops can hybridise with completely unrelated weeds".  If Hunter Lovins
> had
> > real instead of hypothetical
> > experience with plants such a serious blunder would never have been made.
> > There are natural species
> > barriers that ensure corn can only reproduce with other corn plants or
> > occasionally with a related weed like
> > teosinte from which corn was evolved five thousand years ago.
> (It is also true that not only GM maize could hybridise with teosinte but
> that 'normal' domestic maize could do exactly the same. Why is the first
> worse than the last.)

Because in the latter you do not spread an artificial geneconstruct.

> > The risk that some GMO's might have detrimental effects on the environment
> > must be balanced against the
> > certainty that more conventional methods will ensure greater damage.
> Here Trewavas could have made the remark that resistant plants (nonGE) also
> affect their environment and not always in a positive way. Their toxins may
> become bound to clay/humus, remain active for months and even pose a threat
> to soil micro-organisms. Not to mention that those (uncharacterised) toxins
> could affect humans. (an example is Cellery; there is one (recent) type on
> the market that contains high amounts of a photosensitising toxin))

First, on what line of thought is the assumption based that conventional methods
will ensure greater damage? How comes all other approaches to less damage and
more sustainability are not mentioned? Please show me why the combination of
Integrated Pest Management (without GE) and Organic and Biodynamic agricultures
could not perfectly guarantee food security and safety to the highest possible
degree and be a lot less damaging. Concerning the cellery, of course toxic
plants can be bred. Plantbreeding is a real and true skill, not easy to learn.
Small farmers in "developing" countries could teach us a lot on it. Yes, you can
do dangerous things in non-GE agricultural practices. Current practices in
Netherlands with injecting manure into the soil could prove disastrous. It may
disturb the soilweb etc. GE disturbs the DNA web in a way which is unheard of.,
where at the same time we are far from knowing what the DNA web actually is,
what it does, how it works, what it can do if things are
So, GE by definition is an extra risk and a new huge uncertainty. The whole
effort is exactly to get rid of bad practices, risks and uncertainties as much
as possible even though you never can get rid of all risks. God (Life) is
However, avoiding risk where possible is in food issues what most consumers

> > Perceptions of gene exchange risks
> > must be tempered by an understanding that all populations are made of
> mutant
> > variants; we are awash in a
> > sea of natural, mutant variants. Each of the 250,000 higher plant species
> is
> > represented by billions of
> > individuals, none of which are genetically identical to any other.
> Genetic
> > exchange between wild and
> > domesticated populations is a natural but low frequency event, the genetic
> > engineering that humans
> > perform is comparatively insignificant.  Unsurprisingly, our domesticated
> > crops no longer survive in fallow
> > fields; they cannot compete with the vigour of weeds, just as a chihuahua
> > would not survive long in the
> > company of wolves.
> But some wild relatives of these crops maybe could. And after obtaining a
> gene that confers a significant advantage they maybe could become worse
> weeds. (An advantage like insect resistance doesn't have to leed to weedier
> characteristics eps. not when the insects aren't limiting the population)
> > Lovins contrasts "natures wisdom" and "peoples cleverness" implying the
> > former is good and the latter
> > bad. Is this not yet another version of original sin?   Is it not similar
> in
> > view to those who say mankind's
> > synthetic pesticides are damaging, natures pesticides are not?  At its
> > basic, such views derive from fear of
> > scientific advance and sensitivity to risk; it is an attitude in which
> > humanity is belittled, visions of the
> > future are bleak, human development is endangered and experimentation is
> > castigated. Our ultimate
> > resource is human cleverness.  It has brought us long life, freedom from
> > want, cures for disease and
> > reached to the edge of the universe. When problems develop we must rise to
> > the challenge; not try to set
> > the world in unchanging aspic or even reverse history. Things that do not
> > change are dead; that is the
> > bleak future offered by those who think nature's wisdom supersedes
> people's
> > cleverness. Romanticised
> > views of the past, of some supposed golden nirvana where peasant mankind
> > lived in equity with his
> > environment, are stories for gullible minds and do not square with the
> known
> > realities for such peoples of
> > premature death, hunger, cold and frequent crippling disease. How many of
> us
> > given a choice would reject
> > GM technology in favour of natural starvation. Are natural things (like
> > typhoons, child death, disease,
> > poison ivy, the heroin poppy) good and pure whilst man-made (wine, the
> > internet, electricity, antibiotics,
> > anaesethics, etc) bad?
> This is a (cheap? and) effective way of discussion but it matters who's
> asking the questions and which examples are selected.
> To show that all of nature is good and all of man is bad it works.
> > GM opponents like Lovins have created a new God. It is called the system
> or
> > ecology and the term 'holism'
> > is its benediction.  Any attempt to reduce the system to its components,
> to
> > understand its mechanism or to
> > rebalance natural hazards in favour of mankind is the ultimate blasphemy
> > since the system is apparently an
> > unbreakable whole.   But without reduction you would never know you have a
> > system in the first place.  So-
> > called reductionism and systems properties are not two separate views of
> > nature they represent a seamless
> > web that stretches through the layers of biological organisation, each in
> > turn interdependent on the other.
> Indeed, I can't read the holy holism phrases much longer, since holism alone
> is a very inefficient way of gathering knowledge and improving your live. To
> know how an alarmclock works you can stare at it for hours, but it doesn't
> help. Demolish it (carefully), study the interactions between the different
> wheels and then divise a scheme how it all works in concert to wake you in
> the morning.
> (holism and reductionism might not be so distant from eachother according to
> a one year old thesis, published at the University of Groningen
> (philosophical department))

As you know very well, living organisms are a LOT more complicated than man
created devices like an alarmclock. Reductionism and holism are two opposites
but both have their value. I personally like very much the increase of knowledge
of DNA (though I also wonder if God did really intend us to find out too much
about this. Remember, there is also a devil in that story and we are supposed to
learn to discern between the two).
I strongly dislike the premature claims, conclusions and interpretations. You
disect an organism, you study the details and than you devise nothing. You put
it back in the whole and try to understand it.  It is not about devising a
scheme, it is about learning, learning and learning what exists already.  I
heard a diabetics medical dr. explain the metabolic pathway of vit. E in the
human body. It has connections, which have connections and all this is not yet
fully understood.  So, looking at the material of which things are made up is
fine and has its value, but it has to be placed back in the whole that exists
and is not our scheme or invention and when you knwo and understand all of that,
you can begin to think of devising a scheme. Now, some willl surely say that
with such an attitude no progress could ever be made. I disagree for the above
mentioned on living organisms.

> > By definition, systems tolerate variation in their lower levels of
> > organisation; the minor genetic
> > modifications introduced by mankind cannot therefore destabilise
> ecosystems.
> Hmm, I do not agree with this. Anyone familiar with 'recurrente
> betrekkingen' (Zn=Zn-1*formule) knows that slight deviations can result in
> large ones.
> It is often surprising that after much change in the genome of eg a fungus,
> it is still capable of living/infecting etc.
> > These system worshippers
> > castigate the reductionist, stereotyping him to be cold and calculating in
> > his [m/v] white coat, ignorantly
> > destroying the beauty of nature.  Only the proponents of holistic ecology
> > can of course see the truth. No
> > wonder the Canadian, ex-Greenpeace leader, Patrick Moore described the
> > current campaign against GM, as
> > junk science and pagan myth.
> Like he also described the logging campaign ('every time you sneeze you blow
> a tree in Canada) targeted at tissue production from pulp (waste).
> > 1998 was the warmest year in the last millenium.  I have no crystal ball,
> no
> > predictive ability for the climate
> > of the future which we know is changing.  When I hear people say we do not
> > need GM, I wonder at their
> > purported prescience.  How can anyone decide they do not need GM based on
> > the one certainty; the
> > climate is changing in unpredictable and more extreme ways as a result of
> > global warming?  Under variable
> > conditions, diversity in agricultural technology will help ensure the
> > stability of our food supply.  Diversity
> > and stability are both systems properties. Ask the peoples of Peru,
> > Venezuala and Mozambique what global
> > warming means to them before casting aside knowledge and security in food
> > supply.
> Cheap effect by asking people of Peru etc. Because we can't/won't the author
> can answer for them.
> > The opponents of GM often charge that   "transgenic manipulation inserts
> > foreign genes at random". So
> > does nature.  Mutations and deletions (foreign gene mimicks) and all sorts
> > of genome rearrangements occur
> > at random; why wait around for the right individuals to turn up by chance.
> > Why not use people's
> > cleverness to speed up what is only natural anyway? The whole of the green
> > revolution was built on a
> > dwarfing mutation induced at random by nature and exploited by us for
> > breeding. The genome is fluid in
> > structure and elements change things around each time we go through a
> > breeding cycle. Had we known
> > about this dwarfing gene earlier we could have inserted it ourselves and
> > sped the production of miracle
> > wheat and rice, giving third world farmers earlier benefits and saved the
> > lives of countless malnourished
> > children.
> True
> > Plant biologists crossed the species barrier some 50- 60 years ago with
> > Triticale (wheat/rye hybrid) and
> > have been doing so frequently ever since by techniques that are not GM.
> > No-one had any idea what
> > crossing agropyron with wheat would do.   No-one worried, least of all the
> > Lovins who weren't aware of
> > the fact.

How does one worry about a fact that one does not know of? At the most one can
worry about all gaps in our knowledge, but than...... just accept we're only
human and be a bit humble and wonder about the awesome trees and plants again
and our relationship and interaction with them and realize how much there is
given which we not use or are unaware of or use without fully knowing or
understanding all the way it works.
But we live in the real world and these GE foods and trees are a threat to
everything I love so.....
Wytze (eternal student and wholistic-reductionist)

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