Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Monday, December 12, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Genetic Engineering Non-News
Tags: biotechnology, genetic engineering, cancer, health
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Bill Gates the New Ford?
Bill Gates is making $450 million available to scientists who want to work on such research projects as making genetically engineered mosquitoes, vaccines, rice, sorghum, and bananas. One other project seeks to cure AIDS using stem cells to change the human immune system. In many ways this all sounds like Brave New World. And just like in the book, I think there is tremendous potential here for things to go wrong. When you start genetically engineering such things as mosquitoes and releasing them into the environment, when you start changing the human immune system, disasters can happen. They have in the past with other things, and they probably will again.
If things go well with Bill Gates’ project to fund groundbreaking research, undoubtedly he will be viewed in the future as a hero. If things don’t go well, maybe someone in the future will write a book dating some of mankind’s ills to the time ABG (After Bill Gates.)
Tags: biotechnology, genetic engineering, Bill Gates, technology
Monday, December 05, 2005
I would not be surprised if our scientists might someday accidentally create a virus and wipe out the human race. In fact they’ve already accidentally created a virus with that potential. It’s only a matter of time before something like that escapes, if it hasn’t already.
As I’ve also said before, if they find a cure for cancer, fine; if they kill a billion people, not so fine. They need to really be careful.
Tags: genetic engineering, biotechnology, virus, pandemic
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Tags: biotechnology, genetic engineering, gmo
Friday, December 02, 2005
GMOs and Choice
The most important argument against GMOs, for me, is that if GMOs take over the world, I will no longer be able to eat what I choose to eat. That’s an important issue. Now, I can eat organic if I choose. I can also eat non-organic, or even genetically modified. But as GMOs gain more and more prominence in the world, they will likely eliminate organic crops altogether, thereby eliminating one of my choices. That’s not right.
Is this a small price we have to pay for progress? I think it’s less about progress and benefits to consumers than it is about corporate profits.
Technorati tags: gmo, biotechnology, organic
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Harvard Bioethics Center
This new center is all well and good, but I think the money would be better spent discussing whether or not corporations have a right to modify and patent our food supply; whether or not scientists have a right to cross plants with animals; whether or not ordinary people have a right to know exactly what is in their food.
There are some important, fundamental issues surrounding biotechnology and bioethics. It looks like the new center at Harvard will address some but not others. So that leaves people like me to continue wondering when these issues will be discussed. It shouldn’t have to wait until some college receives a $10 million gift.
Technorati tags: biotechnology, gmo, bioethics, law, Health Law, Harvard
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
There may be no evidence that genetically modified (GM) food is bad for consumers, and there may be evidence (according to this article) but we have definite proof that non-GM food is actually good for consumers: non-GM food has nourished the earth’s population for millennia, and I think the only problem is in getting the food to the people who are hungry. Why, then, do our corporations have to change all our food? Wouldn’t their efforts be better spent in distributing the food we have?
Also, since there is “accumulating evidence that GM crops . . . may be detrimental to ecosystems,” doesn’t that make one think that we should proceed with more caution? It certainly does that for me.
So, farmers have found a loophole that allows them to legally grow GM corn in England? Aren’t you supposed to know there is something wrong when the subjects of “legal loopholes” and “patents” come up in a discussion of farmers planting a crop of corn? It used to not be this way. A farmer used to be able to buy some seed, plant his crop, maybe save some seeds until next year, and not have to worry about sneaking around or being taken to court. This, however, it seems to me, is where genetic engineering has brought us. And I don’t think biotechnology is a better way. If it was, these issues would not exist.
Austria, which along with Switzerland and Italy oppose planting GM crops, will hold a conference next year on genetically modified food.
Technorati tags: biotechnology, gmo, genetic engineering
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
For up to date and breaking news on bird flu, see link at right.
In genetic engineering news, China is still concerned about the safety of genetically modified (GMO) rice, and has decided not to recommend planting the crop until more data is available. Good for them.
And in medical news, we already know that the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test is flawed. It results in false positives about eighty percent of the time. Now research suggests that even if PSA levels fall within the normal range, there may still be cancer present. The digital rectal exam (DRE) finds some of these cancers and should be included, not excluded, as part of the prostate exam process.
Technorati tags: biotechnology, bird flu, avian flu, genetic engineering, pandemic, gmo, H5N1, vaccine
Monday, November 28, 2005
Hooray for the Swiss
Corporations vs. Humans
Don’t get me wrong. I think Biotech can do some good things. If they find a cure for cancer, great. If they put stuff in our food that has unforeseen consequences, not so great.
Needed: Modern Poultry Industry
There is continued discussion of creating genetically engineered chickens. This solution is fraught with problems, as this article acknowledges; whereas, if Asian governments would just take the initiative and create sanitary farms for the raising of birds, they might be starting from scratch in the creation of a modern poultry industry, but at least they wouldn’t be starting from scratch in the creation of genetically engineered chickens, the result of which no one can predict.
Here is some information for consumers about Tamiflu.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Thirty-five birds infected with H5 virus (not H5N1, thankfully) were found in Eastern Canada. This may not be a lethal strain, but Eastern Canada is very close to Eastern United States.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Here’s a scary little article. It enumerates some potentially serious problems with China’s plan to vaccinate billions of chickens against H5N1. You know China has also spoken of a plan to Genetically Engineer all its chickens to be immune to H5N1. I think there would be a lot of potentially serious problems with that too.
The Center for Disease Control is recommending that quarantine procedures for foreign travelers be updated, including providing US officials with more access to passenger lists. This seems to have the potential for controversy. With more and more threats in the world, we seem to be giving up more of our freedom and privacy. Is that a good thing?
Some blogs I read today
Two blogs I read on a regular basis are Simply Left Behind and Miss Cellania. And as usual check out the informational links at right.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Irony's Not Lost
We do have a lot to give thanks for. So far the bird flu is just that, restricted to transmission from bird to human only, not human to human. So far we are taking steps to protect ourselves. So far it has not gotten a foothold in America. So far we are safe.
Let us, therefore, give thanks, enjoy the holiday, and enjoy the bird. We can never know what tomorrow may bring, but today at least let’s be with family, and let’s be happy.
For ongoing, up to date information on bird flu, go to Yahoo Bird Flu.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Careful what you eat
You might want to wash those fruits and vegetables. Latin American manure used as fertilizer could make you sick.
The World vs. Bird Flu
When I look at the enormity of the situation surrounding bird flu – it is spread by migrating birds, the world is so vast, and the flu has a head start on us – I have the feeling that we are not going to stop a human pandemic if eventual human to human transmission is in the cards. All our efforts might, however, minimize the seriousness of it.
Bird Flu Update
Click here for up to date information and breaking news on bird flu.
Monday, November 21, 2005
The Mighty Pea
We’ve had a lot of talk recently about avian (bird) flu. Some nations want to genetically modify the world’s chickens (see below) and there is a lot of hoopla over developing a vaccine (which wouldn’t be available, in sufficient quantity, for 3-5 years I think). In this article, a scientist suggests more practical methods for preventing a human pandemic.
The number of AIDS cases has hit 40 million, and seems to be rising rapidly. And Russian drug users account for the growth of the AIDS epidemic in Europe.
The Pope weighs in on genetic testing of fetuses.
Britain’s Tony Blair calls for action to reduce global warming? He would do well to talk to his pals in Washington. On second thought, that probably wouldn’t do any good.
Attack of the Aliens
We are doing the same thing sometimes with Genetically Engineered (GE) crops. Many of them certainly meet the criteria to be called an “alien species,” first because they have never existed before (they are somebody’s new invention), and additionally because they have never existed alongside natural crops. Often the GE crops cross-pollinate with the natural crops, resulting in a sort of hybrid, and often they supplant them entirely. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to get rid of the GE species once it has gained a foothold.
While countries around the world are trying to prevent the spread of “alien species” maybe they could do something about Genetically Engineered species as well. Not everyone views them as the boon that some scientists and businessmen do.
No Genetically Modified Chickens
I think somebody is trying to make some money here, because whoever modifies the chickens would own the patent on them, worldwide. And I also think there are perfectly adequate measures that we can take to reduce the risk of bird flu now without making Frankenchickens that would take years to develop anyway, without any assurance that they would protect against future unknown strains. Let’s use, really use, the methods we have at hand, instead of possibly creating another huge problem.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Batalion, Nathan. 50 Harmful Effects of Genetically Modified Foods. Oneonta, N. Y.: Americans For Safe Food, 2000.
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
Cobb, Allan B. Scientifically Engineered Foods: The Debate Over What’s on your Plate. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
Cummins, Ronnie and Lilliston, Ben. Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. New York: Marlowe and Company, 2000.
Fox, Michael W. Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth . . . and Humans. New York: The Lyons Press, 1999.
Fox, Michael W. Superpigs and Wondercorn: The Brave New World of Biotechnology and Where It All May Lead. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1992.
Grosveld, F. and Kollias, G. Transgenic Animals. San Diego: Academic Press Inc., 1992.
Ho, Mae-Wan. Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business. Bath, UK: Gateway Books, 1998.
Houdebine, Louis Marie, ed. Transgenic Animals: Generation and Use. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997.
Howard, Ted and Rifkin, Jeremy. Who Should Play God? The Artificial Creation of Life and What it Means for the Future of the Human Race. New York: Laurel-Leaf Books, 1980.
Huet, Marie-Hélène. Monstrous Imagination. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Maclean, Norman. Animals With Novel Genes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
McHughen, Alan. Pandora’s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Nelkin, Dorothy. Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1995.
Nottingham, Stephen. Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food is Entering Our Diet. New York: Zed Book Ltd., 1998.
Reiss, Michael J. and Straughan, Roger. Improving Nature?: The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.
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Rogers, Michael. Biohazard. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
Rollin, Bernard E. The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Russo, Enzo and Cove, David. Genetic Engineering: Dreams and Nightmares. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company Limited, 1995.
Stableford, Brian. Future Man. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. A Bantam Classic. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
Teich, Albert H., editor. Technology and the Future. Seventh Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Teitel, Martin and Wilson, Kimberly A. Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 1999.
Tenner, Edward. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
Ticciati, Laura and Ticciati, Robin. Genetically Engineered Foods: Are They Safe? You Decide. Los Angeles: Keats Publishing, 1998.
Wekesser, Carol. Genetic Engineering (Opposing Viewpoints Series). San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Our group believed that the public has a right to buy and eat food that is not genetically modified (GM) and that contains no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This is interesting in light of the fact that some two thirds of the processed food in our grocery stores contains GMOs. More and more of the crops in this country are genetically modified. Many farmers don’t grow GM crops, yet find that GMOs turn up in their fields accidentally, perhaps blown by the wind. Organic farmers are finding GMOs turning up in their crops. And Mexico, which carefully guards its maize, recently found, to their consternation, that GMOs had even contaminated that crop. If the public has a right to buy non-GM food, how are we going to ensure that right? Contamination from GMOs is rampant and possibly irreversible. There was a major article in the New York Times June 10, 2001 about this very subject.
In a similar vein, we concluded that some labeling of GMOs should be done. The FDA does not presently require GMOs to be labeled. They have their reasons for not doing so (they don’t consider altered genes to be sufficiently different from unaltered genes to warrant labeling); the agricultural and food industries have their reasons for opposing labeling (I think they fear that consumers would be turned off by a label and perhaps choose products that contained no GMOs, although research has suggested that people really don’t discriminate against GMOs if they are clearly labeled as such); and some people have reasons for wanting GMOs to be labeled. For me it has much to do with caution and choice. No one knows the long-term effects of ingesting novel genes, so I’d rather be cautious for now. Besides, in this great country of ours, why shouldn’t I be able to choose non-GM food to eat if I want to, as I now do with organic food? I cannot make this choice, however, without adequate information. This is the major reason why I think labeling is necessary.
Perhaps most surprising, we thought the United States should adopt the “Precautionary Principle,” similar to the position held by the European Union. My interpretation of this principle suggests that whenever the full consequences or risks involved with genetic engineering are not known, then you refrain from releasing GMOs into the environment and introducing them into the food supply until they are known. This was the thorniest issue with which we dealt. Nine or ten of the remaining thirteen members of our group wanted to recommend it. Three or four were against it. Since this was a “consensus conference,” we couldn’t recommend it unreservedly, but you get the idea. At least two thirds of our members, who were well informed on the subject, wanted to adopt the Precautionary Principle. We even wanted to create an office in the federal government with a chief liaison officer to coordinate and oversee genetic engineering concerns.
All this should show everyone how important we considered the issue of genetic engineering to be. This was just a group of ordinary citizens who got together for a serious purpose and reached some serious conclusions. These were not positions that we arrived at lightly or hastily. What’s to be done now? Our report will undoubtedly be delivered to government agencies and the media. Will it be heeded? It’s a good first step, but in order to be truly effective more people like us need to become informed and to speak out. Noah Pickus, of the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University said, “Policy-makers face the difficult and risky task of promoting the same technology they must regulate.” Without public involvement, the future may see more promoting than regulating.
Here is a review of the forum, written by its organizer, Dr. Patrick Hamlett, NCSU.
Of Men and Monsters
They were free when they created frogs with no heads, rabbits that glow, lambs with human genes. In short, they have enough freedom to create any kind of monster they want. (I don’t use that term in a pejorative sense. The word “monster” means “any animal, plant or thing of abnormal form or structure.”) They are free, in many cases, to place transgenic crops into the field, thereby making surrounding crops and organisms vulnerable to gene pollution and horizontal gene transfer, the long-term effects of which no one can say.
Where are the checks and balances to restrain the scientists and make them accountable? The large corporations give them limitless amounts of money and resources. The Biotech industry is represented in the highest levels of government. The FDA won’t even require labeling of genetically modified food. And the public is complacent and uninformed. Where are the impediments?
Certainly genetic engineering has the potential for enormous good, but it also has the potential for enormous, irrevocable harm. Arthur Peacocke had a bully pulpit upon receiving his million dollar prize. I wish he had used that pulpit to advocate more circumspection in the pursuit of scientific advances instead of elaborating positions that can only serve to strengthen the cause of untrammeled technology and big business.(March 2001)