Part 1 of 2 in the “Designing Disaster” series.
Unless you’ve been comatose for the last decade, you have undoubtedly become aware that genetic engineering has seized control of the marketplace with unprecedented growth and investment, due in part to the shocking complacency of the general public. Multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns funded by large trans-national corporations (who incidentally are the ones that will reap the financial benefits through their exclusive patent and intellectual property rights on genetic materials from plants, animals and humans) have left the general public with the false impression that genetic engineering is the high-tech, scientific solution to feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and cleaning up the environment. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As we begin the 21st century, the role of the scientist has evolved from the study of existing natural phenomena in an effort to understand the complex interaction of things, to the manipulation and mutation of natural phenomena in order to extract the maximum financial profit, regardless of the long term irreparable damage they cause. Science is the new religion of unbridled capitalism, and scientists are the new priests and prophets.
The main problem with genetic engineering is that scientists don’t really know what they’re doing. They have no understanding of the inevitable, irreversible, destructive consequences they’ll cause our planet to suffer – including perhaps the end of all sentient life – due to the resulting side effects from the creation of a multitude of transgenic plants and animals.
Genetic engineering is based on the relatively new and inherently flawed science of molecular biology. It was created by a couple of physicists, Max Mason and Warren Weaver, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1938. The reason for this funding was twofold; the Rockefellers infatuation with eugenics (selective breeding of so-called superior people in an attempt to weed out undesirable traits and improve the human race), and the solution of agricultural problems through the use of chemicals (the Rockefeller’s made their fortune in the oil business which gave rise to the petrochemical industry).
Mason and Weaver, along with the scientists they recruited from the fields of physics and chemistry all shared the same reductionist, deterministic ideology, and general ignorance of biology. This reductionist thinking is characterised by the belief that the complexity of living organisms can be defined by the properties of their constituent molecules. They also believe that all the physical and chemical features that distinguish organisms can be explained by their genetic constitution.
At the end of World War II the U.S. government was persuaded to take over many of the programs initiated by the Rockefellers. So now, funded by taxpayers, managed by ignorant bureaucrats and driven by misguided scientists, it was full steam ahead.
In 1958, what is known as the “Central Dogma” was formulated by Francis Crick, who five years earlier along with James Watson, had supplied a three dimensional model for the famous double helix – the DNA molecule. This “Central Dogma” is used to explain how genetic information flows from genes to proteins, and never the other way around. According to this simple reductionist formula: “DNA makes RNA makes protein”. However, in 1989, Peter R. Wills clearly established that genetic information does not travel in this one-way linear path, but in a circular or closed loop. Despite the fact that there are mountains of evidence refuting this simple reductionist formula, it continues to dominate the thinking of molecular biologists and geneticists.
The general public will be surprised to learn that many scientific disciplines, including theoretical biology, zoology, botany, ecology and mycology, believe the oversimplified, reductionist science of molecular biology and genetic engineering is flawed and extremely dangerous. They rightly point out that molecular biologists fail to consider the infinitely complex interaction of genes within an organism, or how the environment influences and alters their function. These opposing views don’t worry genetic engineers, who are only concerned with manipulating and changing nature for the sake of potential profit for their corporate patrons and themselves.
The huge trans-national corporations that are the leading proponents and producers of genetically engineered plants and animals, are currently engaged in a race to patent as many genes and organisms as they can identify. Most reasonable people hold the view that this is unethical, and that it should be illegal to allow exclusive patent rights to be issued for any kind of life forms, whose genes and cell lines have been created through millions of years of evolution. Yet this is currently happening at an alarming rate. Exclusive patent rights are the cornerstones of the genetic engineering industry. The ability to monopolise living things through patent protections is the only way to ensure the expectation of profit. The U.S.A., Canada, and many other governments throughout the world have been swept up in this goldrush mentality. They’ve been convinced by the trans-national corporations to remove all obstacles, including laws and regulations designed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens, lest they get left behind and lose their competitive advantage. Furthermore, through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the international agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the patent rights to genetic material has been extended world-wide.
The genetic engineering industry realised as early as 1973, that public concern about potentially catastrophic biohazards arising from the shifting of genes across species barriers would threaten their very existence, and began organising in an effort to manage public opinion. In 1975, the worlds leading molecular geneticists, microbiologists and biochemists met at the “Asilomar” conference to map out their strategy. They agreed to stifle any internal disagreements and construct an acceptable (minimal) level of safety to avoid restrictive government legislation, while reassuring the general public that they are responsible and wise scientists engaged in research that will produce unprecedented scientific and medical benefits with little or no risk.
The genetic engineering industry is a largely self-regulated and secretive entity that does not share research data among colleagues for fear that they may be beat to the patent office. They also discourage public inquiry or debate for fear of creating community outrage over the very real and deadly risks that are inherent in their work, while cleverly enlisting the media to assist them in trumpeting the benefits of genetic engineering. The various media outlets are only too happy to be supplied with professional press releases, video clips, and soundbites, describing the latest landmark breakthrough or discovery. This provides the media with “news” that arrives on their doorstep completely ready to broadcast, or publish, without the expense of a reporter actually doing any investigation. Another reason the media enjoys this cosy relationship is there are very few reporters possessing enough scientific knowledge to properly investigate or even question this industry. The few that do are discouraged from producing anything that could be viewed as negative, due to the threat of being cut off from all future industry handouts. As a result of the genetic engineering industry’s virtual autonomy and media manipulation, it is extremely rare to see any negative reports. This, in turn, supports the myth that this is a safe, cutting-edge technology, filled with therapeutic benefits for society that will only be used for the common good.
Many of the news items regarding genetic engineering, concern human health and relief from disease. The reason for this is that news about the discovery of this or that gene as the cause of this or that disease affirms the claim that we are on the road to a disease free world. They neglect to mention however that these are theories based on flawed science, (there is no model for the addition of a gene and the expression of the desired characteristic or trait on a simple, one-to-one basis), and no proof actually exists supporting their ability to effectively cure human diseases. Which isn’t to say that there won’t someday be safe genetically engineered relief from certain diseases. There is particular promise in the area of embryonic screening for genetically inherited diseases such as; cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs and Huntington Disease, which is already being performed.
There is also some promise of success in the area of cloning, in particular the cloning of human organs for transplant. The fact that you’re not introducing foreign genetic material from a different species actually makes cloning the most benign application of genetic engineering. Ironically, cloning seems to be the one aspect of genetic engineering that most disturbs the general public. The many different animal genes that have been genetically added to plants that everyone consumes, such as chicken genes in potatoes, flounder genes in tomatoes, silk moth genes in apples, and firefly genes in corn to name but a few, don’t appear to generate a similar concern. This lack of concern is due mostly to the general public’s ignorance about how genetic engineering does or doesn’t work.
Another reason news regarding these human health issues dominates media coverage, is to encourage the general public’s growing optimism, while keeping them in the dark about where the real danger to public safety exists. The real danger exists on the farms and in the supermarkets across the country.
It has been estimated that 60 to 70% of the food we’re consuming which isn’t certified organic, has been genetically altered. The genetic engineering industry has convinced the governments of many nations, including the U.S.A. and Canada (excluding many European countries), that genetically altered food is indistinguishable from, and as safe as conventional food, therefore it’s unnecessary to label it as genetically altered. The primary reason they oppose labelling, is that studies have shown that the majority of consumers would refuse to purchase or consume these genetically altered foods if they were labelled, and are only consuming them at present because there is no way to tell the difference unless you purchase certified organic foods. Tragically, most consumers believe organic foods are too expensive.
The claims that genetically altered foods pose no threat to human health is an absolute lie. The addition of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) a genetically engineered stimulant to increase milk production caused mice to develop enlarged spleens and cancers in laboratory tests performed by the manufacturer Monsanto. It also caused a large number of the cows treated, to develop serious mastitis, hoof and leg problems, reproductive problems, and death. With help from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Monsanto was able to suppress and cover-up these horrific results, and in March 1994, the Clinton White House published an eighty-page report that concluded, “There is no evidence that rBGH poses a threat to humans or animals.” Despite the vigorous protests of consumer, farm, and animal-protection organizations, the American Medical Association declared the milk safe, and consumers were denied the right to have all dairy products from rBGH cows labelled as such.
In 1995 Monsanto was discovered trying to bribe Health Canada government officials with several million dollars to approve rBGH, and it was perhaps only the fact that it was leaked to the press that prevented it’s approval. Scientists in the United Kingdom have determined that the rate of breast cancer in consumers of dairy products containing rBGH increases by up to seven times. The consumption of rBGH is also implicated in the rise of other major cancers, including colon and prostate. Very recently some very disturbing reports have begun to surface from the United States. Government statistics from 1995 (the year following the introduction of rBGH) show that lymphatic cancers in humans increased an astounding 2000%. In spite of the overwhelming evidence of the health damage caused by the use of rBGH, the U.S. government continues to support it’s use, and the public continues to be denied it’s right to choose rBGH-free dairy products. There are also reports that rBGH is being used illegally in Canada.
In 1999, Dr. Arpal Pusztai, a renowned scientist and member of the United Kingdom’s government owned Rowett Research Institute, reported adverse health effects, including; weakening of the immune system, abnormal organ development, and death in rats fed genetically engineered potatoes. Within forty-eight hours of the release of his alarming findings, he was slapped with a gag order. All his data and research along with his computers and files were seized, and both he and his wife were dismissed. Other independent scientists subsequently confirmed his findings. Public outrage over Dr. Pusztai’s report led to the two largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom refusing to sell genetically altered foods and a government moratorium on genetically altered crops. Unfortunately, the mosaic virus that was used as a carrier and promoter in these transgenic potatoes is also used in most genetically engineered foods that are being consumed worldwide. These are just two of the many examples of serious and life threatening harm that genetically engineered foods have already caused.
Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards Senior Regulator for Health Canada, was recently compelled to resign her position, as a result of interference and political pressure to approve genetically engineered foods she felt would pose health risks to consumers. Such it seems is the power of corporate interests.
One common method of introducing foreign genes from another species or organism is to splice them to what’s called a vector. Vectors are viruses and bacterial plasmids, to which foreign genes have been joined, that then carry and promote the foreign genes when introduced into the new host organism. The problem with this method is that viruses can recombine, creating new plant, animal, and human diseases. The potential for disease and epidemics is enormous. When you introduce genetic material across species barriers (something that could never happen naturally) you create the conditions for the evolution of diseases that have never existed before. These new diseases could make the Black Plague or Aids seem minor by comparison. Along with this epidemic scenario, you will also see an increase in existing diseases. This is already occurring.
There is also some promise of success in the area of cloning, in particular the cloning of human organs for transplant.
Parts of the Designing Disaster series: