As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.
—Antonie de Saint-Exupery, 1948, The Wisdom ofthe Sands
In his chapter on orthobiosis, Metchnikoff (Ref. 42 in Chapter 2) lauds Luther Burbank, an outstanding American botanist, for his improvement of useful plants. "Burbank," he tells us, "cultivated great numbers of fruit trees, flowers, and all kinds of plants, with the object of increasing their utility." He goes on to say that
He has modified the nature of plants to such an extent that he has cactus plants and branches without thorns. The succulent leaves of the former provide an excellent food for cattle . . . and to obtain such results much knowledge and a long period of time were necessary. To frame the new ideal of the plant it was necessary not only to have an exact conception of what was wanted, but to find out if the qualities of the plants in question furnished any hope of realizing it. Indeed, results could never be predicted; only hoped for.
Random genetic variation occurs naturally in all living things and is the basis of evolution via natural selection. Well before its scientific basis was understood, farmers took advantage of natural variation by selectively breeding wild plants and animals to produce variants better suited to their needs. But this selective breeding involved the transfer of unknown numbers and types of genes between organisms of the same species that rendered outcomes haphazard and unpredictable, and could take decades. Specificity, predictability, assurance, and timeliness had to await recombinant DNA technology, also known as genetic engineering, genetic manipulation, gene technology, and genetic modification' all of which can be defined as the introduction of genes from one organism into another so that the recipient organism acquires genes that encode for unique new traits that will be expressed. An era of directed genetic change is at hand.
Biologists are simply using DNA—the inherited chemicals of all living things—from viruses to humans, from one plant or animal species and inserting it into the DNA of another, which means that the only thing being transferred are four nitrogenous bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, which are the same chemicals in flies, fleas, fish, frogs, flowers, and my friend Fred, which translates to—a chemical, is a chemical, is a chemical; adenine is adenine no matter where it is found. Understand this, and genetic modification becomes a no-brainer.
The total, the complete four-letter alphabet rendered by adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, a, c, g and t, in different sequences, repeated over, and over constitutes the remarkable and astonishing "alphabet" in which the genetic code is "written." The words of the code, the instructions, govern and direct, how and when the literally hundreds of thousands of proteins will be made. The "words" are determined by the order of the bases along the DNA molecule. Bear in mind that all cells in our bodies (except red blood cells, which do not have a nucleus and have no DNA), all cells in plant and animal tissue contain the DNA sequences that make each organism unique; that is our genome, a plant's or animal's genome.
Each sequence of bases actually spells out an amino acid. The code specifying an amino acid must consist of at least three bases. These three-letter words are called codons, of which there are 64, and can spell out all 20 essential amino acids. So, for example, TTT codes for lysine; CAT, for methionine; GCC, for alanine; and ACC, for tryptophane. Thus the arrangement of the four bases spells out all amino acid sequences. Amino acids join to form polypeptide chains, and polypeptide chains join to form proteins. The various combinations of 20 amino acids can produce millions of proteins. Again, the takeaway message in all this is, a chemical, is a chemical, is a chemical, no matter what its initial origin. Since all species of living things have the same four- l etter genetic alphabet, A,G,C,T, they share the same genetic language and thus any sequence of bases can be "read" and understood as an instruction to make something. So, bacteria, for example, can have a gene for human insulin production inserted into its genome, and the bacterium will produce (express) human insulin—unmistakable human insulin. In a word, the bacterium becomes a human insulin producing factory. Similarly, a set or sets of bases can be inserted into plants that can prevent freezing, permit growth under low moisture conditions, or tolerate high salt content, prevent formation of toxic chemicals, prevent specific microbes from initiating an infection, increase the size of fish, permit more rapid growth, and increase vitamin content. The fact is, it is impossible to identify a gene as belonging to a turkey, tomato, or trout—a gene is a gene, is a gene.
With these fundamentals as prelude, the question then is, why genetically modified foods? What are their advantages and potential benefits? Changes to food as a consequence of gene transfer are essentially no different from those that occur naturally as a result of selective breeding, except that in the gene transfer procedure, a selected few genes are involve, drastically reducing the time to achieve a specific trait, and totally removing the random assortment of all other genes. In addition, genetic modification makes it possible to transfer genes between different species. This is where Luddites raise the spector of Frankenfoods. Such transfers are truly revolutionary and bring with them the potential for a range of benefits, but they have also brought with them such bones of contention as safety, ethics, environmental impact, and consumer choice.
Given these concerns, it may be essential at this point to inquire as to how it began and how gene transfers are made. It began in Japan, in 1901. Bombyx mori - the silkworms, were dying. Shigatone Ishiwata, a microbiologist-entomologist at the Japanese National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science, isolated the bacterium that was infecting, softening, and killing the
Lipidoptera larvae. He called the silkworm disease sotto and the culprit, Bacillus sotto . In 1915, in Germany, Ernst Berliner was investigating a disease of the Mediterranean flour moth, Angasta kueniella- These infected moths were obtained from a flour mill in Thuringia. In his published report he described the isolation of a spore-forming pathogenic bacterium from the dead and dying insects, which he dubbed Bacillus thuringiensis . As it turned out, B. sotto and B. thuringiensis were the same gram-positive soil bacterium. But B. thuringiensis persevered. This bacterium possesses the unique ability to produce a parasporal crystalline protein during sporulation that is not only insecticidal but also exquisitely selective, with over 20,000 strains found in soils around the world, having the ability to produce seemingly inexhaustible insect destroying proteins. Insects are not all that different from we humans in their susceptibility to microbial infection and death. Microbes are one of nature's ways of limiting insect populations. Bacillus thuringiensis has been performing this function for eons. From Ishiwata to Berliner, during 1900-1915, the number of insect orders that B. thuringiensis was found to infect and destroy jumped from the single Lipidoptera to currently nine additional orders that now encompasses flies, beetles, mosquitoes, protozoa, worms, flat-worms, mites, and ants. The delta(S)-endotoxins possess the impressive attributes of our ideal biopesticide:
• Petrochemicals are superfluous.
• Nontoxic to vertebrates: mammals, birds, and fish.
• Resistance to it has not developed over the past 17 years. (Since the toxic crystal protein consists of a string of amino acids, it is reasonable to believe that insect genes will mutate and resistance may develop.)
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)'s insecticidal promise took off in 1981 when H. Ernest Schnepf and H. R. Whitely of the University of Washington, Seattle, cloned and sequenced the Bt toxin gene; all the words of the four-letter alphabet became known. In 1987, scientists inserted Bt genes in cotton plants. A year later the first cotton plants containing Bt genes, with its insecticidal crystalline protein expressed, were harvested. In 1995, the Bollgard gene, a Monsanto product, became commercially available throughout all cotton-producing US states, as well as worldwide. For the first time in human history, there was a crop that could defend itself against the voracious bollweevil. That's the brief history of Bt: traditional, careful, creative science at work. Knowledge building on knowledge. And the cotton plants defend themselves the way all crops containing the Bt crystal do. The process is remarkably straightforward. Ingestion of the CRY toxin (cry for crystal) results initially in paralysis of the gut and mouthparts. When swallowed, the protein is released at specific receptor sites in the insect's stomach. The protein opens a channel in the insect's stomach, flows in, and dissolves the intracellular cement. As the gut liquid diffuses between the deteriorating epithelial cells, paralysis occurs, followed by bacterial invasion and subsequent insect death. Each Bt protein has its narrow insect host bounds—and "insect" is the operative locution. Bt has no effect on birds, fish, or mammals, including we humans. Recall that our stomachs, and those of all vertebrates, are acidic, unlike those of arthropods, which are alkaline, and since the Bt crystalline protein is alkaline, it can function effectively at the higher pH ranges. Receptor sites for this protein are lacking in acid environments. Ergo, Bt is harmless to all but insects. That is another cardinal takeaway message. That is the point to retrieve when the Luddites raise the spector of safety.
Currently three techniques or processes are available for placing a new gene into cells normally foreign to it: a physical method, a splicing procedure, and a microbial messenger. But it is also necessary to have isolated a gene with the traits to be imparted. The vehicle of insertion will be one of the above, and of course the host plant, animal, or fish DNA to be modified is needed. Perhaps most important, we need a way to determine that the gene we believe has been successfully inserted, has in fact been placed in, and is working. This requires a marker gene that must be readily detectable in the modified DNA. These marker genes must be attached to or in close association with the gene carrying the desired traits, which may not be visible. There is yet another consideration that goes hand-in-hand with the gene that we wish to impart. Where do we obtain this gene, or any gene? Currently the world is fortunate to have a gene bank that goes by the name Genbank and is an integral part of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) established in 1988 (at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD) as a national resource for molecular biology information. It contains an annotated collection of all publicly available DNA sequences, via the humanitarian and public-spirited inclinations of our academic scientists, as well as scientists the world over, who freely deposit the results of their researches. As of February 2004, the Genbank had on deposit 37,893,844,733 bases in 32,549,400 sequences, which are also freely available to anyone. NCBI can be accessed at http://www.mcbi. nlm.gov/Web/GenbankOverview.htm.
So, with the specific DNA in hand, the physical procedure in question requires that it be mixed with gold or tungsten pellets, 1 ^m in size, which are placed in position with the target cells so that a mighty blast of compressed helium gas, from the helium gene gun, sends the DNA-coated pellets into the plant cells, which migrate to the cell's nucleus. Some remain in, some exit. But as there are huge numbers of cells, it is fairly certain there will be "takes"— cells that receive the new DNA and survive. When it works, the cell regenerates into a new plant, and its new genome will express the newly acquired trait.
A second procedure for depositing a gene into a cell is splicing. Using readily available biochemical techniques, DNA can be removed from cells and, using restriction endonuclease enzymes, to cut the DNA strands into segments and insert a foreign gene. Not unlike splicing a segment of tape into a reel of cassette tape.
PLASMID ISOLATED FROM E. COLI BACTERIUM
PLASMID ISOLATED FROM E. COLI BACTERIUM
Once the restriction enzymes slice DNA and the new gene is inserted, a ligase enzyme, acting as a genetic "glue," reattaches the cut segments and the splicing is complete. Thus, bacteria that divide and double every 30 minutes are virtual chemical manufacturing plants. These engineered microorganisms can be made to produce or metabolize almost anything.
In a test tube, using detergent-type chemicals, the cell membrane is dissolved, allowing the cell contents, including the small plasmids, to spill out. These are the most easily modified. The segregated plasmids are mixed with restriction enzymes that cleave it at various points, opening it up and "stretching" it out. Conveniently, sticky ends are produced. The solution also contains the ligase that cements the sticky ends together and the new gene into place. The result is a new plasmid loop. The complete process is shown in Figure 4.4 New plasmids are placed in a solution of cold calcium chloride, which contains normal untreated bacteria. This solution is heat-shocked. As a result, the membranes become permeable, allowing the new plasmids to pass through and become part of a microbes' new genome. When the bacteria reproduce, as part of their normal metabolism, they will produce—express—the new information now contained in their genome.
Plant and animal genomes can be modified using the common soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens as a vehicle. A. tumefaciens contains a recombinant plasmid tumor-inducing (Ti) and regularly enters and exits plant roots.
Infection of normal plant cells by this bacterium transforms them into tumor cells. As a consequence of the insertion of genes into the plant's genome, not only a natural phenomenon, but possibly the only natural example of breeding between two different species, which has been ongoing since root-nodule bacteria began fixing nitrogen, takes place. Microbiologists soon realized that this organism could be used as a vehicle for transferring recombinant DNA genes into plant chromosomes. The Ti plasmid is now used frequently to produce successful transfers, but new strains of agrobacterium have been developed that no longer contain the pathogenic tumor-inducing plasmid, but can still transfer genes. The process is clearly shown in Figure 4.5.
Australian scientists from the Commonwealth Scientifiic and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) recently used an Agrobacterium to transfer five genes from Algae (which produce the omega-3 fatty acids that we get from eating the fish that eat the algae) into a crop plant, and demonstrated the production of the omega- 3 in the plant, which will provide an alternative source of omega-3s for people who don't care for fish.
To transfer a gene to a plant or animal cell is one thing; identifying whether, and where, the genes have landed is quite another. Indeed, it remains a kind of hit-or-miss undertaking. I say "kind of," as there are literally millions of cells involved so that there is reasonable expectation of a take. Furthermore, as the newly selected gene is copied millions of times over, the original DNA in the new genome is trifling. Hence marker genes are essential. Another takeaway message is that the newly inserted genetic material is present in minuscule amounts. Yet another safety consideration.
The current procedure links the trait with a marker that expresses readily identifiable characteristics. The kanamycin resistance gene, a widely used marker, produces an enzyme that inactivates the antibiotics kanamycin and neomycin. Plant cells that do not express the kanamycin gene (do not contain it) are killed by these antibiotics, providing a means of rapid screening. The kanamycin gene is used as a marker because the chemical produced by the gene is easily digested in the stomach even under low-acidity conditions. It's harmless and doesn't affect antimicrobial resistance. Nevertheless, it raised a question: Could these marker genes be transferred from the modified plant to intestinal bacteria and spread resistance to therapeutic antibiotics? An FAO/ WHO expert panel was convened to consider the implications that a maker gene might pose. They concluded that the presence of marker genes in food did not compromise its safety for either human or animal consumption. Following that panel, the FDA noted that marker genes held no threat of toxicity or allergenicity . In February 2004, the British Society for Anitimicrobial Chemotherapy stated that "There are no objective scientific grounds to believe that bacterial antibiotic resistance genes will migrate to bacteria to create new clinical problems." They went on to say that "the argument that occasional transfer of these particular resistance genes from GM [genetically modified] plants to bacteria would pose an unacceptable risk to human or animal health has little substance. We conclude that the risk of transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from GM plants to bacteria is remote, and that the hazard arising from any such gene transfer is at worst, slight" .
With this concern for the antibiotic resistance gene attended to (and there will be other safety issues to deal with), we return to the question, Why genetically modified foods? What can they do for the people of the world that traditional foods cannot do?
In a comprehensive article in the Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Rauch  made a significant case for genetic modification of foods. "Over the next half century," he wrote, "genetic engineering could feed humanity and solve a raft of economic ills, if only environmentalists would let it." Hard to imagine as it may be, but no less true, that a small but highly organized and vocal group has managed to intimidate governments and keep genetically modified foods from markets the world over. This hubris requires comment, as shall be done, but let us concentrate on the need for GM foods. In his cogent essay Rauch affirms the United Nations estimates that global population will rise from its current 6.4 billion to approximately 9 billion by midcentury, 2050. But he also notes that across the world people must have their pet dogs and cats to the tune of another billion mouths that not only must be fed, but when people move beyond a subsistence lifestyle, they will want to be provided with "the increasingly protein-rich diets that an increasingly rich world will expect—doing all that will require food output to at least double, and possibly triple" . He continued:
If in 2050 crop yields are still increasing, if most of the world is economically developed, and if population pressures are declining or even reversing, then the human species may at long last be able to feed itself, year in and year out, without putting any additional net stress on the environment. We might even be able to grow everything we need returning crop land to wilderness, repairing damaged soils, restoring ecosystems. In other words human agriculture might be placed on a sustainable footing forever. The great problem then, is to get through the next four or five decades with as little environmental damage as possible.
And that, he maintains, is where genetically modified food comes in.
On the basis of pest pressure and current crop protection, the biggest yield gains are expected in South and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa [ 48 ]:
South and southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are also the regions with highest population growth, so increases in agricultural output per unit area are vital for poverty alleviation and food security " Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] cotton, Bt maize, and Bt potatoes, which have already been commercialized in some countries, have direct relevance to the developing world. Bt rice, Bt sweet potatoes and a number of food crops with other pest- resistance mechanisms will further broaden the portfolio in the near future.
Pest resistance, while a substantial benefit, is but one among others. So, for example, GM holds out such advantages as
• Allowing a wide selection of traits for improvement such as nutritional, taste, and visual improvements.
• Results obtained rapidly and at lower cost
• Greater precision in selecting traits
These advantages can lead to the following benefits:
• Improved yields with less labor and overall costs.
• Reduced use of herbicides and pesticides.
• Benefits to the soil by no-till farming, which foregoes ploughing and allows underground ecosystems to return which reduces erosion and runoff. Worms do the ploughing, which saves the farmer fuel, which in turn saves energy and reduces pollution. But no-till farming depends on GM crops.
• Crops and grow and flourish in previously in hospitable environments— drought, salinity, flooding, extremes of temperature—which translates into increased yields.
• Improved flavor texture.
• Removal of allergens and toxic components such as cyanide in cassava.
Several pertinent and apropos examples are readily at hand. A more nutritious version of golden rice offers a practical solution to vitamin A deficiency. Initially, golden rice was genetically engineered to produce P-carotene in its seeds, but the low levels of P-carotene in the kennels of this transgenic crop raised questions about its nutritional value. Recall that the desire to develop rice enriched with P-carotene arose in response to the high level of vitamin A deficiency throughout the developing world—especially where rice represents a substantial portion of the diet. Vitamin A deficiency results in blindness and susceptibility to infections via a depressed immune system. Plants do not make vitamin A. Biotechnology changed that by inserting a gene from the daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) to convert geranyl geranyl diphosphate to phy-toene, and a second gene from the soil bacterium Erwinia, to further convert phytoene to lycopene, which is itself converted to carotene by enzymes in rice. Quite a testament to, and evidence of transgenic legerdemain (sleight of hand). But the level of P - carotene was insufficient to make a difference. Another upgrade was needed. Researchers at Syngenta took up the challenge, and found a gene, phytoene synthase (psy) in maize, that substantially increased carotenoid accumulation and developed Golden Rice 2, which increased the carotenoid level 23-fold, and can now be delivered to children. A child given 60-70 grams of this rice, less than a quarter of a pound (<0.25 lb), per day, can now obtain their full complement of vitamin A . This has to be seen as a splendid accomplishment for science, for agriculture, for humanity.
Mastitis in dairy cows has been, and is, an unwanted consequence of selection for improved milk production. Dairy cows are quintessential examples of hundreds of years of imbreeding for increased yield and quality of milk. But this has had unintended consequences: mammary gland susceptibility to a staphylococcal infection that is refractory to cure, and is the dairy industry's most costly veterinary condition, the world over, as well as a major cause of premature animal death. Elimination of chronically infected cows appears to be an efficient way to prevent the spread of infection. Staphylococci in the milk of infected cows can cause foodborne human illness. To deal with this stubborn problem, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, ventured to make cows resistant to S. aureus by inducing mammary gland cells to produce the enzyme lysostaphin, an antistaphylococcal protein. They obtained the lys-ostaphin-producing gene from another staphylococcal strain. The transgenic cows they created now secrete an antibiotic of bacterial origin in their milk, and staphylococci could not be recovered from the milk, as they were being lysed so rapidly that an infection could not occur . Although they were successful, the question remains, Will the presence of the lysostaphin transgene in milk be acceptable to the public? Milk is a special food, carrying a symbolic emotional dimension that could complicate an already complex issue. Nevertheless, the USDA researchers clearly demonstrated the feasibility of introducing disease- r esistant genes in cattle to confer protection against a specific disorder.
Although the unconscionable resistance to GM foods has stalled and delayed its benefits to countries that need them, there is light at the end of this troubled tunnel. India offers a shining example with its recent approval of three varieties of Bt cotton, which they have found lets farmers use less pesticide—typically one or two sprayings per harvest as opposed to three to four for conventional cotton plants. This makes it cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Reduction of pesticide use not only saves money, but far more importantly, saves lives, as was well demonstrated in China. The Chinese cultivate tens of millions of acres of cotton and had been spraying the plants with tons of organophosphate pesticides to kill the bollweevil grubs on them that feed so voraciously. Organophosphates contain chemicals similar to those in the nerve gases Sarin and Taben, which means that Chinese farmers and their families placed themselves at undue risk. The death rate among them has been so high that the government does not disclose the number. Bt cotton had to be sprayed 20-30 times between May and September, the height of the growing season, because the bollweevil worms become even more resistant to the pesticides. Use of Bt cotton now saves lives, prevents illness, and increases crop yields by as much as 50% . In India, average yields exceeded those of non - Bt plants by as much as 60%. According to scientists at the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore, "Farmers have bought it (the Bt cotton) left and right . . . farmers are cleverer than the activists or the companies. They won ' t buy things if they do not work." Also, there is an expectation among researchers that opposition to GM crops will melt away once their homegrown research begins to deliver tangible results. India's farmers are already voting for Bt cotton by buying the seed. GM crops that are "made in India" can only get more popular .
Mexico is also opening up to genetically modified food with President Vincente Fox signing a Bill providing a regulatory framework for gene altered crops . Mexican agriculturalists heartily approve the new law as they have been cut off from the new technology and can' t compete with the United States and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They want the freedom to decide whether the technology is worth it. Who could argue with that?
A major research effort in Mexico that political activists have almost entirely shut down is the attempt to develop transgenic corn and rice tolerant of the high levels of aluminum naturally present in soils in many areas of Mexico, that simply stunt the growth of both crops. The new law will give the science an opportunity to flourish, and farmers an opportunity to harvest high yielding crops.
Until March 2005, Brazil was one of the last of the world's major agricultural producers not to have granted approval to plant genetically modified crops. President Inacio Lula da Silva signed the new law that pitted scientists and farmers against environmental and religious groups . Be that as it may, it is estimated that about 30% of Brazil's soy crop is already grown with genetically engineered seeds brought in clandestinely from Argentina.
Despite the fact that GM food is booming in Asia, where people do not have the luxury of denial they have in Europe, perhaps the brightest light in the tunnel comes from Europe, where in May 2004, after a 6-year moratorium, the European Union, the Common Market, finally approved the importation of genetically engineered sweet corn (Bt11) developed by the Swiss Company, Syngenta. Bt11 is resistant to both the corn borer and the corn ear worm, and is also resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. But that good news comes wrapped in not-so-good news. Under European rules the corn must be labeled as genetically modified, which, given current widespread consumer resistance, would discourage potential buyers from purchasing, and food companies from even offering, it for sale. He that giveth, also taketh away. Nevertheless, this is seen as a significant breakthrough even though Friends of the Earth, a group vehemently opposed to crop biotechnology who maintain that there is simply no market for GM foods in Europe as consumers have overwhelmingly rejected them . A self-fullfilling prophesy if ever there was one.
Of course, rejection has been at the top of their agenda for the past 20 years, and they have successfully achieved their goal—so far.
Perhaps the experimental field trials with transgenic rice currently underway in Watson, Missouri will help bring even more light into the GM tunnel. Jason Garst, a 35-year-old, sixth-generation farmer here, has planted 12 varieties of rice plants engineered to produce the proteins found in milk, saliva, and tears. When isolated, dried, and rendered into powder, it is anticipated that these proteins will become a healing ingredient in Granola bars and nutritional drinks, preventing infant deaths from diarrhea in third-world countries. Clearly, the transgenic possibilities are limited only by our creativity and imaginations. This project brings together in a cooperative effort, a local university, Northwest Missouri State, a small bioscience company, and the State of Missouri, to attempt to reverse the long decline in northwest Missouri's farm economy . Here we have a noble humanitarian project, without a corporate CEO in sight and the critics already swinging into action trying to kill the project—aborning, hammering as they do on the health issue—that transferring a gene could imperil human health. In fact, after two decades of searching, there is a pronounced absence of any solid evidence that GM crops are in any way harmful to human health. Nevertheless, the mantra of the environmentalists, the political activists, continues to inform their constituents and the media, who continue to provide them prime coverage, that safety is the vital issue.
Before delving into the safety of GM foods, let us hear from Stewart Brand, the quintessence of environmental activism and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. Musing out loud, so to speak, in a recent issue of MIT's Technology Review, Brand informs his acolytes, to their chagrin, of four environmental heresies, reversals of fortune, that they will not only have to accept but also support: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power. Heresies, indeed! We shall deal with two: genetic modification and nuclear power. Brand maintains that "The success of the environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces; romanticism and science—often in opposition." He compares the two this way: "The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction." As for scientists, "They are ethicalistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm, and combative against each other. For them, admitting mistakes is what science is." He is quite correct in stating that there are more romantics, environmentalists, than scientists, which translates into environmentalists having their say and way. Listen to this: "It means that scientific perceptions are always a minority view easily ignored, suppressed, or demonized if they don't fit the consensus story line." Brand is honest and has the self-confidence to say this out loud, even though his environmentalists have held us all in thrall these many contentious years. When they are good and ready to change things, they'll change. Not before; because they own the cat bird seat. It's galling, but he does have the troops. Why else would government agencies refer to them, acquiesce to them, request their romantic views?
Although nuclear power is some distance away, I present his views here along with biotech as they constitute the warp and woof of the total fabric of his beliefs. For Brand, climate change is the most profound environmental issue of our time. It is a disaster so profound that romantics, environmentalists must give up that ghost and genuflect at the alter of nuclear power—a reversal of fortune if even there was one. Recall that at the dawning of nuclear power, environmentalists were its strong supporters given its promise to decarbonize the atmosphere, as it produces abundant energy at high yields and at low cost—cleanly. As Brand spells it out, power derived from nuclear reactors can slow the destabilization of our planet's climate. The fact that the country, the world, has lost 40 years to the carbon of fossil fuels and its direct negative effect on climate causes no pain. It didn't have to be this way. Brand too often paints with a broad brush, placing, for example, the reactors at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in the same class, which they absolutely are not. But it is this type of aggregation that supports the romantic and denies the science. He also speaks glibly about readily transportable nuclear plant waste, which has long been the hallmark of the environmentalists' antinuclear power efforts; moving spent nuclear fuel by truck or rail through towns and cities could, for them, be catastrophic. Now, with but a sentence, that rhetoric disappears, as it no longer serves their purpose. When James Lovelock, guru of the Greens, and an internationally recognized chemist, who by the way was the discoverer of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere, spoke up in favor of nuclear produced energy, he was suppressed, given the silent treatment—ignored, as was Green Peace cofounder Patrick Moore and Friends of the Earth Hugh Montefiore. Here again, Brand' s honesty is breathtaking. The man has no shame Listen: "Public excoriation (of these outspoken environmentalists) however, would invite public debate, which so far has not been welcome." They had their agenda and they would stick with it no matter; the rest of us be damned.
His approach to biotechnology is as brazen as his new attitude about nuclear power. One area of biotech, he informs his cohorts, "with huge promise and some drawbacks is genetic engineering, so far rejected by the environmentalist movement." Can he expect any other response? Environmentalist leaders and their organizations have led an unrelenting and vicious crusade against genetic engineering. That rejection he states is a mistake. One could expect the heavens to open and a bolt of high energy to strike. These are the people who have impeded GM crop development for a decade in the most needy countries, simply because GM crops were the offspring of big corporations, and environmentalists would rather swallow hemlock than approve anything corporate. Brand has the temerity to tell his fellows to ignore the corporate and fix on the technology, given the facts that GM crops are more efficient, produce higher yields on less, and often hard-scrabble land, with less pesticide use— facts that the Amish have clearly seen, understand, and hue to, their traditional avoidance of technology notwithstanding.
Possibly the most shocking of his pronouncements pertain to the "scare stories that go around have as much substance as urban legends about toxic rat urine on coke can lids." Obviously environmentalists cannot stoop low enough. Anything goes to forward their agenda. But that is not the end of it. He is quite forthright in telling readers that many leading biologists, who double as environmentalists, have no concerns about genetically engineered organisms, but that they don't say so publicly because, "they feel that entering the GM debate would strain relations with allies and would distract from their main focus which is to research and defend biodiversity" . A pox on both their houses!
We now delve into the safety of GM foods. The safety of the marker gene, the antibiotic resistance gene, as we have seen, has been given a clear bill of health. However, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and development and FDA suggest that GM crops may pose three human risks as they potentially contain allergens, toxins, or antinutrients, although these potential risks are not unique to GM foods. We humans have consumed food containing allergens, toxins, and antinutrients throughout human history. Foods generally cannot be guaranteed to pose zero risk. The concern with genetic modification is the potential for introduction of a new allergen, an enhanced toxin or antinu-trient in an otherwise safe food.
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