Re: standards - Biotech Problems (fwd)

From: "Geraldo Defune" <pah_gd@wye.ac.uk>
Organization: Wye College, University of London
Date: Fri, 2 May 1997 19:29:55 GMT
Subject: Re: standards - Biotech Problems (fwd)
CC: g.deffune@wye.ac.uk, sarrazin@tamarugo.cec.uchile.cl

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Tue, 29 Apr 1997 11:36:03 -0500
> From: jenbaker@imperium.net
> To: sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu
> Subject: Re: standards
> Dear Larry,
> Just a few thoughts on genetic manipulation.....
> This kind of research is becoming increasingly popular throughout
> the world.  And it does have its benefits; increased disease
> resistance, pest resistance, etc...
Dear friends of sustainable & BD lists,

Replying to the above &...
Following a discussion of Vandana Shiva's article on BioTech (fwd),
I think is very important looking for lucid explanations on the points 
criticised, remarking that this is not meant to be a maniqueistic/sectarian 
attack, but an oportunity for learning more about such important issue.

One of my philosophic convictions and strategies is respectful pluralism.

My research and life-project in allelopathy applied to Bio-dynamic and
Organic farming, originally inclined me v.much against Biotech, but 
after seeing that it is a good scientific tool to explain/find out how 
plant methabolite production works and is triggered, made me calm my
killer instincts against sliced genes...

The following questions I posed were originally sent to a friend who is 
a specialist in the subject, after a talk he gave to our Sustainable
Agriculture Research Group & MSc students. So, they were made on the 
friendliest, most respectful & even grateful mood, that I think we all 
must keep if we want to sustain a fruitful dialogue with the people 
working in the field.

Even finding BioTech a useful tool for basic research on the genes 
responsible for important processes, I think there is a dangerous commercial
rush in applying it for profit without really knowing the whole (-istic) 

First of ALL, there is a risk on the method itself that is most 
widely used for the selection of Genetically Transformed cells:
To be able to retrieve the cells, they link the desired gene to 
another one that gives high resistence to a wide-spectrum anti 
biotic, like Kanamycin, and after the tranfer procedures just 
wipe-out all non-transformed cells.

Well, with this, the Tomatoes or Maize that is fed to us and/or 
animals are carrying this AB resistence gene in EVERY CELL!
By natural gene tranfers occurring in the guts, they can be 
transfered to other microorganisms that can becom " SuperBugs" for 
ABs - fortunately not against natural organic defences/resistence, 
but this can be VERY dangerous for sick or wounded people in 
hospitals, poor areas, etc!

Once again, like with other technologies, the danger seems to reside
on HOW (and how carefully) we use it, but with seemingly greater 
risks for the lack of deeper understanding in this field.

E.G.: Although they use the so-called "anti-sense technique" to 
neutralize some genes, like in the Tomato over-ripening case; nobody 
actually KNOWS HOW or WHY does it work! I've been to a seminar of the 
British researcher who succeded in it and HE said so!

I know that in conventional breeding we were already dealing with some
unpredictable random variations, but at least we had the NATURAL 
LIMITATIONS imposed by the whole cultigen/organism genotype.

Isn't it much riskier if you can transpose limits between species?

Aren't the dangers of variations (amplifications, suppressions, 
distortions) in the expression of both the transgene and the host's
associated genes? 

What about possible mutations induced by both synergistic influences
in the modified genotype and by the transfer methods themselves?

Isn't it much more dangerous to release "especific efficient genes" 
inside the carrier-genotype of, say, a pollen grain that can cause
inumerable interactions that those genes would be very unlikely to
undergo (at least at this speed) in natural conditions?

Overall, isn't the very tendency of the Biotech approach dangerously
leaning towards ignoring the holistic evolutionary nature of organisms?

The use of Biotech to allow, for example, a wider, even indiscriminate
use of herbicides, looks clearly unhealthy, leading to both concentration
of power/money for the companies and to the risks of creating "superweeds".

Just a note:  there's one doubt in excelent Vandana's text regarding the "built-
in resilience of amaranth". I conducted experiments in Brazil with different
Amaranthus spp & varieties, for the sake of finding insect resistant plants,
for they are VERY attractive for both Coleoptera and Lepidoptera - even 
working very well as "summer trap plants" for organic diversified 
horticulture. Even native wild spp of Amaranthus have a very nutritious
foliage, that can be used for forage and human consumption.

I hope this can be useful for a healthy discussion on the matter!

Thanks for your attention. Cheers,

Geraldo Deffune

Wye College - University of London 
Sustainable Agriculture Research Group
Wye, Ashford, Kent TN25 5AH
Tel.:(01233)812401 Ext. 271 
Fax: (01233)812855  GB
E-mail: G.Deffune@wye.ac.uk

Home address:
5 The Green
Wye Ashford Kent TN25 5AJ
Tel: 01233 813658

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Date: Mon, 4 Dec 1995 08:50:06 -0800 (PST)
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From: "Tom Hodges (moderated newsgroup)" <sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu>
To: Principles of Sustainable Agriculture <sustag-l@listproc.wsu.edu>
Subject: Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agri (fwd)
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Date: Sun, 3 Dec 1995 23:09:45 -0800
From: Andrew Bartlett <abartlett@igc.apc.org>
To: at.general@conf.igc.apc.org, dev.hunger@conf.igc.apc.org,
    dev.rural@conf.igc.apc.org, dev.sustain@conf.igc.apc.org,
    dev.worldbank@conf.igc.apc.org, econ.poverty@conf.igc.apc.org,
    haz.pesticides@conf.igc.apc.org, list.sustag@conf.igc.apc.org,
    saiic.indio@conf.igc.apc.org, susag.forum@conf.igc.apc.org,
    foodfirst@igc.apc.org, globalexch@igc.apc.org
Subject: Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agri

/* Written  7:33 PM  Nov 28, 1995 by twn in igc:twn.features */
/* ---------- "Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agr" ---------- */

Genetic engineering, says the writer, will add to the  environmental 
costs of agriculture, instead of reducing them. It will  make agriculture 
non-sustainable rather than  sustainable.  Further, newe health risks 
can be introduced  through transgenic crops.
By Vandana Shiva
Third World Network Features
Amarnath<<,  or  ramdana, grown across  India  in  traditional <<AMARANTH
farming  systems, is the world's most nutritious  grain.  It 
comes  in  many  varieties, and can  be  popped,  baked  and 
cooked. Its leaves and stems are also nutritious, containing 
more  than  twice the protein of other cereals.  And  it  is 
environmental friendly.
Prof  Ashish  Datta of Jawaharlal Nehru University  and  the 
Department   of  Biotechnology  have  filed  a  patent   for 
transferring the gene that codes for protein in amarnath  to 
other cereals like rice and wheat. The patent will cover the 
isolation of the gene and delivery/transfer or construct for 
transferring   the  gene  into  other  crops.  It  will   be 
applicable in the US and Europe.
What  does the patent for a transgenic crop  using  amarnath 
genes imply for biodiversity and human health and nutrition? 
It has been claim that the transgenic crop will enhance  the 
protein  level of edible oils. However, a comparison of  the 
nutrition  available from polycultures based on amarnath  as 
well as the nutrition available from amarnath clearly  shows 
this claim to be false.
Amarnath  is not just a source of high protein. It has  high <<AMARANTH
calcium and iron too. These multiple and complex nutritional 
properties  do not get transferred to the  transgenic  crop. 
Transfering the amarnath protein gene to rice, for  example, 
thus does not increase overall nutrition; it decreases it.
Besides, people do not eat only ice, but rice with dal.  The 
balance  comes from the rice and dal mixture, not from  rice 
alone.  By  trying to increase the protein content  of  rice 
through  genetic engineering, dal as a source of a  balanced 
protein composition is being negated.
In addition, the transgenic rice wll have none of the built-
in resilience of amarnath. It wll be vulnerable to diseases, 
pests  and  drought, thus requirng  intensive  chemical  and 
intensive water use. The development of transgenic crop with 
amarnath  genes  will lead to the  displacement  of  amanath 
itself as companies with investments in research and patents 
will have to promote the spread of the transgenes.

Genetically  engineering amaranth genes in rice will add  to  
the environmental costs of agriculture, instead of  reducing 
them.  It will make agriculture non-sustainable rather  than 
sustainable.  Further,  new health risks can  be  introduced 
through such transgenic crops.
The  extreme form of genetic determinism which assumes  that 
each specific character of an organism is encoded in a  spe
cific, stable gene so that the transfer of a gene results in 
the  transfer of a character, has already been  rejected  by 
the  majority of biologists and the intellectual  community, 
because   it  fails  to  take  into  account   the   complex 
interactions  between  genes  and their  products  that  are 
involved in the develoment of all characters. In many cases, 
it  has  been  impossible to  predict  the  consequences  of 
transferring  a gene from one type of organism  to  another. 
Furthermore  changing  a  gene's  cellular  and  surrounding 
environment  can produce a cascade of further  unpredictable 
changes that could be harmful.
The  essence  of a genome is self organisation  --  elements 
that  fit  together.  Complexes  of  effective  genes   form 
coherent  wholes, which vary within usually stale  patterns. 
However, genomes of all organisms are known to be subject to 
a  host of destabilising processes, so that the  transferred 
gene may mutate, transpose, or rearrange within the  genome, 
and  may  even  be transferred to  another  organism.  As  a 
consequence  of  genetic  engineering,  the  stabilising  or 
`buffering' control circuits are exposed to disruption  thus 
threatening the stability of organisms and ecosystems.
In transgenic plants particularly, there is abundant empiri
cal  proof  that genetic engineering  is  indeterminate  and 
uncertain.  A classic example is the maize A1 gene that  has 
been  introduced  into a white flowering mutant  of  Petunia 
hybrid wqhich has lresulted i transgenic plants with  flower 
colours ranging from brick red through variegated to  white. 
However, during a field trial of 300,000 plants, the  number 
of plants producing flowers with white or variegated  petals 
and  plants with weakly pigmented blooms varied  during  the 
The  study  linked  the  stability  of  the  transgene  with 
environmental stress and endogenous factors such as the  age 
of the parent plant. The effect of environmental factors  of 
the   stability  of  transgene  expression  has  also   been 
evidenced by transgenic alfalfa.
Studies  with rice plants genetically engineered  to  resist 
kanamycin showed not merely that this trait, though inheri-
ted, was  not expressed in the progeny but  also  that  gene 
amplification  or loss occurred in the progeny of  the  same 
parent plant.
Problems like silencing or suppression of the inherited gene 
suggest that this phenomenon results from events that are an 
integral  part of normal gene expression in plants. The  way 
plants recognise the specifically inactivate foreign DNA  is 
not  known; but all evidence points to the possibility  that 
the newly integrated DNA may be recognised as foreign.
The   unpredictability  and  uncertainty  that   accompanies 
genetic engineering has serious implications at two  levels; 
that  of the biosafety of transgenic organisms; and that  of 
patents  fo  them.  Given the  factors  of  instability  and 
uncertainty   of  genetic  engineering,  the   `safety'   of 
genetically  engineered organisms cannot be taken as a  prior 
assumption.  As more transgenic crops leave  the  controlled 
environment  of  research greenhouses and are  subjected  to 
natural  variation in farmers' fields,  problems  associated 
with transgene instability will increase in magnitude.
Datta, who has a co-application for the patent claim on  the 
amarnath  gene, is also the head of the commission meant  to 
decide   on  biosafety  regulations,  which   has   recently 
permitted  Proagro Seed Company of India and  Plant  Genetic 
Systems  (PGS)  of Belgium to  deliberately  release  hybrid 
brassica  (which includes mustard and rapeseed)  and  hybrid 
tomatoes  at the Proagro Research Station at  Gurgaon,  near 
New Delhi. The tomato variety will contain a Bt gene and the 
mustard  will  tolerate  the  herbicide  Basta  produced  by 
Hoechst.  When  contacted, the Department  of  Biotechnology 
first  contended  that  such  release  was  safe,  and  then 
admitted  that information on biosafety based on  which  the 
permission  was granted was supplied by PGS on the basis  of 
its own work in this field.
Genetically  engineered herbicide tolerance carries with  it 
enormous environmental risks. A primary concern is that such 
resistant  plant could themselves become weeds, or  transfer 
their resistance to wild relatives, which would then  become 
super  weeds, especially in countries which  have  developed 
the  crop  in the first place and  where  numerous  farmers' 
varieties still exist.
A  study  conducted by  University  of  California-Riverside 
geneticist  Norman  Ellstrand  has  confirmed  that  genetic 
traits  of crops can be transferred to their wild  relatives 
by even hybrid varieties by simple polination. Besides, such 
varieties will encourage the use of more herbicides.
Likewise,  the Bt gene has also proved to be less  effective 
and  more  hazardous  both  for  the  environment  and   for 
lifeforms other than those targeted than claimed. Transgenic 
plants  with  the  bt  component  produce  anti-pest   toxin 
continuously, leading to increasing Bt resistance.
Further,  Bt ingestion can result in feeding  inhibition  in 
the pest before it has absorbed a lethal dose of the  toxin. 
Bt has also been shown to target beneficial insects, and has 
been linked to the creation of newer resistant virus  varie-
ties as well as multiple virus infections.
In  humans, it has been incriminated in severe types of  eye 
infection   that  can  lead  to  blindness,   besides   food 
poisoning.  Microbiologists  agree  that  the  most  obvious 
potential hazard associated with Bt is to individuals  whose 
immune defences are impaired. Such individuals comprise most 
of  the  Third World populations as immune  defences  become 
impaired by diseases like measles in childhood and  malaria, 
besides  AIDs.  Developing  biosafety  regulations  is  thus 
imperative in environmental and public interest.
The instability and unpredictability of genetic  engineering 
also  have implications for intellectual property rights  in 
the  area  of  lifeforms. Patents  to  genetically  modified 
organisms   are   given   on   grounds   that   these    are 
biotechnological inventions. Such a patent claim is based on 
the   false  assumption  that  genes  make  organisms   and, 
therefore,  the makers of transgenic genes  make  transgenic 
Proteins  are not made by genes but by a complex  system  of 
chemical  production involving other proteins. Genes  cannot 
make themselves any more than they can make a protein.  They 
are made by a complex machinery of proteins. It is also  not 
genes that are self-replicating but the entire organism as a 
complex system.
Thus  relocating genes does not amount to making  an  entire 
organism. Organism `makes' itself. To claim that an organism 
and  its  future genetations are products of  an  investor's 
mind  needing  to  be protected  by  international  property 
rights  as biotechnological innovations amounts  to  denying 
the   self-organising,   self-replicating   structures    of 
organisms.  Put  simply, it amounts to a theft  of  nature's 
Granting   patents  for  genetically  engineered   organisms 
becomes even more inappropriate because biologists who claim 
patents on life often have to use `junk DNA' (95% DNA  whose 
function is not known). In the case of the transgenic  sheep 
Tracy,   called   a   `biotechnological   invention',,   the 
scientists at PPL (the company holding the patent on  Tracy) 
had  to  use  `junk  DNA' to get  high  yields  of  alpha-i-
As Ron James, director, says, `We left some of these  random 
bits of DNA in the gene, essentially as God provided it  and 
that produced high yield.' However, their patent claims  are 
proof that PPl is claiming to be God.
The primary threat to diverse forms of life as both biologi-
cal    and    cultural    diversity    comes    from    this 
reductionist/mechanistic  paradigm which has  devalued  most 
species,  and  all  non-Western  non-reductionist  knowledge 
systems,  leading  to species extinction  and  erosion,  and 
cultural extinction and erosion.
Conservation of biological and cultural diversity calls  for  
transcending of the dominant reductionist trends in biology. 
The need of the hour is a post-reductionist trends in biolo-
gy.  The need of the hour is a post-reductionist biology  in 
which  humans and other species stand as equal  but  diverse 
partners  and  modern  biology ad ancient  systems  of  life 
sciences  stand  side by side in a pluralism.

-  Third  World Network Features
- ends -
About  the witer: Vandana Shiva is a  leading  environmental 
scientist in India and the author of Staying Alive and  many 
other books and articles on issues related to resources, the 
environment and women.
When  reproducing  this feature, please credit  Third  World 
Network   Features  and  (if  applicable)  the   cooperating 
magazine  or  agency involved in the article, and  give  the 
byline. Please sent us cuttings.
Published by Third World Network 228, Macalister Road, 10400 
Penang,     Malaysia.    Email:    twn@igc.apc.org;     Tel: 
(+604)2293511,2293612 & 2293713; Fax: (+604)2298106.

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