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Risk analysis of genetically altered foods.

Hi Patricia,
    I think that your analogy with Chernobyl
and Bhopal was very apt, perhaps especially
with respect to the use of nuclear energy.
Like nuclear energy, the technology has the 
"potential" for some very great benefits that 
some of us wouldn't want to do without(I'm thinking
X-rays and radiation therapy).  But 
it's *all* very risky, and *some* of it has the 
potential to be exceedingly dangerous, even 
threatening our lives and civilisation.  
    I agree with you completely that these
technologies should have been evaluated *a great deal*
more before they are released, or even developed. 
     That's why I'm wondering if there has
been an attempt to classify the type and degree
of risk of various genetic alterations.  I believe
that the pressure to create and introduce these
technologies is so great that it won't be stopped 
unless there is a wreck. New alterations are 
being released regularly, everywhere. The "cat"
is out of the bag, and it isn't likely to go 
back in. I think we'll have to deal with it
as a reality and not pretend we can make it go
away. So I would like to have a way to systematically 
understand and evaluate the risks of the various 
gene manipulations that affect food and crops. 
    For example, from my uninformed point of 
view, making a vegetable that kills insects
seems to rate highly in the risk category.  Making
a crop that tolerates herbicide might be moderate.
Making a crop with a thicker root covering that
resists root maggots might be a lesser risk.
Of course, there are a host of unknown things
happening in the background that we don't know
about that may make a relatively benign alteration
dangerous.  (In the same way that one of the
big risks of irradiated food is not the irradiated
food itself but the proliferation of nuclear
mines, processing plants, waste facilities, etc.
required to support it). 

   As far as how roundup tolerant genes rank
against Mother Theresa, that likely has as much
to do with one's opinion of Mother Theresa
as one's opinion of Roundup. ;-)

>I sent an email with the above title to the group (see copy below).
>In reply, Jim wrote:
><< In my humble opinion genetically altered plants
>and animals are not *always* bad or dangerous, but 
>the element of risk can vary substantially between
>the various alterations.  Has anyone tried to 
>systematically classify the various alterations in 
>terms of the type and degree or risk? 
>Hi Jim -
>1) I think the information in this email was being specific in the way you
>requested.  It was not saying that all genetically-engineered (GE) plants
>should be classified as toxics - just those "engineered to produce toxins
>that kill insects".  Calling them a pesticide will likely cause them to go
>through the Risk Assessment process that would assess the level of
>potential risk, as with any other pesticide.  I would guess that the point
>they're making is that if you engineer a plant to carry a pesticide, it's
>still a pesticide, just with a different delivery mechanism, and should be
>subject to the same regulatory structure that other pesticides are subject
>2) I'm trying to get more info on this, but I speculate that this news item
>is about putting Bt in corn, etc.
>3) In terms of the larger question of GE and levels of risk - I think the
>main point is _what we don't know_ and our hubris/arrogance rather than
>humility about that.  That there is so much we don't know, and that there
>is so much potential risk for harm (to our food supply, our people, to the
>very genetic basis of life), and that we are moving ahead with such speed
>anyway (you should see Monsanto's GE rollout plans!), is a main reason for
>my concern, and I'm sure many others.  
>Do we really want to have a large-scale global experiment with our entire
>food supply and the genetic makeup of the planet - and then only later go
>"oops!" when the level of potential disaster (or disasters) could make
>Chernobyl and Bhopal seem trivial...!  I don't feel this is exaggeration,
>when we are tinkering with the very basis of life, not to mention our food
>supply.  Look at the Irish potato famine for a glimpse of the social,
>political, economic, and human costs of food supply disasters.  And we
>could easily get the information about our error when it is just too late
>to correct it!!  This is serious stuff!!  Just because Juraissic Park had a
>happy ending doesn't mean we will.  As the Goldblum character said in that
>movie, Just because we _can_ do something, doesn't mean that we _should_!
>Prudence would dictate greater caution when there is so much unknown - and
>when there are so many much lower-risk options that could do clear and
>significant good for our food supply (ex. support organic farming and
>research).  Unfortunately, chemical companies and their interests seem to
>be setting the agenda based on their desires for products to sell and
>market share to control, not (despite their rhetoric) on the well-being of
>mankind (sorry, but I don't think making the world safe for Roundup ranks
>up there with the work of Mother Theresa!).  
>I feel that we citizens should stop accepting as a fait accompli their
>self-interested framing and recommendations for solving the world's
>problems, or just nibbling around the edges (ex. "cloning is ok, just not
>human cloning"), and instead reclaim the reins and ask what we want our
>nation's resources to be directed toward, what our priorities and goals
>are, and whether we want to risk the basis of life and our food supply -
>because, have no doubt, we will bear the consequences, so we have a right
>to be involved in the choice of that risk.  
>I personally don't think that risk is worth it or necessary, and that there
>are a lot better things we could be doing with our efforts.  But in any
>case, I don't appreciate the corporations rushing headlong into this risk
>without any decent control or choice by the citizens, and the governments
>that are supposed to acting in our best interest and instead have become
>corporate mouthpieces on this issue....  You're right assessments should be
>made, and then choices based on those assessments - but _before_ mass
>release of this stuff, not _after_!!
>Best regards -
>Patricia Dines
>>--- FORWARD --
>>Date:    Tue, 25 Mar 1997 14:40:11 -0600
>>From:    "Noel A. Taylor" <nataylor@HSONLINE.NET>
>>Subject: Genetically Altered Foods Classified as Toxins by EPA
>>>From _The Celestine Journal_ Vol. 4 #3 p. 3:
>>"New Toxins in Food:
>>"Corn and potatoes engineered to produce toxins that kill insects are now
>>classified as pesticides instead of vegetables by the Environmental
>>Protection Agency."
>>                                                                --Noel

Jim Wright
Box 129
Lougheed Alberta Canada
T0B 2V0
403 386-2479