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The Great Genetic Mono-muddle

YES, indeed, here we have it: not content with nuclear waste accumulating in temporary storage with no long term solution, soil erosion, pesticide pollution, the combustion engine, deforestation, a world food system that can produce enough for all to eat their fill but which leaves many starving and the world's land resources in tatters: now we have the latest bright idea of modern civilisation, the latest in a long line of disasters - the great genetic mono-muddle.

The Emperor's New Clothes

Of course everyone would love all the possible benefits espoused by the league of large-foreheaded scientists, multi- corporate money-makers and power-greedy politicians who make up the biotech industry. But, with their track record, do we bloody trust them?

We believe they'll make a gravy-boat load of cash from this latest fix-all technology: but at what cost? They tell us that all is under control, but is their balancing of the possible risks against the profit really the way we have to go about organising society?

Flawed Technology

Many scientists, independent organisations and campaigners suggest that much of the basis for this new technology is flawed and may be dangerous.

Rather abstract 
graphic
  • Cross-pollination from genetically modified plants to wild relatives could wreak havoc on ecosystems. Obviously, it could produce super-weeds which wipe out any extra food production - but of course there'll be a whole new generation of expensive pesticides to take care of them...
  • Diseases may cross from one species to another, leaving us and other species with a whole range of new illnesses. BSE was a warning...
  • And engineered genes may cross from a useful species into its diseases, producing super-bugs.
  • Even when an engineered gene works as designed
  • , it may have quite unexpected side-effects. Researchers call these "pleiotropic effects" - which translates into English as "multiple effect effects" and means "life is more complicated than you imagined".

  • Genetic engineering isn't for fun now. it's for profit. The European Life Patents Directive allows corporations to own biological processes. That means a few corporations get to control the entire process, and define the products in their own interest. Economic logic implies replacing thousands of individual, adapted strains of potato, say, with a few dozen at most. Standardisation for profit wipes out diversity.
  • The standardisation of crops - or even the standardisation of human genes - will almost certainly leave us and other species vulnerable to new environmental challenges and diseases.

All these things could lead to an unstable and volatile environment. We can't be sure they'll happen. But we'd be a lot happier if there was a "control Earth" to compare with the one they're doing the experiment on.

The Genetic Millennium

This mono-culture mentality which is propelling us into the genetic millennium is poorly thought out and goes completely against many contemporary ideas on sustainable agriculture - or plain sustainable life. But still it goes on.

Genetic crops have been grown commercially since the early 1990s. The first may appear in Britain in 1999. Over 300 test Gene Week logo sites in the UK are currently planted with genetically modified plants. If these tests are "successful" - that is, if the modified plants survive and if no ill-effects show up in the next few months - full-scale planting may go ahead.

Whatever the physical risks, these plants are the biggest marketing scam in history. There's no point in planting Monsanto's "RoundUp-ready" crops unless you buy - surr-prise! - Monsanto's RoundUp pesticide. You have to sign a contract, promising not to save any seeds for next year. If things go Monsanto's way, the "Terminator Gene" will take care of that: you buy Monsanto's seeds, use Monsanto's pesticide - and the grain you grow is sterile. So next year you buy Monsanto?

Most people are worried about genetics. But the decisions are being made while most of us have only a vague idea what they're all about. We must stop the genetic mono-muddle before it gets the better of us.

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