By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The idea of helping the Third World with transgenic vaccines is little more than "a ruse," Rissler believes. "It's selling biotechnology on the back of the poor," by attempting to make it palatable to well-off folks like us. Rissler points out that to be medically effective drugs have to be delivered in the right dose. How would people know how much they were supposed to eat? A whole banana, half a banana? Who's to say? More critical, how could you be sure that people wouldn't overdose? How would you even know you were eating the right variety? After all, a genetically modified banana looks the same as a regular one. Rissler is skeptical of the medical miracle promised by companies like ProdiGene and suspects that a lot of the blue-sky ideas being bandied about will "never see the light of day as commercial products."
Behind the hype about cheap drugs, Rissler and Ellstrand note that the pharming industry is quietly pursuing a much bigger goal -- engineering into plants genes that encode for all manner of industrially useful compounds, from enzymes to solvents. Since these don't qualify as drugs, they are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, and very little information is publicly available about what is going on here. Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its guidelines for industrial pharming, but many scientists believe these are grossly inadequate.
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers acknowledges that "Nobody's going to know all the possible risks. But, he says, "We mitigate these risks to what we feel is appropriate." In the department's view, "There are adequate safety provisions in place." Not according to Rissler, who opines that "The USDA's oversight is way too lax." Given the enormous potential dangers, Rissler insists there ought to be external scientific oversight as well. What most appalls Ellstrand, who sat on a National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the regulations for GM crops, is that companies do not have to disclose what genes they are adding, or even what organisms the genes derive from -- that's "confidential business information."
Quietly and stealthily, our fields are being turned into industrial factories. This is potentially the most dangerous technology since nuclear power, yet we have no way of finding out what is being done. It's yet another way in which for the present administration, Business comes first.
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