Biotechnology and Transgenics

I like this Frankenstein

I like this Frankenstein

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! – Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips… I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

It was the summer of 1816 when Mary Shelley first dreamt up this image. Her husband and she went to go visit their friend in Switzerland – Lord Byron. Due to the dreary weather they were confined to the indoors and shared ghost stories. For Mary’s entire life she was surrounded by some of the most famous writers in British literature – both her parents, her husband, and her friend Lord Byron all went down in British history. So, to no surprise, during this dreary summer the idea came up that everybody would create their own ghost story. Finally she dreamed the image quoted above, as she explains in the introduction of the third edition of Frankenstein:

I saw – with shut eyes but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

For it was not a ghost story that really shook Mary to her bones. Mary was concerned about the concept of mankind playing God. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. She was questioning the dark corridors that science could lead us down. The idea that some people would try and use science to do the work of nature, and in fact replace nature, was alive in Mary Shelley’s mind as she wrote the famous words of Frankenstein.

Of course in 1816 it was not biotechnology or transgenics Mary Shelley had in mind – but electricity. While many scientists worked diligently to help pave the way to the creation of all benefits electricity has given us, many scientists felt that within electricity the elixir to life was hidden. The possibilities were endless in many scientists mind – electricity could’ve been the key to bring back the dead. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein warns us about using crude knowledge of science to try and follow a pipe dream, such as Dr. Victor Frankenstein did. You see – in Frankenstein’s mind he was certain what he was building was going to be a beautiful, perfect creature, but as soon as he had succeeded in what he was pushing for so long he becomes aghast at what he had created and tried to run from his own creation, but what he created was irrevocable and ultimately the death of him.

In the book Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering on a Biotech Planet by Denise Caruso, I see a Mary Shelley of the 21st Century. The mysticism of electricity is long dead – Since Mary’s masterpiece physicists have found a way to link it magnetism and most other forces of the Universe, we have harnessed its power to energize virtually every household and machine product. It was done collaboratively for the public good and today we couldn’t function at the level of society we do without the gift of science and the lack of greed that consumed them. Sure – we could find a more efficient way to transport it among other things but civilization has democratically agreed electricity has been conquered and put to its most efficient use. But science is never out of new boundaries. Today it’s genetics and biotechnology. Denise Caruso assesses risk and she tries to make sure that others assess risk properly. Of course nobody will take eloquent, centuries-old, fiction as warnings anymore (though many would do us some good), so Denise Caruso writes a logical, referenced-reinforced, and deeply interesting book on how we should assess risk with technology we do not understand yet. And if you don’t have time to read the book, you should read this entry though it’s long, because it’s shorter than the book. I use both information provided by her and information I’ve found on my own as my references which are linked along the way (please click, lots of work involved)

So What Is Biotechnology and Transgenics?

Don’t feel dumb. That’s a fair question to ask – I know you’re not a scientist (most likely). Imagine you are about to have a child and it is born with a disease that will severely impact his life – now imagine that a doctor could use genetic engineering to remove that disease. Pretty cool, huh? The doctor would simply replace the “broken” gene with a healthy one and your child would have averted the disease. But let’s not stop there – Imagine if you could alter genes in delicious fruits and vegetables so that they could stay fresh 10 times longer to reduce the impact on the planet? I mean – we simply are treating the gene that makes that fruit or vegetable rot just like the gene that was going to cripple your child for life – we just need to put a gene that keeps freshness longer – what difference does it make what gene we change, so long as it benefits us? I mean don’t even stop there, let your imagination come off the reel here – what if we could infuse some common, mass produced food, like bread, with a bunch of essential nutrients and send it to poor countries to feed their teeming famished? And why deal with animals if we could just grow their body parts from DNA and only produce the profitable and delicious parts? And what if we could create species as we pleased with whatever clever DNA already exists from any species on the planet? We could have pigs that glow and fish that grow super fast and we could design our children to look exactly like we wanted, and if we want them to be athletic, they can be athletic, and if we want them beautiful, they can be beautiful – the sky is the limit!

Now take everything written above and stick it in your pipe because this is our current pipe dream. This is the early 21st century’s electricity.  Biotechnology and Transgenics have achieved most of those things above to some or partial success. If they have not achieved them they are promised to come in the future by those researching. But they are in their infancy and the corporations conducting research are fervent believers that biotechnology and transgenics are the answer to most, if not all, of our future problems. But when they finally achieve their idea of success with biotechnology – will they awake to a horror not unlike Frankenstein’s monster?

Anybody can dismiss that question as absurd. But I am a true believer that any unknown front in science should be objectively risk-assessed so we’re not blindsided with something we could have predicted – because the story of Frankenstein is a question: At what point does your dream become your nightmare? Where do we draw the line? How do we know? and who decides? On the fronts of biotechnology and transgenics these questions are falling to the wayside for the simple motivation of profit – which I will support with evidence further on.

Will Smith - you are so fucking tough.

Will Smith - you are so fucking tough.

So – again – what is transgenics? We know it has the capacity to be both our dream and our nightmare, but what is actually the process? Well here goes – I’m no geneticist, but it seems to be a relatively simple concept: I’ve read it likened to “cutting” the desired traits from gene A (let’s say a trait that make honey bees docile) and “pasting” the trait into the DNA code of gene B (let’s say the aggressive Africanized honey bee).  The result? Docile Africanized honeybees – or so we’d hope. As we know, things are not always as simple as they sound.

Let me try and magnify the risks as “cutting and pasting” makes it sound like a 2nd grader could do it. Instead of collecting body organs geneticists find the proper components to infect the desired trait into the plant or animal victim.

That’s right – infect. Because essentially that is what transgenics could be described as in one single word – infection. And that holds certain negative preconceptions – as it should – infection indicates a foreign body invading a natural environment with the intent to permanantly change that environment. To infect holds significant risk alone. When your body becomes infected with a disease, the disease is attempting to take over your body by force, your body is not okay with just naturally accepting it and your body wants to fight it off. In transgenics all of these things need to be overcome so the infection wins. Because the intent is to infect the body with something good as opposed to something bad.

If you’re a fan of zombie movies – I Am Legend provides an excellent example of this. If you listen to how the zombies came to be it was the result of something totally unexpected – a cure for AIDS. And in the movie the person who designed the “cure” explains a very similar process about infection. But ultimately there were no long-term studies done on this “cure” and the infection ended up becoming extremely aggressive as well as airborne infecting virtually everybody with extremely disastrous results. Another movie (and video game) Resident Evil creates a post-apocalyptic world via zombies that came about through a highly secure DNA testing facility having a disease released using the same processes described here.

While it is unlikely this infectious process will turn us all into zombies, it is likely that there could be unforeseen consequences to infecting living beings with “better” qualities. The main reason being that infectious items are aggressive and accomplish their needs through means of force, not through a working symbiotic relationship.

They\'re wearing biohazard suits because they\'re afraid of infection

Theyre wearing suits because theyre afraid of infection - Resident Evil

So how do they infect, for example, a crop of plants to become resistant to weed killer? Well they take a soy plant, for example, and now they have to find out a way to stop it from being harmed when it is sprayed with glyphosate (aka weed killer). So what is glyphosate resistent? Salmonella. However since we don’t want the gastroenteritis that comes with it, we just extract the good part, the part that happens to be resistent to weed killer.  And now, how do we get it into the soy plant? Now that we have the cargo we have to deliver the goods. So we take a little bit of E. Coli to use as the vessel to deliver and infect the soy plant on a DNA level. And, in addition Denise Caruso explains:

There are generally other bits of DNA included in transgenic cassettes that are designed to perform various other functions, like impelling the target protein to express in certain parts of the plant (or animal) and not in others. In Roundup Ready, this bit of genetic material comes from a petunia, for example. Until recently, virtually all commercial transgenic cassettes have also included a sequence of antibiotic resistant DNA from Streptococcus bacterium.

Can anyone not see Dr. Frankenstein’s parallel? We are taking the best parts of life, much like Dr. Frankenstein gave his monster the best parts of a human. But when they come together and work, what do they produce? Has mankind out-done nature or “God” as Mary Shelley put it? The roundup ready soy we just learned the basics of transgenics on is actually a product on the market now making a hefty load of cash. The EPA approves it. So can there be any serious risks or problems with this Frankenstein-like work? Have we put Mary Shelley’s classic work to shame? Have we proven stronger than the natural Universe itself?

I won’t make you wait for the answer – it’s simply No – we haven’t. And without proper oversight and insight from those leading the front of biotechnology the problems will continue and we will have a Frankenstein on our hands – and we will recoil in horror at what we had created. What problems, you ask? These problems:

Problems with Biotechnology and Transgenics

Instead of burgers it\'s lifetime enslavement - thats the only difference

Instead of burgers its eternal enslavement - same diff

Profit is the number one problem for biotechnology and transgenics. It skews reason, it disregards long-term testing, and it corrupts government. Okay, how do I prove these things? We can start with Monsanto which is literally the Hamburglar of the world. As Grimace, Ronald, and the chicken nuggets are looking the other way Hamburglar sneaks behind the counter and steals more hamburgers than he could even possibly eat. Only instead of the counter Monsanto sneaks behind the world, and instead of stealing more hamburgers than he can eat, Monsanto steals more money than it can use. Bold claim! But not without cause. Monsanto was the producer of Agent Orange – of Agent Fucking Orage – and they have the audacity to make their logo a fucking plant? I mean isn’t that seriously insane? Agent Orange killed everything it touched and mutated both animals and plants for generations to come – and yet we find Monsanto a member of a website called Bio.org with the theme “Science for Life.”

You would think that anyone with that theme would have at least this single pre-requisite: The creators of Agent Orange are not allowed to join strictly on principle but they made it in. Now we can all say “Hey, that was Vietnam, Monsanto has a totally different staff, they’ve turned over a new leaf, they’re an honest company now – they now are not motivated strictly by profit as they were back during Vietnam – at some point the company grew a conscience.” Then it would be hard to explain the phenomenon known as Monsanto Revolving Doors. Excerpt from one of the multiple Monsanto documentaries:

The state of affairs in 1999 includes Linda Fisher moving from the Environmental Protection Agency to Monsanto, Michael Friedman from the FDA to Monsanto, Marcia Hale and Josh King from the White House to Monsanto, Margaret Miller from Monsanto to the FDA, William Ruckelshaus from the EPA to Monsanto, and let’s not forget Michael Taylor who went back and forth several times.

Monsanto employees are flopping between the company and the government at the highest of levels and in areas that could change the biology of the Earth for centuries to come could at nicest be described as a conflict of interest, and at the strictest could be described as a crime against humanity. Because Monsanto has made a business out of biogenetics – roundup ready crops can only be bought for a single season – you are not allowed to replant the previous years seeds at a penalty that could cost everything you own. Much like the RIAA Monsanto has been trying to create a profit by becoming as litigious as possible filing loads of lawsuits because they knowingly have the upperhand in lawyers. Also it’s a great way to eliminate your competition – which happens to be individual farm owners and not giant impenetrable behemoth corporations (which makes it super convenient for Monsanto).

Now I’m not just calling Monsanto a giant impenetrable behemoth without just cause. I’m not doing it to belittle it, but Monsanto has been the poster child for what is going wrong in the world of biotechnology today. A couple paragraphs up I linked a documentary on Monsanto. I’m going to do it again to be sure if you don’t believe in the unethical practices Monsanto is engaging in that you know the facts you’re up against. It’s called The World According to Monsanto. This is not the only documentary on Monsanto and its unethical practices, but it’s the only one available on the internet. It kills me when people get defensive of big business as if the very suggestion of unethical practices in the area of business deserves to be scoffed. But these are not men and women who dedicate their lives to peace, unity, the Universe, God, cohesion – they are dedicated to making a profit. What makes more logical sense? That Monsanto insists on creating a new seed every year because it’s a great way to turn a profit or because they just want to update to the genetically best enhanced version for their customers and don’t want previous batches soiling it? In the area of business profit is more than essential. And this should settle the argument alone because even Monsanto’s public relations chief said:

Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.

Wow, Monsanto-claus, why didn\'t I think of that!
Wow, Monsanto-claus, why didnt I think of that!

I stress that point so much because I feel people would rather believe it’s alarmist than make a stand against such methodological manipulation. All of these moves by Monsanto and its employees who went to and from the government have clear reasons to be motivated by profit and little else. The astoundingly lax standards on such an unknown technology with the obvious influence of Monsanto Employees within the agency that governs it – and because Monsanto is a corporation it makes no secrets that it’s number one responsibility is to his shareholders. Now – before people get confused – I’m not saying there is anything wrong with capitalism – that is a totally separate issue. But the government is put in place to ensure safety for all before a rabid desire of profit. Because, after all what is capitalism but another complex game we play to make things seem less confusing. So at what point do we know when to say “Hey, that’s unethical and a total detriment to nearly everybody but yourself”? The government is our agreed upon source for that. So when those who desire primarily to profit go into an agency of governing its own product to a pretty advantageous degree – that is wrong.

How advantageous? Remember earlier how I described the process of transgenics – like an infection? Creating genetically engineered plants with bad infections is obviously bad and illegal. But the fact remains – creating genetically engineered plants with good infections is not the same as making a regular plant (ie. planting just a regular seed). But high level biogenetics companies like Monsanto in the 80’s were already working very closely with the government on a new and upcoming technology – genetically modified plants.  Biogenetic companies seemed to try and portray the dutiful American by promising the wonders we’ve previously imagined that biogenetics could provide. But there was just one tiny eency weency problem – the industry hadn’t even begun yet – it was still completely in its infancy. There was no data to prove that Genetically Modified organisms were safe. “Well shucks!” says the GMO (biotech) companies, “If you want to be the best in the world we need to get started right away. It’s just un-American to not let us lead in such a dream-delivering idea. Hey – I got an idea, judge us by our product, not by our process.”

This is known as substantial equivalence. Basically if you breed a new strain of corn by taking two types of centuries old, untainted breeds you would not need to go to the FDA to get it approved. So the GMO companies say “That’s basically exactly what we’re doing – but instead of naturally breeding we’ll just forcefully infect whatever parts of whatever species we please – but it’ll look identical to corn so it’s close enough. That’s what substantial equivilance is – The law of close enough. It’s like saying I’ve come up with a new way to slaughter cows for mass production – and as long as the meat isn’t covered in e-coli or Mad Cow I have the right to sell it regardless of the process of how I butchered it. But if I butchered it in a way that was totally unsafe for the environment I’ll never have to have a legal repercussion for that because we made a deal not to assess my process – only my product. And the government bought it hook line and sinker – but once again most likely with internal help. Finally after a lawsuit the FDA was forced to release documents proving it knew there was potential danger with the products that are not going to occur in naturally occurring plants. And that took a lawsuit – there was no apology and it’s still in effect. Why wouldn’t we want to know what the dangers to GM food is? Denise Caruso quotes from a critic (Linda Kahl) of the substantial equivalence product –

I believe there are at least two situations relative to this document in which it is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The first… is that the document is trying to force an ultimate conclusion that there is no difference between foods modified by genetic engineering and foods modified by traditional breeding practices.  This is because of the mandate to regulate the product, not the process. The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different, and according to technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks. There is no data that addresses the relative magnitude of the risks – for all we know, the risks may be lower for genetically engineered foods than for foods produced by traditional breeding. But the acknowledgment that the risks are different is lost in the attempt to hold to the doctrine that the product and not the process is regulated…. [The second square peg is] the approach of at least part of the document is to use a scientific analysis… to develop policy statement. In the first place, are we asking the scientific experts to generate the basis for this policy statement in the absence of any data? It’s no wonder that there are so many different opinions – it is an exercise in hypotheses forced on individuals whose jobs and training ordinarily deal with fact

Regardless the FDA approved the law of substantial equivalence. But for the biggest reason on why it’s obvious that profit is the primary motivation we have to revisit bio.org. Simply looking at the slogan and the picture on the site one would assume the organization is around for the benefit of life. Yet the picture is truly symbolic – it is a picture of a plant growing out from dirt on top of a hand. Previously we only needed to put plants into just dirt to have them grow, but it is literally the goal of this site to remove that ability from you in exchange for growing your food out of their own hands. Even on the front page we can see profit is primarily the focus in this organization as all the entries seem to be directed at shareholders. Today there is a link to a blog entry called Science is your brand. The problem with language like that is that you’re speaking as if you’re talking to consumers – people who are looking for personal gain – not gain for humanity. And it’s true – the blog addresses shareholders letting them know to “protect their investment.” The only problem with that is that a shareholder only protects his investment as far as he believes he’s going to make a profit off of it – not to the point that it’s for the benefit of humanity or the world. In fact when we move to the members section of bio.org I start to notice something fishy – like something out of the Stepford Wives or Pleasantville. All the sites seem to be extremely similar. They all have serious scientists doing precision work or happy children and families or caring doctors… and of course the occasional cool close-up picture. In fact looking at the members of bio.org is like strolling down the suburbs of the internet – it is a place where image is more important than information. Lets take a look at some:

Monsanto – I just still am so stunned that Monsanto dares tries to remake its image to be a positive and natural thing when it is most definitely the very definition of unnatural in what they’re doing.

Captial Royalty L.P. – hot looking girl doing something smart, check. double helix invading her skull? Check. What is the site actually for? Seems to be good for distributing money “appropriately” among GMOs, but they keep it vague enough that it just wants to you to give up at finding its actual duties.

Wyeth – Wyeth too has a randomized image maker of looking-out-for-you-doctors and satisfied customers. Thats because Wyeth is the creator of Robitussin and Advil. However it makes you wonder how far they will go, being a pharmaceutical giant, with a technology that has 0 risk assessment – it makes you wonder how many they already did.

PaleoTechnology – Ah yes – the sprawling beauty of nature covering the site following Monsanto’s lead in replacing facts with nice pictures. Of course it’s vague but it seems they have the crazy idea of finding solutions to our “problems associated with existing technologies” (ie. the oil crisis) by looking at oil. Who would have such backward logic but an oil company with too many assets to find a real alternative? Well their parent company – PetroHunter – seems to be quite close with Encana Oil & Gas as all of their producing wells are operated by Encana, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.

Scigen – A Singapore company also directly related to bio.org. Again we see the surgeon-like hands doing careful scientific work and of course the happy little girl and boy jumping for joy. With those plus the cool blue background the site figures you need little more information now – so they politely explain that they do work dealing with endocrinology and immunology. Now these items are seriously important – I have a family member who is very close to me that could use the sciences of endocrinology so he doesn’t need to take pills every day multiple times a day for his entire life (which hopefully will be very long), so it’s not that I’m insensitive to the work… but how can you possibly work on genetically engineered immunities without assessing the risk? Also I find it interesting that this company is based in Singapore but all the key executives for the company aside from a secretary are white males (she seems to be doing her best to look like one though).

Yorktown Technologies, L.P. – Another fine innovative member of bio.org. They create the product known as Glofish (which come in 3 exciting colors! Electric Green, Starfire Red, or Sunburst Orange!) which are exactly what they sound like – fish that glow in the dark. What are they created for? For you! And your friends! They’ve genetically modified a species of fish for the sole purpose of making them glow in the dark. God knows what other parts of species ended up in these fish – but Glofish are an excellent example of where do we draw the line? and especially what about the risk of genetically modified pets? At what point do we agree that genetic infection stops here? Glofish are a promise by the biotech industry that there is no brake.

Spaltudaq – Though the company explains their website is under construction we can clearly see that they are nearly complete. They have their exciting picture of technology up there that gives us (the reader) only feelings – not facts. My only suggestion is that the site put up a scientist or a doctor doing something really important – and to balance out the seriousness put a happy family or some children. But again – they are part of bio.org and totally for pushing ahead on a technology that has no risk assessment and making it sound like they know what they’re talking about – even though nobody does. But it is clear that they are working on these technologies for the ultimate goal of profit like all the other sites on bio.org

Sound Pharmaceuticals – Here is another company part of bio.org that is under construction – oh wait, no it’s not. It’s easy to get them confused because they all look so similar – under construction or not. This site is interesting because they plan on restoring hearing by regenerating your cells – obviously with the intent to profit which would be totally fine except for the process has unassessed risks (did we cover this thoroughly enough yet, because it seems a lot of people like to forget that part).

I made this picture myself and it says - Oh yea sure guys. I always thought biotechnology was a good idea. Honest! I agree with you completely

I made this picture myself and it says - Oh yea sure guys. I always thought biotechnology was a good idea. Honest! I agree with you completely

These are just randomly chosen sites (aside from precious Monsanto) out of the hundreds that cover the “Members” section on bio.org. You come across behemoth companies like Wyeth who need to stay on top financially and apparently are willing to risk our safety by supporting products that we do no know the risk to but are put out into our environment. Other companies such as Paleotechnology can be connected to other big companies that need to stay on top financially at any expense. Once again – this can be argued with reason – the cohesiveness and community-minded ability that naturally occurs within the individual is lost when profits, jobs, and livelihoods are at stake. Now let’s look at some other members of bio.org:

Yale – Wow. My argument seems weaker and weaker the more I wrangle in established names (such as Monsanto, Wyeth, and now Yale). I mean everybody has the conception that Yale is a totally respectable top-of-the-line University. Which is exactly why multi-billion dollar corporations have descended upon the Ivy-League Universities as now they seem to solely be preparing for private work. There is a solid and fair argument against today’s higher education being controlled too much by the market. As if this entry wasn’t going to be long enough, I’ll have to save all the details of that for another time. But if you are interested in the subject of Higher Education focusing too much on money and less on academics I suggest the book The University, State, and Market: The Political Economy of Globalization in the Americas. But basically the point is that that this privatization of our educational direction means if what the school is funding isn’t financially beneficial then the program should be cut. Diversity is shunned and grant money is the new direction. The problem with this is that it makes our educational system far less objective, because those who dangle the grant money are usually doing it for a profitable (not necessarily publicly beneficial) project. So how do we prove this privatization of the educational system is occurring? Well those who fund the programs shouldn’t be actively ready to patent what is discovered under their grant. Essentially that would be like employing the students directly. A notorious example of this was in 1998 when another pharmaceutical company that is a member of by bio.org named Novartis promised $25 million to the University of California, Berkeley in exchange for rights to negotiate licenses on roughly a third of the departments discoveries – including results of research funded by state and federal sources – the results have not been beneficial for the public.

Well it goes to show that the Yale Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Society is sponsored seemingly entirely by for-profit enterprises (Note the opportunity for sponsors to participate in a variety of their programs). Sponsors such as Bristol-Meyers Squibb (you’ll do yourself a favor to not click that link and hear the most obnoxious video of your life) and Achillion Pharmaceuticals are also members of bio.org. In fact, the only sponsor that seems remotely related to the state is a company called Connecticut United for Research Excellence in which Achillion and Bristol-Meyers Squibb are again members. And maybe all of this would be okay but the simple fact remains there are known risks in the process of biogenetics that are not being assessed. And the federal government, Connecticut, Yale, Monsanto, Achillion, Wyeth, and virtually everybody else seems okay with just ignoring this. From the highest levels of government we’ve all just been calmed into thinking that refusal to physically contain genetically modified plants and animals allowing them to spread in nature as they please with unknown risks as it has never been done before is okay. We should know better than this. Let me continue on with the story of some other members of Bio.org:

Calgene – Calgene doesn’t have its own website anymore despite being part of bio.org. Monsanto bought them out and now owns 100% of the shares. Instead that link takes you to the Wikipedia entry on Flavr Savr tomatoes – a legend in the biogenetics industry. Calgene was one of the first companies to try and make a profit off of this miracle technology – if it went right they’d be a pioneer in the industry. So even though their project wasn’t quite as noble as curing totally debilitating diseases prenatally, they did pick a serious problem for almost everybody in America and the world. Tomatoes! The problem was when tomatoes grew ripe they also became soft and shipping soft tomatoes is difficult. Well Prince Calgene comes down from his castle in his sky with his miracle solution: “We’ll just modify the ripening and softening genes so that doesn’t happen anymore. Fresh ripe delicious tomatoes for everyone!” then Prince Calgene went up into his cloud castle and returned with his tomatoes and held out his hand for payment.

But the people planted the Calgene Tomato called The Flavr Savr. But less than 20% of the harvest were the quality promised by Calgene. And when they tried to ship them in hopes to have the firm, ripe tomatoes Prince Calgene promised, they were actually not as good as the traditional shipment of green tomatoes losing more tomatoes than ever. Prince Calgene couldn’t handle all the problems with his seemingly perfect idea – it all fell apart on him. And as he died confused at why his little Frankenstein didn’t work the giant cyclops Monsanto came and swallowed him whole, stole the best of the technology, and began to make its own profitable tomatoes from it. But Calgene’s Flavr Savr problem was not only short-sighted on the type of tomato used but also the actual usefulness of their tomatoes. The studies produced by Calgene found a significant amount of stomach lesions on the rats that were tested and although this was addressed by the FDA somebody approved it regardless to push it through. It seriously begs the question how many things are not being appropriately tested with this totally new technology? And already we’re seeing negative results from this new type of technology – and it is because people were so hurry to turn a profit that they figured things and used political leverage to make it work. What specifically I’ll get to shortly, but first there is one more member of bio.org I’d like to take a look at:

Syngenta – After a terrible meteorite accident near a nuclear factory Captain Syngenta was given powers of a superhero thusly earning the right to determine the future of global foods. Syngenta decided that he would always use his powers for good, not evil. His first mission – save the blind and starving millions. There is our problem, and now Captain Syngenta invokes the power of transgenics for our miracle solution. He created a type of rice that had beta-carotene in it to produce vitamin A which helps sight (We all knew that anyway, thats why we eat our carrots). The people rejoiced and it was called gold rice because surely it would be as precious as gold to the starving and blind. It literally took millions of dollars to create and adapt while other countries use much cheaper supplementation programs. The vitamin A was easily lost losing its minimal nutritional value simply by being boiled or stored inappropriately. In fact the nutritional value was so little it wasn’t enough to help most cases of blindness due to vitamin A deficiency. But this is the biggest reason why it’s not okay – anybody can argue that it still has a case with what I wrote above – but the most significant problem is this: They are living beings and they need to be exposed to the environment, and then they interact with that environment.

You know which side Im on

You know which side Im on

GMOs make no pretentions that they know how to contain their products that they grow. Do you know how hard it was to write about genetics for this long and not bring this point up yet? But think about it – these companies are making living beings that will be put into the environment to grow. They could easily mess with a whole species DNA because there are no built-up immunities or relationships between the species. Monsanto has transgenic bentgrass that ended up 13 miles downwind. And this is the same company that sues you if they find their transgenic crops on your property – that is ludicrously criminal. And Golden Rice, like any rice, cross-pollinates with other plants. Now these are infected plants with infectious traits. And because we know absolutely nothing of these long term effects it’s important to keep track of them and study them before releasing them to the world. We need to have higher standards for our science forefronts – we can’t just hope it won’t decimate a biosphere. Additionally they are already seeing mutations within the rice. The information I used to recite to you the history of Golden Rice came from Denis Caruso – only she didn’t make the superhero analogy.

Golden Rice and Bentgrass are not the only example of genetically engineered plants causing trouble. For one, Genetically Modified plants have been a source of negative contamination for naturally grown plants. Additionally it’s being found out now that genetically modified plants, including Monsanto’s poison-resistant crops, are having a negative effect on the insect community, from bees to butterflies. This is really terrible if you really think about it. If our pollinating insects can’t handle these crops (an unforseen consequence both Captain Syngenta and Prince Calgene know all too well that it’s fucking impossible to predict all the factors of a genetically modified species). And the worst part of it all is that biotechnology could be such an integral part of our society – but because we didn’t take the time to do the objective research first, and because we refuse to acknowledge the unforeseen genetic mutations in the plants, and because we insist we already know what we’re doing – it will be a detriment to our society.

On top of the problems above, genetically modifying anything is costly and inefficient, especially without an objective focus (hence glofish to regenerative hearing, to oil biogenetics). But animals are also genetically modified. If you thought glowing fish might be pushing the limit – why not glowing pigs? Now we are at the forefront of human technology and Taiwanese researchers found nothing better to do than genetically change pigs so they glow. The article goes on to say that it isn’t anything special because other people have made pigs glow before. Seriously? Seriously seriously? Has this what transgenics has come to? Trying to make the most florescent pig by ripping the fabric of life and mutating a pig into a now partial jellyfish-pig. Within the article it also notes the laborious work it took to get 3 glow-in-the-dark pigs. Out of 265 pig embryos only 3 came out how they wanted them to. What else does this say about the field of biotechnology aside from that it’s still deep in its infancy? It comes down to something I heard somewhere that I forgot – it’s the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Is waiting all year for plants to bear fruit in the spring efficient? Not necessarily – but is it effective? Absolutely. Are changing the genes of animals for our benefit efficient? That’s what’s promised (though it’s not currently), but is it effective? No. Always within genetically modified animals is the appropriate birthrate near 0.

Even in death...

Even in death...

And remember Dolly, the first cloned sheep? It was hailed as a breakthrough but even she had her troubles. After fertilizing over 25,000 eggs only 134 calves were produced and out of the 134 only 9 were transgenic. 9 out of 25,000.  And then as soon as she was rushed out into the global spotlight to hail her success Dolly died prematurely with arthritis and lung disease. How much did going through the transgenic process affect her health? We will never know because scientists aren’t looking at that – because it’s not profitable and doesn’t “bring in the grants.” In fact one of the few studies done that can be publicly seen on transgenic animals have found that out of a total of 12,000 transgenic embryos, only 207 of them, resulted in live births. Transgenic animals that didn’t turn out as expected didn’t live as long. These are reasons – solid reasons – why we should hold up a brakelight to transgenics. Not to say they can never do it – but at least hold off on the profiting of such an industry. Have some self respect and know solidly what the risks are instead of just ignoring it entirely.

Transgenic salmon are another miracle fix through transgenics. The concept is to infect fish so that they grow alarmingly fast but so they don’t pose a danger to the environment they must be sterilized too. If a transgenic salmon gets released into the wild it could become invasive. And there are hundreds of invasive species already – but imagine what a totally unnatural life-form could do that is genetically engineered to be bigger and grow faster than other species. A company called Aqua Bounty Farms seems to be the attempted miracle-worker this time. Again, the site design looks like it might be a mafia front for money laundering, but the picture in the corner speaks for itself – transgenic 6 month-year-old salmon in front and eensy-weensy regular 6 month-year-old salmon in the back. Now let’s look at all the unforeseen consequences that occurred with all of the other transgenic things above – now look at the 6-month year old transgenic salmon. The battle here is between two different parts of your brain – the part of you that says “Bigger faster = better” is more in the amygdala (I’d assume) part of your brain because it is a quick emotional reaction. However if we use the more developed parts of our brain – we recognize that this may not be better considering that every single transgenic experiment (even foods approved by the FDA) have had unforeseen consequences, many of which are infecting the rest of the planet. But – can we find anybody who will promote transgenic salmon hands down? Yes we can – of course it’s bio.org again – and look who’s a member – Aqua Bounty. Interesting huh? Now this multi-billion dollar organization wouldn’t be pushing the concept of FDA-approved transgenic fish for the purposes of profit over all else, would it? Does that seem plausible at all? Especially when Monsanto themselves admitted that is their number 1 goal? I mean they have NO RIGHT to pretend they can use objective reasoning with an un-assessed technology which their whole company rides on – there is no way that they will be hunting for potential problems – undoubtedly this project has cost them millions – and for what? To get it thrown down the tube because one of their own employees, someone who is siphoning their own money, tells them it needs to stop? I wouldn’t even put up with that in that situation – it’s just such a substantial amount of money to be invested into a mistake. So the mistake is promised to be fixed by another mistake and yet promised to be fixed by another mistake and yet another and so on until billions are tied up in this technology that is being forced to bare fruition, regardless of risk.

How could you possibly say no?!

How could you possibly say no?!

Ultimately the problem with biotechnology is that we have not studied this area of science well enough. In normal circumstances that would be fine because they could just keep testing but the problem is that we are already exposing biotechnology to the world. But don’t worry – scientists have thought of this and have come up with a few ways to manage this situation. First – the idea of physical confinement isn’t even on the table. Labs and test fields in the middle of nowhere are too expensive and not 100% guaranteed so scientists came up with the term “biological confinement.” For instance with the Transgenic Salmon – so they don’t end up becoming an invasive species with their supernatural evolutionary gains they are made “mostly” sterile. The man in the NOVA video said that if these salmon get loose (which is being dealt with as a 100% possibility as fish farms lose fish all the time) and somehow reproduce they would decimate the salmon population because they would be the first to mate but unlikely to have healthy (or living) offspring. They could still be eaten by predators and the effect of the salmons genes on the predator are unknown – as the biotechnology industry still has done 0 risk assessment by doing these experiments in a physically confined place. So they would also plan on feeding the salmon something that can’t be found in nature and that is only manmade – Denise Caruso uses skittles as an example. Aside from this still not being effective what kind of Frankenstein monsters are we really making here? Everything that is occurring is unnatural – they’d even be fed on something unnatural – and there is no idea of the long term effect on people or the environment. And yet this is allowed.

The Biotech industry has come up with insidious methods to “biologically confine” all sorts of species. A way to biologically confine engineered microbes is to make them highly demanding of energy to survive. However if that microbe can adapt such as the bacteria has against anti-bacterial soap the threshold effect will take place and there most likely will be unforeseen consequences. For plants another company absorbed by the gluttonous Monsanto developed plants to produce sterile seeds to biologically confine them. Can you feel the magnitude of that? We would be refusing our food sources to reproduce naturally. Are we really okay with letting this technology blow about this planet and infuse these corrosive genes into our natural bounty?! While it is not sold commercially both Monsanto and the USDA have continued to develop it. There is such a demand for biological confinement already including for those herbicide-resistent plants that are being blamed for our insect dilemmas provided above. Another type of biologically confined species so gruesome and slavish Denise Caruso explains:

there are plants and animals engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, vaccines or industrial chemicals – a genre often referred to as “pharming” – which have the capacity to harm people or other species that might accidentally consume them…. the purpose of pharming is simply to use the plant or animal as a cheaper or more productive (or both) living factory for the substance, which will then be harvested.

Biological confinement has been unsuccessful (much to Monsanto’s litigious joy). In 2005 when Denise Caruso wrote her book 62 cases of contamination in 27 countries have occurred with transgenic crops. Today, in 2008, there are 216 cases of contamination in 57 countries. And, as shown in the link in the parantheses Monsanto is profiting off of their own contamination of crops. So not only are we engineering poorer quality products but we are infecting healthier and beneficial plants all over the world with poorer qualities. So in other words biotech companies are forcing us slowly into their dependency. They already demand that you pay yearly for seeds. This is our food, this is one of our few essential sources needed for survival on our planet. Why are we letting them fuck with us so bad? Because billions are invested into it. The most powerful pharmaceutical businesses, biotech companies, educational facilities, and oil companies are all depending on it to bring them their miracle source of profit.

Well John, I guess we didnt see that coming with the terminator gene. But you win some you lose some ya know?

Well John, I guess we didnt see that coming with the terminator gene. But you win some you lose some ya know?

To hit home this point Denise Caruso tells a story of the GM Nation survey done in the UK to determine the public opinion of GM crops. The study overwhelmingly reported that the public was not happy with the idea of GM crops being planted on their lands based on the fact that nobody knows the long-term risk of doing this. Regardless the government allowed GM crops to be planted on their land. But how do the GMO companies still support their work after such a lack of support? They find sites that look like they’re straight out of the mid-90s to skew all the data so it wasn’t an appropriate sample of the whole of the UK. Another tactic to muddy the data against GM products made by a site called PG Economics. Where it doesn’t take long to find that the ones who run the site have a history of working for the GM companies – including, yes, Monsanto. They must go through some sort of brainwashing program and then send them out on their own to continue pretending theres a market for these poorly planned or understood products. Is that an overexaggeration aimed at stripping the opposite view on GM organisms? Not really – as Monsanto was caught having bribed at least 140 government officials in Indonesia so it wouldn’t have to provide an environmental assessment for its Bt cotton. If Monsanto were a person he would be considered a heinous criminal, but because it’s a corporation and armies of lawyers are attached we have to pretend that their warped view of the world should come above all else. And like those who oppose global warming is occurring, they don’t need solid fact to back up their claim, they just need to create enough confusion to not have to deal with the problem directly. And this tactic can be very divisive.

Monsanto was also part of a subpoena in 2005 along with Goodrich,  Goodyear, Union Carbide and 20 in total chemical companies that are refusing a release of a book. They are restricting our freedom of knowledge. The book was to be about corporate cover-ups of industrial pollution written by two highly regarded professors from NYU and Columbia. At the same time the forefront of science and technology are hidden behind these doors with refusal to publish anything about their work unless it’s positive or forced by law. Big biotech, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies are not trying to be progressive, they’re trying to be profitable, they’ve never explained it any differently. They are not directly accountable for their actions. Many companies create their biotech dream, watch it fail, and then go defunct – and if that failed biotech project has an extremely negative effect on the world at large – we will have no one to hold responsible – and if we did, what’s the use? The damage is irrevocable due to unassessed risk.

And these ideas that we can use biotechnology for anything keep occurring. In 2004 a professor thought it’d be a good idea to plant trees that could absorb mercury, break it down into a “less harmful form” and release it into the atmosphere. Maybe – just maybe – there should be some regulations on this stuff? I can’t even walk off a trail in some places in this country for public fear of ruining the natural environment and we’re allowing professors who know no risks to transgenics plant trees that want to put mercury into the air? Another type of scary technology is known as “DNA synthesis” which attempts to construct gene and genome length DNA fragments from scratch. Again, there is no risk assessment on this. Yet despite being virtually alone working in the field the company has raised millions of dollars for their work. This could create entirely new species or change existing organisms “for useful purposes.” The company is called Synthetic Genomics and yes, they are also a part of bio.org. The founder of the company is none other than Dr. Craig Venter. Notice how the author of that article, a microbiologist for NYU, is ecstatic about the creation of the new company on his creepily named blog “biosingularity.” Anytime I find an evangelist supporter of biotechnology I love to find their reasoning, for him, he follows biotechnology blindly because:

I aim to follow and contribute to these advances with the hope that they will have positive impact on our health, greatly increasing our lifespans, enhancing our standard of living and improving our environment.

(Italics and bolded print are mine!)

Great. A microbiologist for NYU and he is being led by the same faith of hope as the religious. He follows these “advances” because he knows they will have a positive impact on our health and whatever and whatever? No. He follows these “advances” because evidence strongly supports that they will have a positive impact on our health and whatever? No. He follows these advances because he strongly believes risks have been greatly minimized to the public on these technologies? No. He hopes. And do you know why he hopes? Because the above statements are impossible for him to say because there are no studies – there are no risk assessments – only blind capitalism and hidden investors hungry for a 10-fold-return on their investment for doing absolutely nothing with it personally.

So who is this Dr. Craig Venter that founded Synthetic Genomics? He is famous for sequencing the human genome – for understanding what all the parts of a human gene look like. He became infamous for backing academia and then switching to backing industry. The battle for funding these exhaustively expensive projects was a choice between dealing with a bureaucratic government or vociferously voracious for-profit industry. Dr. Venter decided that with his research he should be able to pop out a few products that should return a profit – but at what risk? We’ll never know because assessment of risk in this undeniably highly controversial field will not occur. The private industry has held governments at bay on regulations with confusion and sweet whispers of miracles. If you don’t believe me there was a whole book written on it – and it explains how much of the advancement is controversial and ego-oriented, hardly in the publics best interest.

No - shes serious

No - shes serious

In fact profiting from the human genome has already had significant steps taken for it. When Craig Venter sequenced the human genome he could not have done so without public records, yet now he supports privatization of the human genome down to individual genes or even smaller. What does this mean? Well for giant biotech, pharmaceutical, and chemical companies it simply means investors (who literally do nothing but already own a lot of money they don’t care to share) need only to patent a part of the gene and if it is used for the purpose of any cure or idea they can profit off of it. So basically it means people who already have a bunch of money need to do little more than transfer a large amount of money into researching it, patent what’s discovered, and lie in wait for the cure to cancer or for a longer life or for happiness to be found in his now-purchased-gene and then he gets even more money he doesn’t share without a price. I mean working with Satan is hardly any different. What does this mean for reality? It means the patent office is inundated with 20,000+ patents on the human genome right now that are totally private to the outside world. As of Denise Caruso’s book 20% of the human genome had already been patented and some of the genes have been patented as many as 20 times each because they’ve been “improved” upon. Scientists refuse to do any research with the gene because if they discover something and it comes to show some jerk has patented the gene, he is allowed to demand money for simply having the money to put down on it in the first place. So research is halted, or only done with “sure-fire” genes that won’t cost a fortune in the long-run. What makes this more cruel is that these genes are found in each and every one of our bodies – they are beginning to patent what is inherently ours – what comprises you of you. I don’t know how that emotionally affects those who patent it or what lousy excuse or “reason” they can give for it – they are doing nothing but owning us from the inside out, and not letting everybody share the divine knowledge that makes us who we are.

Making a profit from genes and transgenes has become paramount. It comes at the cost of people with the very illnesses they promise to cure. It makes cows produce milk faster. They make farmers pay yearly for crops (our very food source, we must pay to be allowed to grow) all in the name of intellectual property. Just to tell you whats in your genome is becoming a fast growing business. It’s being used to systemize us and control us. And yet when these things get out into the environment – the real world – we have no way to protect ourselves against them if they are harmful (which we don’t know because we haven’t assessed the risks of this technology). Detection data is weak and transgenic crops accidentally wind up in all sorts of places they don’t believe. So once its let out into the world it is something we must deal with regardless of the negative effects of the transgenic crop or animal. If it decimates an entire species, food-staple, or region there is absolutely no repercussion strong enough to make the ends justify the means. The company that produced the rotten transgene would go bankrupt and the world would suffer and be forced to depend on this new infectious transgene because there are no other alternatives. In fact, Syngenta, the makers of the useless golden rice described earlier had contaminated a strain of corn en-route to Japan, who has much stricter guidelines on their food than America. However New Zealand received the same rice as Japan and it went through undetected even though it was contaminated with the transgene. Even biological confinement is a literal impossibility. And what for? Even Syngenta says GM food will not save the world.

Conclusion

So why did I write this? Already it is my longest entry to date (which I regret because people don’t like reading long things) and yet the problems I mentioned are only eclipsed by the problems I haven’t mentioned strictly due to space and time constraints. I see an industry that wants to have its cake and eat it too. Companies as scary as Synthetic Genomics which could create bioterrorism that crushes all bioterrorism (the scariest form of weapons) fill me with nothing other than the feeling that I’ve seen this somewhere before. To me this is a very old story – it comes with the fallacies of mankind – and is most famously portrayed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Certainly people such as Craig Venter and the rest on the forefront of biotechnology have their visions – just as Frankenstein envisioned his creature as beautiful up until the very point it came to fruition and the disaster realized. But unlike Frankenstein’s monster – the monster tortured relatively few people and died alone out in the Arctic. If any single one of those hundreds of companies at the forefront of biotechnology release a Frankenstein monster into our world – it will not go up to the Arctic to die – it will become invasive – removing the competition of diversity, it will interact with us on the smallest of levels in unknown ways, it could decimate the planet or a food industry. Will they? We simply don’t know – because there are no risk assessments. Too much money is tied up into miracle working these days and people forget about the common good. We have enough technology that is safe for all of us, with risks already assessed, that would not take the financial weight to get the biotech industry off of the ground. But our pharmaceutical companies, our chemical companies, our oil companies – they’ve all found refuge in the sirens songs of genetic technology.

They have the power of life on their fingertips and its hidden behind secret doors with egos and millions of dollars to be lost or gained. But where are the regulations? Where are the risks? Is it okay to throw out into the environment a genetically different species? Animals and plants have no inherent defense intricately primed through ages of evolution to promote diversity and weather naturally-produced problems. Now we are creating unnatural species that natural ones must interact with on a molecular, biological, and environmental level. I mean this could mean the difference between the American midwest being a steppe or a desert. While nobody is opposed to physically confined experiments the biotech industry flaunts a big “fuck you” to having it that way simply because they should be entitled to turn a profit off of their studies. The problem is that if a study ends up with little fruit there is an attempt to create a demand for what is needed – much like Syngenta’s golden rice.

How far will it stretch?

Because I am not a super smart scientist why should my argument be worth anything? My argument started to be worth something the minute they took unassessed transgenic plants outdoors and began having all forms of life interact with it with no proof to me that they know what the fuck they’re doing. I may not be a scientist but I am certainly no idiot. I am not a religious man and the hope that feeds the giddy microbiologist up there and the hope that feeds the Christian desire of the second-coming-of-Christ does not feed my fact-based need for proper risk assessment. I wrote about this because it’s such a complex topic and the reason why it’s not getting taken care of properly most likely is because people don’t have a fucking clue with whats going on in this area so they decide to “leave it to the experts” – who all happen to be foaming at the mouth with profit-rabies. And don’t you dare have the audacity to call me an alarmist or extremist for saying that – there are billions of dollars tied up in that industry – there is a unquenchable desire for profit in an industry like that and the proof lies in the risk assessments. But now with this entry you’re an expert. You’re allowed to say “We don’t have a clue what the long-term effects of these transgenic crops and animals are and until you’ve followed some pretty basic standards in this field – we don’t want to know what you’ve got for us.”

The biggest problem is you’re most likely already eating it – just like many other species on this planet – because we’re not even allowed to know whether a crop was genetically modified or not. Ignorance is what is allowing the biotech company to keep from acting morally responsible – I’ve provided many links of information including Denise Caruso’s book. I don’t know how to compete with millions of dollars, but I do know I can’t stand when we have to pretend something is good when it’s not.

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7 Responses to “Biotechnology and Transgenics”

  1. ixobelle Says:

    Already it is my longest entry to date (which I regret because people don’t like reading long things)

    Don’t feel the need to dumb it down or summarize. Big issues require long posts. If someone gets sleepy at the thought of reading, I’m not sure what they’re doing on a page full of text.

    • nakedmaninthetree Says:

      I appreciate the encouragement and the comments, thanks! I’m working on a new entry right now.

  2. Alexander Says:

    A minor point, the impact on butterflies of the crops was disproved, because the single study that resulted in the alarming scare for butterfly populations, was determined to have used pollen levels that were many times in excess of what could naturally occur. It was akin to saying that if you bathe in 30 gallons of a substance for a week, its toxic, but if its contained in .1% of something you drink 1-2 times a day, it has no effect.

    • nakedmaninthetree Says:

      Alexander,

      I appreciate comments like the one you made and I will look into that one myself. But it is the point on why I gather a plethora of materials, not just 1 or 2 things to cause a scare. If one thing is disproven, great, unfortunately all the rest isn’t.

  3. Why Monsanto, An Ex-Chemical Company, Now A BioTech Company, Is Evil « Ishtarmuz's Blog Says:

    […] I rewrote this article as Monsanto specific. Yet, I don’t see them as the only creators of Frankenstein. They are just a major […]

  4. Water « Naked Man in the Tree Says:

    […] to see if there are any tell-tale signs of corruption or greed. In the case of both plastic and biotechnology I found backers with ambiguous relationships in the government that would give them more profit and […]

  5. Golda Delagol Says:

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before
    but after looking at a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!


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