Friday, November 02, 2007

Pharm Crops

If there is one issue besides global warming that brings out Apocalypse stories from the environmental community, it is the practice of engineering new variations of plants through the manipulation of the genetic material. The motives behind this are quite varied. In the case of Monsanto, it is purely profit as in engineering crops: soy beans, rape seed (canola), corn, that will be immune to the Monsanto developed herbicide, Roundup. Even the name, Roundup Ready, betrays the motive.

In the Monsanto case, the arguments are fairly easy to make, though not everyone is listening. Napa County California Green, Erica Martenson, is leading an organization called Preserving the Integrity of Napa's Agriculture (PINA) and has written frequently about these issues. I have posted several of Erica's public writings here. One of her topics was "Pharm crops and world hunger"

There are several factors that are know to be a challenge, the most important of which may be that GE material can not be contained once the plant has been released into open air cultivation. In some ways, that is what Monsanto is counting on . If neighboring seed stocks become contaminated (by the wind blown or bee carried pollen) then Monstanto goes to court and sues based on patent infringement and, by doing so, locks up a bigger share of the seed market.

However, when the purpose of the genetic engineering is to provide a way to cure disease; especially a disease that is debilitating, potentially deadly, very costly to the health care system in general and especially to the often poor patients such as is the case with Type 2 diabetes, opposition to this use of GMO's may end up with a balancing act where you weigh the environmental costs of doing something against the social cost of not doing it. When that happens, the apocalyptic narrative will not win many adherents. With the increase of obesity in the American population, the actual economic costs of diabetes and other lifestyle related diseases... cancer, heart disease... increasing as they are now, the offer of a pill to fix everything, especially one provided at low cost, will be too powerful to reject.
A researcher at the University of Central Florida says he has created a strain of lettuce that actually creates insulin. For people with diabetes, it could mean the end of insulin injections -- and the folks in the lab say it could even be a cure for diabetes.
In studies with mice, the use of this lettuce has not only provided the supplementary insulin that diabetes patients need, it has induced the mice to begin producing insulin at normal levels themselves, obviating the need for continued treatment.

I watched this report on the 11 PM news last night from station KSBW, Salinas, CA, where lettuce is a significant factor in the local economy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On 17th December 2007 Monsanto was found guilty of contempt of the South African Advertising Authority (ASA) for publishing false claims about the safety of GM foods.

In January,2007, Monsanto was fined 15,000 euros (US$19,000 ) in a French court for misleading the public about the environmental impact of herbicide Roundup.

A former chairman of Monsanto Agriculture France was found guilty of false advertising for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use. Monsanto's French distributor Scotts France was also fined 15,000 euros.

In 2005 Monsanto was caught smuggling South African produced GM Bollgard cotton seed into Indonesia disguised as rice. Monsanto was fined for bribing Indonesian officials.

In 2006 Monsanto suppressed evidence of serious damage to the liver and kidneys of rats in their MON 863 GM maize trials until ordered to release this evidence by a German Court.

In June, 2007, a second peer-reviewed case involving another variation of Monsanto's GM maize, namely, NK 603, has been shown by studies to be potentially toxic to humans. NK 603 has been approved for food, feed, processing, and propagation in Europe and the Philippines The new research, carried out by the French scientific research institute CRIGEN, involves biotech firm Monsanto's NK 603 GMO corn (marketed commercially under the name Round-up Ready).

Rats that were fed GM maize showed significant differences in measurements, as well as significant weight differences compared to those fed with normal maize. Almost 70 statistically significant differences were observed and reported - 12 for hematology parameters, 18 for clinical chemistry parameters, nine for urine chemistry parameters, six for the organ weights (brain, heart, liver), 14 for body weights and body weight changes, and eight for food consumption. toxicity, The most alarming was the diminished brain size. Scientists warned that diminished brain size sent out a urgent danger warning for growing children fed `GM food.