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Checkbiotech: A corporate group in panic
Posted by: DR. RAUPP ; madora (IP Logged)
Date: July 01, 2005 07:40AM ; ;

More dangerous than genetically altered foods are the fears Greenpeace is
spreading. A call for the cease-fire, June 2005 by Christian Schwägerl
translated by Katharina Schoebi, Checkbiotech.

The demonization of genetic engineering is one of the greatest marketing
success stories of our times. As soon as the identification code "gene"
appears on any food product, alarms go off in the minds of the consumer,
regardless of whether in Switzerland, Germany or Great Britain. The fear of
consuming anything unhealthy or harmful to the environment is great. The
notion of deliberately serving one's own children genetically modified food
is, for most people, absolutely absurd. Among many farmers, there is such a
deep fear of the consumer's fear, they prefer to do without technology and
its by-products.

Meanwhile, the deionization goes to such lengths, that non-genetically
engineered food is automatically declared "healthy". Recently, the German
agricultural politician, Ulrike Hoefken, became upset because inspectors had
found traces of soy protein, that orginated from genetically engineered
plants, in Doener meat.

"What is soy doing in Doener meat?" she asked in a press release. Virtually,
soybeans and tofu as vegetarian protein sources are icons of the green
alternative culture. Furthermore, Doener is not known for its
health-promoting effects. As an expert, Hoefken could surely not have
forgotten that. However, her phobia of genetic engineering was greater.

Pellet gun vs. precise weapons

Greenpeace could be considered the leading producer of widespread fear of
genetically modified food. On the one hand, Greenpeace is an environmental
organization with a history rich in legends, and on the other hand, it is a
multinational company with agencies in 40 countries and well represented
brands. It is not a council consisting of ecologists, but rather a group of
marketing experts who decides, which of the worldwide environmental problems
Greenpeace will take up and publish in its campaigns.

Just as Nike managed to train our brains to recall images of quick and
beautiful bodies upon hearing the name, while BMW wraps itself in an aura of
power and solidity, and Starbucks became a symbol for the modernized coffee
house culture ? the environmental organization has a dominant message, an
image. The conservation of primeval forests and the protection of whales
have taken a back seat. Today, the loyalty of its clients, donors and
sympathisers, is chiefly cultivated as Greenpeace makes them believe that it
will save them from the dangers of genetic engineering. The organization
sells them fear and deliverance in a combined package.

However, everything could have been different. Those who visit geneticists
in their labs could have the idea that they work on behalf of
environmentalists or "greens". Nobody denies that constantly new sorts of
plants have to be generated to cope with pests, cultivation conditions and
economic necessities. ETH researcher Ingo Potrykus, who created "golden
rice", rich in vitamin A for developing countries, likes to point out maps
which are marked to display how classic and molecular plant breeding vary.

Even though many consumers would not believe it, conventional plant
breeding, whose products end up in health-food shops, work with very
startling methods. To create new properties, such as resistance against
harmful insects, plants are radioactively irradiated or exposed to
aggressive chemicals. The progeny of the plants of these hazardous
experiments are cultivated and tested, to see if they are resistant or more
productive. However, the genetic material of plants is extremely damaged by
the irradiation and the chemicals. One even could speak of a genetically
engineered attack ? just with a rusted-out gun. However, what exactly
happens to the genes and the metabolism they control is an open and as yet
unexplored question.

In contrast, the genetic material is disrupted less if genetic engineering
in the narrower sense is applied. It allows increasingly precise and
pre-planned intervention in the genetic material and thus, its effect on the
metabolism is better known ? albeit not yet completely. Those genetic
engineers that are demonized by Greenpeace are breeding plants with a
precise weapon. There is hardly a new sort of plant, whose properties are
better examined than genetically engineered plants. There are some tests
regulated by law, to which conventionally bred plants exempt. As a result,
negative health consequences have so far been avoided.

These strict guidelines are not only important for building up confidence,
but also because of course, genetic engineering is not automatically good.
However the consequent judgement with which Greenpeace denounces any genetic
engineering - although meanwhile the technology is used for ecological
purposes - can only be explained by concerns about the marketing impact of a
simple and radical "no" message. A more differentiated message would be a
harder sell.

Cheers for the designer poplar

Some projects in genetic engineering that by all means could have been
conceived by Greenpeace, if the strategists in former times would have
decided otherwise, include the following: at the University of Freiburg im
Breisgau, some researchers develop designer poplars for the cleaning of
contaminated industry areas in East Germany and Russia. The trees draw the
harmful substances out of the soil and make them ready for disposal.
Multiple research teams have manipulated the metabolism of plants in such a
way, that they produce hydrogen or energetically optimised biomass, and thus
alternatives to petroleum.

At other institutes, researchers shift small sections of the genetic
material from grains, in order to make the plants more able to resist
penetrating fungi. This inhibits the formation of cancer-causing fungi
spores that otherwise would reach the food chain. Biological substances are
being researched that would - with increasing precision - only harm
herbivores of certain crops. With the aid of genetic engineering, their
construction manual can be integrated into the genetic material of plants.

As a signal of global environment protection, there is the intention to get
valuable essential fatty acids from of plants instead of fish. Furthermore,
researchers want to make the native rape accessible as an alternative source
of proteins to soy. Thus, the over fishing of the oceans and the
deforestation for the cultivation of soy could be slowed down ? once a main
objective of Greenpeace.

Several institutes use genetically engineered plant breeding in order to
prepare agriculture for the climatic changes. Their research is focused on
the genetic material of ancient plant sorts or other species, which help to
resist drought, moisture or salt accumulation. Time is short for acclimating
crops to conditions as they occur in greenhouses.

"Green genetic engineering" is not a magic bullet, but neither are
objections per se to an ecological agriculture. There are some questionable
projects, such as the development of crops resistant to pesticides, which
can completely kill the remaining flora on the land. This is a danger to
biodiversity. However, genetically altered plants are not per se a risk for
the environment, even when they distribute their pollen like other plants
do. Therefore, the governmentally sanctioned law for labelling in its form
today is questionable. Actually, it does not contain any information, but
only triggers blanket fears.

The words "genetically modified" say as little about quality and
environmental friendliness as "driven by petrol" says about the comfort and
ecological efficiency of cars. If labelling should make sense, it should
explain in much more detail which form of genetic engineering was used. The
consumer should than be informed enough to know the differences.

However, surely we will become dependent on evil, multinational groups, if
genetic engineering becomes accepted? The risk of monopolization is mostly
acute, if Greenpeace and the European Greens are going on like they have up
to now. Paradoxically, the "greens", of all people, promote the
concentration of knowledge and force in the hands of the biggest
agricultural affiliated group they denunciate.

For globally working agencies it is comparably easy to test their new plants
out from Europe, in Latin America or North America. The government-paid
genetic engineers and the middle-class plant breeders, as there are in many
European countries, are not or just barely able to escape.

Only government-supported research assures, that the most effective and
environmentally friendly plants of the future are not monopolised by patents
and agency lawyers, but are instead broadly accessible. If more money is
invested in genetic engineering at universities, the knowledge of the
researchers can be shared with fellow researchers at universities in Asia
and Africa and the small farmers as part of a modern development-politic. To
get into a differentiated discussion, Greenpeace activists should pack up
their ridiculous gene-corn-costumes and horror antics, with which they not
only terrify children with their antics, but also generate publicity,
which - if sold - would cost millions of euros. There is no question that
this is not as easy.

However, those who talk about the responsible consumer should think about
the concept: in the future, the "organic" quality of food should be
determined by taste, quality and ecological efficiency and not by the
technology used. Yet, the logic of the fear-economy and its great success
work against it. But who knows, maybe someday it will be labelled as
"Oko"-food: "Molecularbiologically refined".

Christian Schwägerl, who wrote this article for the Weltwoche, is a
biologist and works as a Feature- and Science correspondent for the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


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