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ETHICS: Biotechnology

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posted on Aug, 6 2004 @ 01:28 PM
Stem cells are all the rage, so are genetically modified organisms. Before that, it was cloning and Dolly the sheep, who by the way died of old age at 6 whereas normal sheep live up to 12 years. Scientists have been messing around splicing the genetic code from one species to another for years now. The most recent example: creating salmon that lay trout eggs:

They implanted tissue from trout embryos into salmon embryos; and when the salmon became adults and mated, they produced trout. The researchers suggest this could be a way to improve the chances of endangered species, they say in Nature. source

I guess that is “easier” than addressing the cause of habitat depletion. Nature is “broken” so we will tinker with it. I’m sure it has nothing to do with “help[ing] secure supplies of bluefin tuna for sushi restaurants.”

Sometimes things don’t turn out as expected:

… scientists trying to beat back an overabundance of mice in Australia spliced a single foreign gene into a typically mild mousepox virus in hopes of creating a genetically engineered sterility treatment. Instead, they created a mousepox strain so powerful that it killed even those mice inoculated against the virus. source

But have no fear, the investors have found a use for the new virus. The accidental discovery is being built upon and used for new bioweapons research (source).

Scientists have also been splicing genes from toxic bacteria into several seed crops including potatoes, which now contain a pesticide throughout their flesh. And of course there are Monsanto’s infamous “Round-Up Ready” pesticide seed lines.

Once released into the market, keeping GMOs out of our food chain is next to impossible. Remember StarLink Corn?

On the other hand, there is some very good research being done in this field. For example, there IS an ethical answer to the stem cell debate. But you wont hear that from the industry. At McGill University in Montreal there are two research programs that found a solution.

The first discovery is that stem cells can be found in adult skin tissue:

Additional work showed the cells originated in the dermis, a tissue layer just beneath the surface of the skin. The dermis contains many different cell types, Miller says, which might explain why it contains stem cells able to turn into a variety of cells. source

The second research program uses stem cells harvested from umbilical cords (source).

This is the kind of research that can still be found in universities. This is quite different that the research done for private biotechnology, agritech and pharmaceutical companies. Their mission is profits and creating markets to achieve them.

Monsanto is probably the most infamous biotech and agritech company in the world. They have a line of seeds carrying the “Round-Up Ready” label. So Monsanto makes the weed killer called “Round-Up” as well as the seeds that carry a gene for resistance to it. In other words, the weed killer does not work on these plants. So farmers and agriculture producers are forced to buy a license the use the seed, a license to use the pesticide, as well as the costs of the seed itself that they are not allowed to save from one season to the next. They must buy them every year.

The company also gets a loyal Round-Up user who can spray their entire field, killing everything in its path except the now tainted crop. And since these plants are resistant to herbicides, when they spread into neighboring fields and the natural surroundings (and they do), there is no way to eradicate the “super weed”. Any farmer caught with a Round-Up ready plant on his land is vigorously pursued to court under the intellectual property legal system (see Monsanto vs Schmeiser).

The company advertises itself as “innovative”. Indeed.

Their website states: "Imagine innovative agriculture that creates 'incredible' things today." as well as "Integrity is the foundation of all that we do. Integrity includes honesty, decency, consistency and courage." Their new motto is “ImagineTM”.

As a John Lennon fan, I (and others) take offence.

This is nothing more than aggressive privatization of the food supply and control of agricultural markets . This is possible due to the current intellectual property laws allowing the patenting of life and the genetic code of any living thing. This race to privitization has also lead to" target="_blank" class="postlink" rel="nofollow">bio-piracy or what some people have called bioprivateering.

Privatisation of nature through the patent system is supported by powerful industry players and world bodies like the WTO and its TRIPS agreement.

The AIDS epidemic also has a connection to this arrangement since pharmaceutical companies will not permit generics due to fears of market loss. The weakening of the patent laws would also hurt their case for bioprivateering.

The industry is highly organized:

The biotechnology industry's major trade association, BIO represents more than 1,000 dues-paying biotech companies. The association has four major lobbying priorities: blocking government price controls of biotech drugs; promoting genetically modified foods; streamlining the regulatory process for biotech products; and supporting tax incentives for the industry. Threats of bioterrorism have also propelled the industry—and its trade association—onto the homeland security front. Last year, BIO was a major force behind a provision added to the Homeland Security Act that gives biotech companies liability protection for the vaccines they develop. source

I have attended many conferences and workshops over the years and none came close to the rich lavishness I saw when attending a BIO conference.

Do the claimed benefits of biotechnology outweigh the greed of privatization? Perhaps.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much promise in such a powerful technology, however, it is a power that needs to be under some kind of intelligent and ethical control.

Biotechnology should be a non-partisan issue and in a sense it is. Both the Democratic and Republican parties support the industry and both benefit from it. BIO makes campaign contributions to both parties with 70% going to the Republicans. In the last five years BIO has spent over $14 million in total lobbying expenditures (source).

The Bush Administration is a clear supporter as demonstrated with the appointment of Linda Fisher as Deputy Administrator at the EPA. She is a former Monsanto V.P. and is second in ranking only to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. Fisher lobbied on behalf of Monsanto from 1995 until 2000 and was a proponent of the decision not to mandate GM foods labeling (Cronyism).

The Republicans also have the infamous untra-conservative Orin Hatch who has relentlessly been amending intellectual property legislation in favor of the biotech, agritech, pharmaceutical and music industries. He has also expressed his interest in being appointed to the Supreme Court (source).

Can we expect more of the same from Democrats and Republicans?

What of the other parties?

Edit: Added Link

[edit on 8/6/2004 by Gools]

posted on Aug, 14 2004 @ 11:45 AM
Here is the latest example of questionable research. Scientist in the United States have developped a genetic treatment to cure "laziness" by blocking a brain chemical called dopamine.

They claim this will help depressed people to put on a big smile and become good little workers. Nevermind the underlying cause of their depression we can fix it by tinkering with brain chemicals! /sarcasm

How long before the substance is used to increase "productivity" and we are all taking our "soma" to get through our daily lives as busy worker bees? source

This kind of research disturbes me.


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