MOLA:42’s Guide to Questioning Our Betters
I always get nervous when questioning the judgment of people smarter than myself (thus I’m pretty much anxious all the time) but I have to disagree this time with a really smart person.
To understand what I will talk about, I have provided a link to the July 30th post in the blog SoHum Parlance II, titled “So Chill Out.” It features an interview with celebrity Really Smart Person Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s):
It’s kind of important to us since we shall be voting in November to ban GMO crops in Humboldt County (Measure P).
Boiled down to its essence, Mr. DeGrasse Tyson says GMO’s are no different than the human modification of domesticated species that has been going on for the past tens of thousands of years.
I would say he’s not correct in his reasoning on two points; one Scientific, the other Political Scientific.
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Allow me to boldly go where I have no business going by taking on the Science issue first.
There is a difference between Domestication and the GMO process. In Domestication, humans work exclusively with the DNA provided (no “extras”).
When Oog got tired of seeing the cave bears beating the crap out of his dog, he didn’t go the route of, “Oog need armored dog. Oog transplant turtle genes… make Oog’s dog tough.”
Alas, Oog did not possess the technology to make his armored dog (perhaps he tried feeding his dog turtle meat, heck if I know). All Oog could do was work with the genes the dog provided. So Oog bred bigger, stronger dogs, using the process of Selection.
Consequently, despite appearances, the genetic make-up of dogs is quite uniform. In every Yorkie there is a Wolfhound and in every Wolfhound there is a Yorkie (genetically speaking).
The same is true of cows, horses, wheat, corn, etc. Each species is genetically little different from its wild ancestor; they remain a part of the environment that first made them and are subject to the controls that environment puts on them.
If someone today was silly enough to create a dog that glowed in the dark (easier to find at night I guess) by introducing firefly genes into a dog’s DNA… well for one thing you’d have to deal with your dog sitting at the foot of your bed flashing off and on all night long.
You would also have to deal with the consequences.
And what are those consequences? you might ask.
I don’t know. No one knows. Any living thing’s DNA is far too complex, far too subtle to accurately predict the results. That is the problem.
Genetic modification takes the genome of any plant or animal out of the “safety zone” imposed by its environment. There is the real possibility of unintended effects.
A silly paranoid argument, you might say.
Not really. Unintended consequences have historically been very costly (Can you say Kudzu? I knew you could…), even without genetic modification. Plants and animals introduced into environments for which they were not intended frequently have no predators and often do have other advantages over native wildlife.
So then another critter is introduced to keep the first critter down… and now you have two critters you can’t control.
Can science guarantee that a GMO organism, by definition alien to any natural environment, shall never get out of control?
Not if they are being honest.
Not if they can’t control the wind or the bees in the case of GM crops.
Another related issue is introducing a gene to a plant or animal that has an undesired but not immediately obvious fault and that fault comes to dominate the species.
Again, not paranoia:
For instance this happens with domestic breeding. Each purebred breed of dog has its own range of problems (i.e.: eyesight, cancer, breathing, dysplasia, etc.) specific and pervasive to that particular breed.
In other words, while breeding for desired traits, the undesired traits piggy-back along for the ride.
When one creates the Glow-in-the-Dark dog, what else becomes part of the deal? An honest answer is again; we don’t know.
Our understanding of Genetic Engineering may be good enough for the lab but is it really good enough to be introduced to the wider world?
One thing Mr. DeGrasse Tyson and myself do share is neither of us are experts in the field of genetics. But to say, “So Chill Out,” is against the very notion Mr. DeGrasse Tyson teaches; to question Everything (the very basis of the Scientific Method).
And as the answers we do have are provided almost exclusively by the people doing the genetic modifications (and beholden to large corporate investments for their research) I think I can safely say the jury is still out on my last question.
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Now to the Political Science issue:
You cannot own a new “natural” animal breed or plant hybridization.
Say you breed in your backyard a type of Labrador Retriever that has no fur (say that you are MAD). You can sell the furless puppies but you cannot force your customers to not breed the furless dogs and you cannot mandate they come to you alone for more furless puppies.
The law does say you can own (patent) a GMO.
That means you can take that Labrador Retriever, genetically modify fertilized eggs from that dog with hummingbird DNA, have the resulting puppies grow wings and soon the neighborhood would literally be abuzz with Hummingdors (and people would soon be pooper-scooping the roofs of their houses).
You then can sell the puppies but you can force your customers not to breed the Hummingdors they buy and you can mandate they come to you alone for more Hummingdor puppies.
If your male Hummingdor swoops into someone else’s yard and impregnates their dog, you can sue the dog’s owner for infringing on your patent (obviously this is all fantasy but it illustrates the point).
Monsanto, the company that leads the field in GM food crops, is known (among other things) to harass farmers who adjoin GMO fields; claiming they are infringing on its patents by allowing pollen from the neighboring fields to drift into their fields and fertilize their crops.
So far Monsanto has not actually taken anyone to court for this but the threat is enough to cause many farmers to leave clear zones on their own fields that border GMO fields to prevent accidental pollination from the wind and/or the insects.
And Monsanto is working to protect its investment by creating crops that produce sterile seeds… no more worries about non-paying dead-beats using their product.
This doesn’t do much to get my warm and fuzzies up for Monsanto.
Are we ready to trust the food supply to the domination of large (due to a recent Supreme Court decision, I can’t say “soul-less”) corporations who are motivated purely by short-term profit incentives?
But the other issue is; for farmers to be competitive they will need to buy GMO products to stay in business (GMO seeds do outperform the natural seeds). This puts the future of our food in the hands of very few, very ruthless people.
I don’t find that acceptable.
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My advice to the voter?
Vote on Measure P as you wish. Monsanto will never let it stand anyway. They have armies of lawyers whose only purpose is to root out little anti-corporate rebellions like Measure P and crush them in the courts (Monsanto has never lost a Supreme Court decision and they will take us there if necessary).
But if you believe in sending messages… it might still be worth your while to vote yes for Measure P.
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Standard Disclaimer: My opinions are my own and not necessarily those of the Tuluwat Examiner. I am not on the staff of the Tuluwat Examiner. I don’t even know who these people are. But I have learned the Tuluwat Examiner Staff is indeed working on producing a breed of furless Labrador Retrievers.
My God! They are Mad!
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Disclaimer of the Standard Disclaimer:
We were actually trying recreate a real democrat out of a DINO by mixing in genetic material from a bonafide Democratic Donkey!……………………. Alas, all we came up with was a Dumb Ass.