BioEthics 2006 / DNA for peace! (1/3/2006)

1.Biotech is Coming to Save the World
2.Bioterror Fears Dim Biotech Potential

SANITY: BioEthics 2006: "The Voice of Reason" www.bioethics2006.org (item 1)

INSANITY: The bio-ethicists' report detailed in item 2 is truly disturbing. As Anuradha Mittal notes, countries can't even manage nuclear materials, with issues of nuclear waste and safety remaining unresolved while nuclear weapons proliferate, triggering international crises. Yet the authors of this report argue for the international proliferation of research on genetically engineered plants and viruses that, as Mittal notes, can't easily be recalled once they get into the environment. And all this in the name of 'DNA for peace' and progress - freedom from poverty and disease - we kid you not!

SANITY: Pat Mooney poses an important question to these hitech-zealots. "Why don't the authors of the JCB report, who are supposed to be ethicists, work on an ethical issue like social justice?" In fact, as Mittal points out, a country like India would benefit far more from investment in basic sanitation than from expensive new genetic technologies aimed at preventing diseases. (item 2)

Biotech is Coming to Save the World
But is it Too Good to Be True?
FEBRUARY 28, 2006
Charles Shaw, Media Coordinator, 773.671.7757, [email protected]

CHICAGO, Illinois - February 28 - "Is our food supply safe?" "Should life be patented by corporations?" "Should farmers be forced to abandon traditional farming practices?" "Should the Pentagon develop a bomb that only kills certain races of people?" BioETHICS 2006: "The Voice of Reason" asks these and more questions, promoting consumer choice and the safe application of biotechnology.

BioETHICS 2006: "The Voice of Reason" is a parallel conference taking place the same week as the annual B.I.O. (Biotechnology Industry Organization) convention, the world’s largest biotech lobbying group, which is coming to Chicago April 9th -12, 2006. The city is rolling out the red carpet for the nearly 20,000 participants from 1500 companies who are expected to attend the BIO convention. BioETHICS 2006 will provide a forum for open and frank discussion of ethical biotechnology.

Biotechnology is being touted as the next big thing for the American economy, the next great hope to feed the world and cure illness, and Chicago is investing substantial resources into becoming an important Biotech center. But is Biotech all it is cracked up to be? Or are there things the industry isn't telling us, and doesn’t want us to know?

"For all its promises of turning lead into gold, there is still so much we don’t know or understand about the long term effects and safety of genetically engineering," said Jerry Boyle, a Chicago attorney. "An open dialogue between the industry and the public about the unanswered questions of safety is not only reasonable but should be quite obvious. To not ask these basic questions regarding public health is reckless and stupid."

"Our interests are simple and benefit everyone", says Chad Bliss, a community gardener from Chicago. "We believe there should be mandatory labeling and safety testing of all genetically modified food, so people know what they are eating. Why are we behind the rest of the world on this issue?"

BioETHICS 2006 will kick off with events highlighting public health, lack of federal oversight and issues of local governance regarding food and agricultural biotechnology. Panel discussions, film screenings, meet-and-greet gatherings, and community outreach will continue during the week in an effort to spread awareness to the general Chicagoland and larger Midwestern public about the realities of biotechnology and genetic engineering.

"We agree that there is great potential in Biotechnology," says conference coordinator Christine Phillips, "but without established rules, this little bit of knowledge we have becomes a dangerous thing. Parents are afraid of drugs and violence in their children's schools, but what about what they are being fed? They need to know that their school or supermarket may be serving milk containing rBgh, the bovine growth hormone, which creates other cancer-causing hormones as a by-product of its use. We don’t yet know all the negative health effects of eating genetically modified food because the studies that exist are neither clear nor conclusive."

A November 2005 study by the Pew Research Trust concluded that although 80% of the American public knows little to no nothing about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a strong majority (63 percent) believe government agencies should include moral and ethical considerations when making regulatory decisions about cloning and genetically engineering.

Nearly 40 nations have imposed restrictions on the importation of GMOs based on health, safety, and environmental issues, yet recently the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of the US, forcing the European Union to rescind its ban. This has caused shockwaves throughout the world community, and many member-states of the EU have communicated their intentions not to honor the ruling.

MORE INFORMATION: BioEthics 2006: "The Voice of Reason" www.bioethics2006.org

2.SCIENCE: Bioterror Fears Dim Biotech Potential
Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, Feb 28 (IPS) - Terrorists using biotechnology could create virulent new diseases that threaten millions of people and imperil future development of the technology, ethical experts warn.

World leaders attending the G8 meeting in July 2006 need to establish a global network to help resolve potential conflicts between bioterrorism control and biotechnology development, according to the report "DNA for Peace: Reconciling Biodevelopment and Biosecurity".

The G8 is a powerful economic and political grouping comprising Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, Japan, Italy and Canada.

"Cutting-edge technologies like biotechnology and nanotechnology potentially carry serious risks to the public," said Peter Singer, director of the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB), the report's co-author.

"If all we talk about is biosecurity and the risks, then we'll create a huge wall that prevents the development of these new technologies," Singer told IPS.

The report emphasises the potential for biotechnology to fight disease, hunger and poverty, especially in the developing world.

"Our biggest fear is the lost opportunities for the developing world should the public and countries overreact as the result of some bioterrorism incident," said co-author Abdallah S. Daar, co-director of the Canadian Programme on Genomics and Global Health at the JCB.

This is a future threat, not an imminent one, Daar said in an interview. However, concern over such future threats could lead countries to impose bans or regimes of strict controls and regulations that could cripple the future development of these new technologies.

Biotech and nanotech research labs are rapidly spreading all over the world. Brazil alone has over 400 biotech research and development companies. Singapore and Malaysia are investing tens of millions of dollars in research. Vietnamese scientists recently announced they have successfully genetically engineered a type of insect-resistant rice.

Biotech is a collection of technologies that manipulate or engineer biological cells to manufacture proteins for current uses such as GM crops for agriculture and in the near future, new drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools in health care.

Nanotech refers to the manipulation of non-biological and biological matter at the level of atoms and molecules. Nanotech has produced stain-resistant clothing and smoother-feeling cosmetics.

In 2004, Chinese scientists published more research papers on nanotech than U.S. scientists.

"Bioterror concerns are legitimate," says Gigi Kwik Gronvall, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh's Centre for Biosecurity

"It's easier to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria than it is to develop a new antibiotic," Kwik Gronvall told IPS.

The scientific, technical and cost barriers to biotech are falling, making it more accessible and simpler to do, she said. At same time, the technology is becoming more powerful and riskier.

"Accidents are going to become the big problem in the future," she said.

The rapid proliferation of these technologies is very worrying, agreed Pat Mooney of the ETC Group, a Canadian-based NGO.

"Governments in Canada and the U.S. lack the ability to properly regulate biotech or nanotech on their own soils," Mooney said in an interview.

Who will pay for the research and infrastructure to regulate these technologies in developing countries? he asked, adding, "I don't think we can trust the private sector to do everything needed to protect the environment and human health."

The vast proportion of biotech research is done by private companies that work in secret to protect their commercial interests.

That is a significant obstacle to the sharing of information needed to shed light on what scientists are doing to prevent accidents and misuse, said Singer. Companies are aware of the issue and are willing to participate in a global network that works toward creating a culture of good science and good regulations, he said.

"Countries can't even manage nuclear materials, but biotechnology is very scary because it involves living material," said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. NGO working in developing countries.

Genetically engineered plants or viruses are hard to track and impossible to recall once they get into the environment, Mittal told IPS.

"The Biosafety Protocol already exists, why not use this to regulate biotech?" she said.

Officially called the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, this international agreement regulates the transboundary movements of GE organisms. However, the U.S., Argentina and Canada, countries that produce 90 percent of GE crops, have not ratified the Protocol.

Attempts to promote biotech as something developing countries need is a sign of desperation by biotech proponents to the growing public backlash, Mittal said. "They keep promising better food and medicines, but they've never delivered."

Mittal says India is the world's third largest food producer, and hunger in that country is a problem of poverty not food availability. India doesn't need new technologies to prevent diseases, just help and investments in better sanitation.

"Why don't the authors of the JCB report, who are supposed to be ethicists, work on an ethical issue like social justice?" Mooney wonders. "They seem to be more interested in promoting liberation technology." (END/2006)

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