Chapela on "anti-scientific propaganda" (20/2/2007)

This letter by Dr Ignacio Chapela was sent in response to the recent editorial on genetic engineering published in a California local weekly paper, the Point Reyes Light. You can read the editorial here http://www.ptreyeslight.com/editorial.shtml


Re: Genetically Modified Organisms
The Editor: Robert Plotkin (The Point Reyes Light)

To read your editorial of 13 February evokes quaint memories of decades past. Long ago --a quarter century, to be more precise-- your eulogy of genetic engineering could have passed for visionary science in popular magazines. Now, more than $350 billion later, it simply reeks of the stale propaganda of Russian Lysenkoism: a futile attempt at denying truth borne by factual evidence.

Thankfully, the arguments are well rehearsed elsewhere: Genetic engineering is not precise, is not controlled, cannot be contained, is not predictable once released in the environment, has not been properly tested in animal models or real environmental conditions, and has defeated multiple times the gold-standard of the US regulatory system formed by USDA, FDA and EPA. In short, the biological foundation of this mid-twentieth century obsession is already past its "best-by" date.

Economically, genetic engineering has proven also a major disaster: may I direct you to the analyses of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or such firms as Ernst and Young for the evidence? Better still: farmers have known long ago what the Deutsche Bank realized only in 1999, that genetic engineering could not fairly compete for markets on a premium basis, but would have to be foisted upon markets at a discount instead.

To accuse the enlightened population of West Marin of backwardness by such low rhetorical ploys as the racist move to compare them with presumed ignorant black Africans is not only insulting to your readers, but denigrating to your own intelligence. Straus and many other farms have moved on to the 21st Century together with many others in our Nation, many European, Asian, African and Latin American countries. This is the century of reckoning for the blunders of failed technofixes to serious environmental, cultural and economic problems created by the very practices you praise. Genetic engineering has done nothing more than delay progress towards this goal through its fixation on failed, half-baked practices. It is sad indeed to see a journal that once deserved a Pulitzer Prize thrown into the backwaters of anti-scientific propaganda.

Yours sincerely,
Ignacio H. Chapela, PhD
Associate Professor of Microbial Ecology University of California, Berkeley

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