Monsanto and GMOs in historical context (26/3/2008)

1.The Challenge of the 21st Century

2.The campaign against Rachel Carson

3.And the beat goes on...

EXTRACTS: 'Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long term effect will be.' [item 1]

'When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?' [item 2]

'Monsanto tried to destroy her. They mounted a tremendous advertising campaign to discredit her and invalidate her work. They wanted to ruin her in every possible way they could.' [item 3]


1.The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Real Bottom Line
by David Suzuki The 2008 Commonwealth Lecture in London, England [extract only]

…What is the environmental crisis that we are talking about? What does it mean? In 1962, I was galvanised to join what became the environmental movement when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring , a book about the unexpected effects of pesticides. It is hard to imagine what the world was like in 1962, but when her book came out there was not a single Department or Ministry of Environment in any government on the planet. Rachel Carson put the environment on the agenda around the world.

As I was swept up in the movement, along with millions of others around the world, I felt that human beings were removing too much from the environment, and returning too much waste and toxic material back into it. At that time the solution was to create an infrastructure of government departments of the environment, to enforce laws to protect endangered species and regulate the quality of air and water. But by the early 1970s I realised it would not work this way because we do not know enough to be able to regulate new technologies as they develop.

Let me give you a couple of examples. DDT had been synthesised in the 1800s but it wasn’t until the 1930s that Paul Müller showed that DDT kills insects and could solve a lot of problems. This seemed a way to control pests that had plagued humankind while offering corporations an opportunity to make money. Müller won a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1948. Then in the 1950s birdwatchers observed that predatory birds in particular were in decline and biologists discovered a phenomenon which we did not even know existed bio-magnification. They found that DDT sprayed in concentrations of parts per millions is absorbed by micro-organisms that are not killed by it. Instead, it is concentrated so that at each trophic level up the food chain, DDT concentration is amplified. Eventually, in the fatty tissue in shell glands of birds and the mammary glands of mammals the DDT can become concentrated tens of thousands of times.

Looking back, could we have avoided DDT damage with regulations? When DDT began to be used, the phenomenon of bio-magnification was not even known to exist. We only discovered it when eagles began to disappear and scientists tracked it down. The same happened with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs seemed to be a wonderful invention large ring molecules with chlorine atoms attached. Chlorine is a highly reactive element but it becomes inert when part of these ring molecules. Why does that matter? Well, CFCs seem to be a perfect additive to spray cans. If you are going to put, say, deodorant in spray cans you do not fill the whole can with deodorant, you do not need that much. You just put a little bit at the bottom and add a propellant. But if you put air in, the oxygen is highly reactive and breaks down the deodorant. CFCs, however, are big molecules and they are chemically inert. So we began to use CFCs by the millions and millions of pounds. Only years later did scientists discover that CFCs persist in the environment and in the upper atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation from the sun breaks chlorine atoms off the CFCs and the chlorine free radicals react with ozone and break it down. When scientists announced this, I had not even realised that there was an ozone layer up there to break down. How could we have managed CFCs when we did not have any idea what their effect would be in the environment?

Something similar happened with nuclear power. When the atom bombs were dropped over Japan in 1945, scientists did not even know the existence of radioactive fallout. They did not know about electromagnetic pulses of gamma rays that knock out electrical circuits; neither did we know of the risk of nuclear winter. How could we manage these technologies when we are so ignorant of the way the world works?

I am a geneticist by training, and history indicates we are in for similar surprises with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We are now manipulating the very blueprint of life, creating organisms that have never existed before. Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long term effect will be. Europeans have been much more conservative about allowing GMOs into their countries. When I come to Europe, environmentalists tell me they are watching Canadians, who have been doing a huge experiment by eating it for over 5 years!

So for me as a scientist it was a real dilemma. We often see unpredictable environmental impacts arising from our use of science and technology. How can we manage the impact of these new powers when we are so ignorant about the world around us?

READ ON AT http://www.westender.com.au/stories.php?s_id=867


2.The campaign against Rachel Carson
How they tried to silence Silent Spring
[multiple extracts]

Silent Spring [was] serialized in the New Yorker in June 1962... Even before publication, Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a 'hysterical woman' unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid - indeed, the whole chemical industry - duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media... In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protest to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness. - Time Magazine names Rachel Carson among top 100 scientists and thinkers. http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/carson03.html


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