jueves, febrero 07, 2008

UK Chief Scientist gets his GM facts wrong


(From GM Watch)

Professor David King has appeared in the UK Media on several occasions recently putting forward the view that genetically modified crops are essential tools to tackle future population-driven food shortages, as well as misrepresenting the potential benefits of GM crops. On the BBC's Today Programme on 27 November he cited a number of examples:

-Plant pheromones used to attract pests away from maize crops on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya;

-Removal of food allergies, for example gluten from wheat; and

-The development of drought tolerant crops.

Unfortunately for Professor King, all of these proved to be poor examples to use.

-The project by Lake Victoria is not in fact a GM crop at all but a trial in companion planting.

-The removal of gluten from wheat would render it very poor for bread making, and sufferers of gluten allergies would still have to be very careful to avoid the non-GM wheat that would still be on the market. The Government's GM Science review, which Professor King chaired, was realistic about the chances of reducing the risks to people who are allergic to peanuts: 'Efforts to remove the allergen from peanuts would be beneficial to a substantial fraction of the population whose sensitivity to the protein can expose them to life threatening situations and work to this end is underway (Bannon et al.2001). Although this would be beneficial, it is not simple to achieve. Peanut contains potentially more than 20 allergenic proteins. The removal of one or two of them are unlikely to make the peanut safe to eat for all peanut allergy sufferers.'

See: www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/report/pdf/gmsci-report1-pt3.pdf

In addition, people would have to be very wary about non-GM allergenic peanuts that would still be on the market.

-Professor King was also guilty of exaggerating the progress made in developing GM drought tolerant crops, which is proving difficult. Professor King's optimism is not shared by Professor Ossama El-Tayeb, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Cairo:

'I read with interest and respect Friderike Oehler's message (nr. 56) and fully appreciate her concerns and am similarly convinced of the potential of 'alternatives'. I wish to add that transgenicity for drought tolerance and other environmental stresses (or, for that matter, biological nitrogen fixation) are too complex to be attainable in the foreseeable future, taking into consideration our extremely limited knowledge of biological systems and how genetic/metabolic functions operate. Those who propagate the ideas that any biological function could be genetically manipulated are optimists who are probably victims of a consortium of 'arrogant' scientists and greedy business who have strong control on policy making and the media.

Having said that, I feel we should not lose hope of reaching such noble goals and should continue to fund such research whose fruits may be reaped by a future generation. These goals have been used by the proponents of currently available genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the control of big business, who propose that GM crops will alleviate poverty soon while in fact currently available ones mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market. The holders of intellectual property rights for present day GM crops keep teasing us about the potential of GMOs resistant to abiotic stresses and the like while doing nothing about developing such crops for this generation. These are simply not easily exploitable in a business market and are accordingly not on their agenda. Basic research in this area is being funded almost exclusively by public funds.'

See: www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C14/280307.htm