Brown Stuff

Jim heartfield jim at
Wed Aug 18 03:19:39 PDT 1999

In message <199908180456.NAA19394 at>, Brian Small <bjsmalld at> writes

> I do see the GM issue as mostly political.

I agree it has been politicised by self-appointed 'activists' who despise the mass of ordinary people as much as they do the patient and deliberate work of the scientists.

The precautionary principle (Vorsorgenprinzip) that was developed in the 1970s by the West German govt. is, as its name suggests a profoundly conservative approach that, if observed to any meaningful degree would lead to the closure of laboratories, universities and libraries all over the world. It would render scientific research and the development of new technologies impossible.

> "1. People have a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent
>harm. (As one participant at the Wingspread meeting summarized the
>essence of the precautionary principle, "If you have a reasonable
>suspicion that something bad might be going to happen, you have an
>obligation to try to stop it.")

This is a perfect warrant for any lunatic to break the law in the name of whatever cause they like. Take the Unabomber. Didn't he have a 'reasonable suspicion that something bad might be going to happen'? What about Hitler's Kapp Putchists. Didn't they have a reasonable suspicion that the German government had sold out to the allies? Did they have an obligation to try to stop it?

By making personal conviction the warrant for action, this precautionary principle is a license for any terroristic action. And like all terrorism, it arises from the terrorists failure to win support for his cause from the populace. If I suspect that Greenpeace are going to destroy test sites in Norfolk, don't I then have a duty to blow up their offices? No of course not, because most people understand that if I want to demonstrate against Greenpeace, then I should do it peaceably, hoping to persuade people that their cause is unjust.

> "2. The burden of proof of harmlessness of a new technology, process,
>activity, or chemical lies with the proponents, not with the general public.

This is such a shabby sleight of hand. Scientists working in the field of genetic engineering did most to create a framework of safeguards for the development of GE (see Ravetz and Fincham Genetically Engineered ORganisms: Benefits and Risks, Toronto U Press, 1991). Ecological activists (who imaginatively transmute themselves into the public in this quote) by contrast have done nothing whatsoever to advance the science of genetics one iota, still less to assist the development of proper safeguards.

But more importantly, the meaning of this principle is that science should be burdened with an impossible task, that it should provide proofs beyond all doubt. But proofs beyond all doubt belong to the realm of religious metaphysics, not science. Science, in its nature considers all findings as provisional, open to further elucidation and development. When you say to a scientist can you be absolutely sure, he is bound to say, no, there is always the possibility that there are factors we have not considered. (No such obligation of course imposes itself upon environmentalists, who feel that they are more qualified to say definitive things the less they know.)

If the precautionary principle had been in place there would have been no penicillin, no smallpox vaccination, no heart transplants, no green revolution, no steam engines, no electricity, no space travel, nor even manned flight.

> Maybe Jim Heartfield sees GM opposition as a knee-jerk reaction
>against science. I see a lot of it as opposition to large corporate
>power that deserves at least a nod of approval if not more substantial

There has always been a romantic opposition to large scale industry, whose substantial motivation was not opposition to Capitalism as a system, but only a reaction to the features associated with capitalism, such as industrial growth, and in particular the growth of the working class. To my mind the environmental movement is a petit bourgeois reaction to industrial growth. It's hostility to mass products is a disguised hostility to the masses.
>I thought the terminator gene was developed by a small company with lots
>of tax-payer money and then that company was bought by Monsanto. Was the
>technology patented after Monsanto bought out the company that did the
>original research? Where do you get your facts about Genetic Engineeering
>that give you so much confidence?

It was in an article by John Vidal, environmental correspondent of the Guardian newspaper, in a big (hostile) feature about Monsanto in India, a couple of months ago.

>This attitude along with the FDA "smear" information should be cause for

It might well be a cause for concern about the ethics of the FDA (though, the case is far from proven. Where else would the FDA recruit officials to look at these products?) But one thing is for sure. It tells us nothing either way about the safety or not of GM food. In fact, it seems to me that the whole story has been blown up by the environmentalists as a pre-emptive strike against the FDA because they fear the outcome of its deliberations. A fairly obvious spin, if you ask me: smear the committee before its publishes its findings!

> The potential for GM danger made me nervous to just let
>organizations whose only concern is profit, to go and do whatever the
>hell they want with it. Not that I've done anything but become a member
>of Japan's A Seed. Thanks to whoever it was that posted the list of
>organizations concerned about the WTO.

It seems irrational to me to fixate on this one technology. Organic farmers (like Lord Melchett) are capitalists. Organic farming is disproportionately responsible for deadly E Coli outbreaks. Why aren't Greenpeace destroying Lord Melchett's Organic Farm if they are concerned with public health (apart from the obvious fact that Lord Melchett is head of Greenpeace)? Of course capitalist are capable of many things. But their is nothing whatsoever that is intrinsically more dangerous about GM technology than any other.

>" In any case, it is crystal clear that genetically-engineered
>products need extensive testing before their effects can be understood.
>The simple view, that genes control only one characteristic of a
>bacterium, plant or animal has been shown to be false. Genes contain a
>potential that can be expressed in various ways, depending upon the
>environment in which the gene grows. Thus a gene may develop in one way
>in one environment and another way in another environment. Testing in
>one environment may not reveal what the gene will do when it finds
>itself in another environment. This has been demonstrated elegantly by

Everyone in the industry understands that the genetic code is complex, not linear in its effects. That's why products are tested, and bred several generations before being released.

> Just above this little snip they talk about inconclusive evidence that

Oh yes, inconclusive evidence. -- Jim heartfield

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