The garden of Eden and GE - or is it GM?
In recent months around our country of New Zealand big green
signs appeared in paddocks and on front lawns thrusting the Green party election
slogan, "Keep it in the Lab".
The New Zealand elections came and went -– the Greens did
not get the results they were chasing, but they certainly raised the profile of
the GE abbreviation. The problem being, most people have an opinion about it,
but Mr and Mrs A (for Average) Kiwi have little idea as to what GE or GM are.
I ask people to explain to me what either abbreviated term
means -– people know the title, but little about definition.
A report taken from The New Zealand Herald, 'A
voters guide' 5 July 2002 helps us to define the topic.
"What is genetic modification (GM) and how does it differ
from genetic engineering (GE)?
GM was defined by last year's Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification as "the deletion, changing or moving of genes within an
organism, the transfer of genes from one organism to another, the modification
of existing genes or the construction of new genes and their incorporation into
There is effectively no difference between GM and GE.
Opponents like to say engineering, which has sinister implications, and
supporters choose modification, which sounds slightly more reassuring..."
So, for starters they are one and the same thing.
What about the ethics of fiddling with the original 'Gods
creation'? Some would argue that 'dominion over the creatures, indeed
over every living thing' was given to man back in the garden of Eden according
to Genesis 1:26-31. No one would argue that from that day (day 6) things have
really changed. After the fall, God stopped walking visibly with his creation,
and there has certainly been some creature deterioration over the years.
Manipulation, or modification, of genes has of course been
happening for many years down on the farm. Animal breeders began deliberately
setting up gene modifications from dogs and cats to 'pretty well everything'.
When Mr Bull was no longer required to visit Mrs Cow, and a little van of test
tubes made its way through the front gate of most farms on an annual basis, we
began seeing very consistent breeds of cattle appearing -– some yielding
greater milk output, some with higher milk fat content, some with greater meat
density, some better for wet conditions, some better for dry. Most people are
content with this level of gene manipulation, but when we get wind of the fine
print details, many begin to squirm. The bottom line is, we were indeed given
dominion over the creation. God gave that dominion.
Even arranged marriages have gene implications, intermarrying
between races and choosing the number of children within a family -– all gene
manipulations or engineering.
Politically in New Zealand, other than the Green party
who are environmentally focussed (and very sensitive), and have a clear
anti-GE/GM voice, all other political parties are open to GE/GM, each displaying
varying degrees of caution. The truth is that all of them will jump in the
direction of whatever is politically prudent at the time -– the moral questions
do not hold much bearing! All of the parties (including the Greens) are happy
for GM to proceed in the laboratory -– but under strict controls (varying
degrees of strict controls -– from keeping the door closed on a windy day, to
special handling and disposal of contaminated waste). The debate really begins
over 'the types of modification' being carried out - including human
medicines created from mixed animal and human genes (multiple sclerosis
research) and 'doctored animal feed being fed to doctored animals'. Are we
going to end up with weird and wonderful looking (and acting) creatures who
mutate out of control. The simple answer is that the research is taking place in
very controlled environments, by very clever people. But how clever? Risk of
contamination does exist! There are clever people in Great Britain and other
European nations too -– but somehow contamination spread through Europe like
wildfire, affecting the mental health of the bovine population, at a cost of
billions. Some believe the mad cow phenomenon was a red herring (gene?) that the
EU set up, in order to create a 'controlled balance of interdependence'
between the global (EU world) farming communities.
The 1999 new breed of potato 'carrying toad genes' really
got the debate underway in New Zealand. In reality, we should have been making a
noise way back in the early 70's (1987 in Australia) when the 'Plant Variety
Rights' (PVR) and 'Plant Breeders Rights' (PBR) bills were passed in our
Parliament -– meaning, amongst other 'food control' measures, seeds had
been manipulated and would no longer reproduce after their own kind, having been
made sterile. The Government pitch was of course efficiency: better
yields, bigger vegetables and fruit, better resistance to disease -– in effect
they are quite right. But it also meant that 'independent people were now made
dependant on seed merchants -– and thus on Government control year after year'.
Few would argue that the benefits of PVR and PBR have been many.
But what did God intend? Genesis 1:11 "And God said, Let
the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding
fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth, and it was
The bottom line is that if we could trust Governments
to represent our best interests -– the majority of us would probably be secure
in their motivation for scientific research -– and even control. But our trust
would be misplaced in a world where bottom line dollar and control rules -– and
when dollars rule, evil (misfortune; things going wrong; the negative results of
sin) is the fruit.
Can NZ genetically create utopia?
The Press, 10 August 2002, "NZ can never be 100%
It is considered that we (New Zealand) could be the
GE-free capital of the world supplying 100 per cent GE-free products and
capturing premium export dollars from an elite, wealthy market.
Is a GE-free New Zealand realistic for an economy based on
Genetic purity during seed production is a cornerstone of
modern agriculture. A cultivar's distinctiveness, uniformity, and stability
must be established before it can be registered. International seed purity
standards establish strict management guidelines for certified seed production
and require that mixing and genetic instability of cultivars be maintained below
a set threshold.
Conventional non-GE seed producers have always recognised
that obtaining 100 per cent genetic purity is impracticable. Within
international seed certification standards, it is not uncommon to have genetic
purity levels of 98 to 99 per cent...
All our current import and export of seed is based on
acceptance of a low level of impurities (on to two seeds in every 100 seeds)...
Has this situation changed with the introduction of GE crops?
The frequency at which impure seeds can arise has not changed. What has
substantially changed is the power of detection. The development of a GE crop
means that the DNA sequence that makes up the transferred gene is fully
characterised. Consequently, highly sophisticated techniques of molecular
biology can now be used to detect very low levels of contamination (one in a
...Any improvements to further minimise the incidence of
impure seed are likely to be at least matched by enhanced sensitivity and
precision of the molecular based diagnostic tests.
Consequently the concept of 100 per cent GE-free, or
absolutely zero GE content is almost certainly unachievable...
What would be the economic impact if New Zealand was declared
100 per cent GE-free? The primary industries continue to form our economic
backbone and are part of a global market. An absolutely essential component of
the primary industries is the ongoing import (and export) of seed for our
horticultural, arable, pastoral, and forestry sectors. Given the almost
certainty of any imported seed sample having a low inherent GE impurity, New
Zealand may have to close its borders to virtually all seed imports in order to
maintain a 100 per cent GE-free status.
The only crops in which New Zealand could be considered
self-sufficient are wheat, peas, potatoes, pine trees, forage crops such as
clover, ryegrass, and brassicas, and some fruit crops such as apples and
Our economy is also highly reliant on tourism...
A tourist arriving in New Zealand may have eaten fresh GE
fruits and vegetables before departing their home country and could carry live,
viable seed which ends up in our sewage.
The same would be true for live GE vaccines. Should we hold
all travellers in specially designed hotels until they have completely passed
their gut contents or are we going to turn a blind eye to this highly effective
means of introducing live GE organisms?...
Does New Zealand have to be 100 per cent GE-free in order to
export GE-free produce to these markets? Of course not, we only have to comply
with the designated thresholds for GE content in food -– currently 1 per cent
in Europe and 5 per cent in Japan." End quote
Contradiction -– GM efficiencies?
New Zealand Herald, 18 July 2002, "GM fine for
medicines but food value doubtful -–
... The United States Department of Agriculture has concluded
that GM crops often convey no significant productivity advantage over unmodified
crops. The prospects for improved commercial returns are no better on the
According to detailed research by Professor Caroline
Saunders, New Zealand would obtain higher returns for its food exports if it
were not a GM producer than if it embraced GM agriculture. Her study across a
range of export foods showed at best minimal additional returns under GM
production, and distinct benefits under the zero or low GM option...
...71 per cent of Europeans who recorded in a European
Commission survey that they did not want to eat GM food, no matter what level of
testing had been applied...
...the European Consumers Union "is not opposed to
GMOs". But according to the EU's Minister Counsel for Agriculture and
Consumer Affairs, GM food still has a very long way to go before it is a serious
"Unless we restore EU consumer confidence in this new
technology, genetic modification of food is dead in Europe" he told an
...The council believes that, in any case, it will take at
least another five years to undertake the scientific research needed to
understand the potential effects of releasing genetically modified organisms.
A five-year moratorium on GM release will affect only a small
part of New Zealand's biological research efforts because only a very small
amount is targeted to GM release. Most of the applications for cutting-edge gene
technology simply support conventional techniques. They tend to involve gene
manipulation only inside the laboratory.
The product will have benefited from GM technology, but no
genetically modified organism capable of reproducing itself ever leaves the lab..."
We are what we eat -– oh no?
And if the call to "Keep it in the lab" is to be taken
seriously, why bother starting? The truth is, no one knows the long term effects
of this research -– we haven't been doing it long enough to know. We do know
that the Bible tells us that in the last days there will be famines and
pestilence, fear and perplexity - it does not mention genetic engineering, or
how all of the above catastrophes and stresses will come about -– lets watch!
Apparently in New Zealand we have fairly rigorous food
standards authorities who check the quality and safety of our 'off the shelf
foods'. There is reason to doubt the standards because we don't know what
they are -– we eat 'in good faith' everyday.
I don't know - animal genes into humans and human genes
into animals -– we've been eating food with GE animals and insects mixed in
for some time. Where we develop from here will be interesting.
I don't know if it was my imagination but I did talk to a
guy last week who vaguely resembled a flounder.