The following letter is responding to an attack made on the scientist, Dr Elvira Dommisse, by Dr Tony Conner of New Zealand's Crop and Food Research institute.
In his attack, Dr Conner castigates Dr Dommisse as "oblivious to a basic understanding of scientific methodology, plant genetics and plant breeding." This seems curious as Dr Dommisse is herself a former GM researcher - a fact Dr Conner is hardly unlikely to be unaware of as Dr Dommisse did her GM research at Crop & Food Research, the very institute where Dr Conner works.
In a recent review of Prof Guy Cook's book 'Genetically Modified Language' we noted the pattern of attack on scientists who raise questions about genetic engineering:
"The language of attack... is clearly intended to exclude the offending scientists from the category of those capable of impartial and rational assessment of scientific evidence, and to relocate them in the category of pseudo-science and irrational opposition. This serves both to scapegoat the scientists concerned and to remove the need to deal with them and their findings on equal terms."
The letter below points to further examples of this same patern. No wonder the author, Dr Robert Mann comments:
"If gene-tampering were so scientifically sound as claimed by its promotors such as Dr Tony Conner... wouldn't a more accurate and well-mannered style be forthcoming from them? Instead, the letters you print from enthusiasts for genetic manipulation are usually intemperate raves, often on the level of mere personal insults."
NZ FARMERS WEEKLY
If gene-tampering were so scientifically sound as claimed by its promotors such as Dr Tony Conner (22 Feb), wouldn't a more accurate and well-mannered style be forthcoming from them? Instead, the letters you print from enthusiasts for genetic manipulation are usually intemperate raves, often on the level of mere personal insults.
Conner asserts that the former-CRI scientist he attacks, Elvira Dommisse (who, he fails to mention, holds a doctorate as does he) is "oblivious to a basic understanding of scientific methodology, plant genetics and plant breeding". He offers no evidence in support of this insult, yet you print this rant which is arguably libellous and certainly untrue.
As the senior NZ scientist critical of GM - ever since the technology was invented in the mid-1970s - I have been struck all along at the rabid, raving quality of promotion (first by the long-forgotten Bill Sutton MP). The NZ Association of Scientists, on the other hand, advocated from 1977 that GM experiments should be deferred pending a full public inquiry (such as had just successfully examined nuclear power).
Scarcely any tests have been performed to look for possible harm from GM-food. Methods were being developed for this purpose in the late 1990s by Drs Ewen & Pusztai at the Rowett Institute, Aberdeen. Pusztai is one of the world's leading experts in testing food for toxicity. In a particular GM-potato derived by the University of Durham from Desiree, harm was caused to rats eating either cooked or raw GM-potato.
Conner says the Pusztai experiments have been "discredited by the scientific community". An ordinary farmer would not know, upon seeing this allegation, that it is grossly misleading. The results were published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal. No attempt at repeating or developing this line of research has been made. To say that this key work has been discredited is false & misleading.
I know it is hard to believe that the key USA authorities simply declared "substantially equivalent" GM-soy, GM-rape and the few other mutants that have been permitted for commercial deployment. Almost all the relevant testing has been sidestepped, and those few scientists that have been funded to begin testing have been vilified & purged if they report adverse effects (notably Ewen & Pusztai).
The truth on actual maimings & killings of humans by one material purified from GMOs remains largely suppressed but can be glimpsed at www.connectotel.com/gmfood/trypto.html.
As it happens, Conner has persistently misrepresented these important facts. Main reliable sources on GM include www.psrast.org and www.ucsusa.org.
I think farmers will smell a rat when a technology that has swallowed hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies in our little country alone, and yet after many years failed to deliver any significant payoff, is defended by such methods as Conner's against scientifically-based criticism.
This man Conner has gone on TV several times with crude falsehoods. "We only insert one gene", he has repeatedly stated when he knows this is seriously untrue.
Truly, the devil is in the detail of each gene-tampered crop because it contains an array of synthetic and natural genes needed to make a synthetic transgene work. It is important to spread the word that each GM crop is more than than a crop with "a" transgene.
And most fundamentally, the main general objection to GM-crops is that the foreign genes are inserted by radically novel methods which will disrupt the target genome in unforeseeable ways. The variety of insertional mutations thus created, most of them lethal, is deceitfully likened by Conner to cross-breeding. There is little or no similarity in the processes, and the results of gene-tampering remain largely unknown.
It is reckless gambling to feed humans on the untested mutants that survive these radical processes.
Robert Mann M.Sc Ph.D
sometime Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry
University of Auckland