Friday, July 01, 2005

Here we go again

Just when the Greens were doing well, they have to go and open their mouths about GE again, reacting hysterically to a plan by AgResearch to pharm human lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is an anti-microbial agent. It's an important part of the body's defences against bacterial invasion, and found in saliva and tears. It has various medical uses, notably in boosting the immune system, promoting bone growth, and possible reducing the size of some cancerous tumours. Cows produce lactoferrin in their milk, but a slightly different version; AgResearch's plan is to tweak a small herd of cows to produce the human version instead, then extract and purify it.

Jeanette Fitsimons' main issue is the spectre of GE milk entering the food chain, and safety. But as I understand it lactoferrin is extracted from whey protein. This alone means that the public will not be seeing GE milk turn up on their supermarket shelves - but I guess mentioning that fact would reduce Fitzsimons' ability to scaremonger. She's also concerned about the prospect of widespread GE release - but these are animals, not plants, we are talking about. Their movements and breeding can therefore be easily controlled, and AgResearch plans to do so (the intellectual property alone gives them serious reasons for doing this). Finally, there's "safety" - but lactoferrin is an ordinary human protein which we ingest every single time we swallow. The fact that it was made in a cow doesn't change that in the slightest. What matters about chemicals (and that is all lactoferrin is - a chemical) is what they are, not where or how they were made.

So, this use of GE technology isn't going to enter the food chain, isn't going to spread, and doesn't pose any safety risks, so why oppose it? The underlying reason seems to be a fear of spiritual pollution. But as someone born in the twentieth century, that's just not something I can take seriously.


It can hardly be described as "reacting hysterically" In fact the press release you point to is made up mostly of calm and valid questions, that reflect a big picture outlook from the Greens. As the PR points out, this research flies in the face of the royal commission and as far as you're concerned this apparently means zip, because, well, presumably you know better.

There's quite a long history of people shouting others down with accusations of hysteria when it comes to what science we implement as a society, often with catastrophic results. I list a lot of them in this piece I wrote back in 2000.

Posted by Christiaan : 7/02/2005 08:23:00 AM

I think you are absolutely right on this. There clearly is an anti-science bias to a lot of what the Greens push. It is not a question of whether valid questions are being asked as Christiaan says. It's an issue that the valid answers are being ignored for ideological reasons. Also glad to see the Iraq body count listed on your site. We use the same blog host but I haven't figured out how to add such things as that to get them in the right spot. I'd like to have something like that on Iraq as people have become complacent about it and it's an important issue.

Posted by no god zone : 7/02/2005 09:00:00 AM

Aye, the anti-rational face of the Greens is what puts me off voting for them.

They start with science-based argument, but they accept no refutation, ultimately falling back on "it's YUKKY!"

Posted by stephen : 7/02/2005 11:53:00 AM

Good blog, man every time I see the Greens getting excited over science i get ready for some cheap laughs. What will they find to freak over next? I mean Insulin is make using GM processes. If we are to help people with science, then we need to do the research. Its surely much better to try and fail than not to try at all. I'll risk the chance of GM "contamination" (big scary word isnt it)if it means that lives can be saved or perhaps the quality of life for people can be improved. Or maybe i'll just take some gingseng root, do some meditation and hope for the best.

Posted by T : 7/02/2005 12:01:00 PM

When you get down to brass tacks, the basis of Green philosophy is a Tolkienesque reactionary luddism.

The Greens posit an idealised Gaia that is instantly recognisable to anyone who watches Star Trek, and based on the same sort of wishful thinking and made-up science.

That is why they are NOT left and are NOT easy bedfellows for a leftish government.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/02/2005 02:19:00 PM

You can't say they're not Left.

Aside from their genaral luddism their anti-science tendancies are also influenced by their anti-capitalist tendancies. Just mention Monsanto in front of a Green Party member and it's very difficult to tell where the fear o science ends and the fear of corporations begins.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/02/2005 05:18:00 PM

The Greens love science and particularly public good science, which is what we used to have in NZ before it was sacrificed for the profit motive. They just think that science that has the potential for serious harm should be well tested rather then pushed on humanity without testing to make someone rich. There's definately a fear of corporate capitalism in the Greens which is pretty reasonable given the rapaciousness of corporates like Monsanto and the scientific fraud they are pushing with GE.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/02/2005 10:02:00 PM

Lots of scientists are wary of releasing GE outside of the lab. Prof Garth Cooper of the Sustainability Council is just one example. Lots of Greens are into science in a big way but think that science needs to be controlled by society to make sure that it doesn't damage society or the environment.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/03/2005 12:59:00 AM

I think it's a bit silly of the Greens - producing a pharmaceutical under controlled conditions is very different to stuffing unlabelled GE soya into the food chain. I can't see what the problem is with the milk - they could presumably burn it (or dump it in the Waikato :-)

Given the amount of stupidity that comes from other parties it isn't going to stop me voting Green however - after all Labour still contains John Tamihere...

Posted by Rich : 7/04/2005 09:55:00 AM

Why do some consistently label the Greens as "anti-science" or "Luddite"? The Greens have an extensive Research, Science and Technology policy. Its Vision statement commences: "For the Greens, the role of science is to improve the quality of our lives and to sustain and replenish the web of life, of which we are a part and on which our quality of life depends. It should aim to protect both the common good and the environment, be ethically based and emphasise the precautionary principle. Research and science are tools that should be used for developing our nation in sustainable ways. The nature of our economic and social development is closely linked to investment in research". Hardly, Luddite, imo.

Jeanette is asking some valid questions in terms of the precautionary principle. But many of us would like to hear some detailed answers to her questions from the proponents of the project first; rather than just accept crude assurances that the risk of environmental / food chain contamination from this project is minimal.

Posted by greenfrogred : 7/04/2005 11:05:00 AM

The Greens are oddly schizophrenic on science.

On one hand they've got a lot of good, hard-headed scientific background and ideas. Look at Global Warming.

On the other they come up with the oddest anti-science paranoia, eg with regards to the Meningitis vaccine.

On GE it seems that their problem is attemting to be overly simplistic: _some_ GE is very dangerous, _some_ GE is not. But simple slogans work in politics: and so they've oversimplified.

Posted by Icehawk : 7/04/2005 12:18:00 PM

I presume icehawk's comment "On the other they come up with the oddest anti-science paranoia, eg with regards to the Meningitis vaccine"relates to this media release from Sue Kedgley Lack of vaccine testing raises concerns. All Sue K was saying is that phase three clinical trials are accepted scientific practice to ensure the safety and efficacy of a new medicine, and the fact that they had not been carried out in the case of the meningococcal vaccine raises some concerns. Nothing anti-science and no paranoia here - in fact she was just reinforcing the need for what is accepted scientific practice for the release of a new medicine.

Posted by greenfrogred : 7/05/2005 12:19:00 PM

The funniest thing about all of this discussion is that the GREENS in fact are the only pro science party in new zealand. They recognise the difference between science and product development. The GREENS are not anti science at all they just believe that science is a public resource and should be used as such. Random destructive bombardment of DNA and then selecting those results that are not immediatly obviously broken for commercial gain is NOT a science.

Posted by Fred : 7/05/2005 05:01:00 PM

Greenfrogred: while I agree with the precautionary principle, it's very difficult to see the sort of overwhelming threat here which would justify its invocation. There's far less risk of GE material spreading in an uncontrolled fashion from animals than there is with plants - especially if those animals are properly contained and their breeding is controlled.

I don't think there's really any question of safety with the product, or with the byproducts of the filtration process. Just to stress this again, this is not a "dangerous toxin" they will be putting in milk - it's an ordinary human protein that is in your mouth right now, a cow-version of which is in milk anyway. The milk is no more dangerous than any ordinary cows milk. The only concern is the yuk-factor from people who can't stomach the idea that something might have been near a GE cow once, and that is easily resolved through downstream labelling.

Icehawk: at least they don't talk about the fiendish flouridation plot like the Democrats do.

Fred: This is not about "random destructive bombardment of DNA" to see what happens, it is about splicing a specific human gene into a cow. You may disagree with the reasons for doing this - profit rather than pure abstract knowledge - but that doesn't mean its not science.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/06/2005 01:47:00 AM

Fred said:
Random destructive bombardment of DNA and then selecting those results that are not immediatly obviously broken for commercial gain is NOT a science.

Alot of scientific practices are based on random behaviour. We will never have 100% knowledge of the universe so any observation or prediction will always have some amount of stochasticity. Having said that, their is alot of power behind random processes.

Creating new DNA strains and inserting DNA is often based on probabilities and deductions. That's just the way it is. The technologies are slowly getting more precise and eventually nanotech will allow us to do fine scale adjustment.

Posted by Ferrouswheel : 7/07/2005 10:33:00 AM

Ay Karumba. History is full of examples of people believing they knew it all, taking risks, and inconveniencing heaps of other people when - lo and behold! - history showed they got it wrong.

I don't much give a toss about whether science proves anything in this regard. Face it: the overwhelming majority of what passes for science only proves what is on the agenda of the commercial interests that push it. I simply refuse to take their risks. When they convince me - with fact, not PR - that there is actually any benefit in it for me - not just for their wallets - then I might start listening. Until then, bend over and I'll show you where you can stick GE.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/07/2005 03:24:00 PM


Well obviously you are not interested in actually rationally discussing it from your last comment. You are also self-centred because a technology must directly benefit *you*. I take it that your view is that if you have nothing to gain from something then it shouldn't be done?

History is full of mistakes. But more mistakes and misery were made be those instititions that prevented the progress of science.

Posted by Ferrouswheel : 7/07/2005 03:43:00 PM

Hmm. Fascinating to see the emotions criticism and defense of science invokes.
Is science the new religion..?

Posted by Huskynut : 7/07/2005 04:52:00 PM

no - but anti-science may be.

The thing about science is that you cant stand in its way anyway.

You can refuse to use GE but as long as someone does it somwhere you will either find yourself totaly unable to surive economically in competition with it - or you won't be able to stop it permiating your country.

Imagine if the NZ govt outlawed the use of evil electricity. it would fail and hte attempt would simultaniously criple the economy - and electricity is less significant than GE.


Posted by Anonymous : 7/07/2005 08:08:00 PM

AgResearch's plan to grow GE Cows for pharmaceutical is totally contrary to the findings of the Royal Commission on GM that our dairy herd should not be used like this. The whole idea is unacceptable in the light of the national debate on the GE issue and how the technology should be used in ways that reflect the nation's values and ethics. It endangers our marketing reputation and record of scientific excellence that New Zealand has built up over years. To date there has been no data peer reviewed and published understanding why the AgResearch human gene in cow experiment for Multiple sclerosis Myelin Basic Protein (MBP), Lactoglubulin minus and PPL GE Cystic fibrosis human alpha anti–trypsin (hAAT) sheep failed.The cruel factory pharming of GE cows to produce a product that can already be naturally isolated from cows milk whey is outrageous and our farmers already a lucrative market selling the natural version.

There is also a financial cloud over the company involved that could leave New Zealand exposed to huge costs if this- like previous ventures-ends in bankruptcy.

The deal is reported to involve a Dutch company that bought some of the Intellectual Property rights off now-bankrupt from PPL who ran thousands of GE sheep in the North Island until the company collapsed. Under existing law PPL's bankruptcy has left the New Zealand public to pay for any clean-up of land contaminated by the PPL sheep. The land remains untested despite concerns that genetic material remains and could negatively impact future use. Pharming NV is reported to have filed for voluntarily receivership in 2001 due to patent violations. After a settlement was made it has been trading out of receivership.

What happens if the history of bankruptcy is repeated ?: the taxpayer carries the costs of damage.

Not to forget that he last time an untested GE supplement was put on the market and caused problems 36 people died and 1500 were permanently disabled. It cost the company involved billions of dollars in payouts to victims who had consumed their brand of GE L-tryptophan and developed eosinophylia myalgic syndrome.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/10/2005 11:28:00 AM

It would seem that was the result of a process short cut - so the problem was not GE or testing if GE but instead changing the process something that could occur with any drug or chemical manufacture system.

Posted by Genius : 7/23/2006 07:05:00 PM