- Hello Jeff,
- When I read the following I thought about a local talk
show host's favorite expression in cases like this: "It's sick out
there and getting sicker," quote Bob Grant.
- I am at a loss for words. This one is as good as the
- The appearance of this experiment is for the greater
good, but, when one reads between the lines, one sees that they did experiment
with turning off the gene that protects the plant from diseases. So, there
we have it, defensive, as well as OFFENSIVE research. I am quite sure
that the military would like to apply the patent to destroy enemy crops.
- Gene Scientists Switch Off Plants' Immune Systems
- By Antony Barnett - Public Affairs Editor The
Observer - London 10-9-00
- Scientists working for Swiss food giant Novartis have
developed and patented a method for 'switching off' the immune systems
of plants, to the outrage of environmentalists and Third World charities
who believe the new technology to be the most dangerous use so far of gene
- Patents filed by Novartis, manufacturers of Ovaltine,
reveal that its scientists expect to be able to use the radical biotechnology
for almost every crop on Earth.
- Novartis claims that the new use of genetic modification
will give farmers greater control over disease and boost production. But
critics insist that it will make Third World farmers dependent on buying
the company's chemicals each year to produce healthy harvests.
- A spokeswoman for Novartis said: 'We are trying to help
farmers, not hinder them. We are looking at ways to improve the way plants
- She agreed that the company had discovered a way of genetically
modifying crops so that their immune systems were disabled, but stressed
that this was for 'research purposes' only.
- The process involves transferring a single DNA molecule,
described by the firm as the 'NIM gene', to the plant. This gene then reacts
with the plant's immune system, allowing it to be switched on selectively
by the use of chemicals when disease threatens. But the patent also describes
plants where the entire immune system has been switched off, making them
highly prone to disease.
- Environmentalists fear the new technology could have
a disastrous ecological impact if crops with their immune systems suppressed
are allowed to cross-pollinate with surrounding plant life. The use of
GM technology, which uses chemicals to activate genetic traits, was specifically
condemned by the UN earlier this year. It recommended that the technology
should not be field-tested and called for a moratorium on its development
until the impact had been fully assessed.
- The patent documents seen by The Observer suggest that
Novartis intends to use the new GM technology on 'barley, cucumber, tobacco,
rice, chilli, wheat, banana and tomato'.
- The company cites an extensive list of more than 80 crops,
including several cereals, dozens of fruit such as apples, pears and strawberries,
vegetables like beans and lentils, and cash crops like cotton and tea.
- Alex Wijeratna of Action Aid, a development charity that
works with farmers in developing countries, said: 'We find it extremely
frightening that such a powerful multi-national is working on this type
of technology, which seems aimed at protecting their profits by threatening
the rights of poor farmers.'
- Dr Sue Mayer, director of Gene Watch, said: 'These companies
should halt development of these potentially dangerous products until there
has been a proper assessment of whether they are good for agriculture.'
- On Wednesday, the shareholders of Novartis and biotechnology
giant Astra Zeneca will vote on whether to merge and create the world's
largest GM company.
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