Dr Henry Miller likes to maintain that gene-splicing is very precise and that as a result GM foods require more or less no regulation. Somebody with such bizarre and extreme views was, naturally, at one time in charge of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA.
Here a number of Canadian academics take issue with a recent Miller article in which he claimed there was no reason for conmcern over Starlink. They comment:
"The claim that "Gene-splicing is more precise ... and predictable" is -- there is no delicate way to put this -- a lie. The vast majority of such splices are non-viable specifically because gene-insertion is done randomly. In natural plant reproduction and conventional breeding, genomic command and control systems are non-linear and have been developed over long periods of natural selection. They may not be perfect even in the given environment, but the likelihood that a random gene insertion will improve things is infinitesimally small."
Re: The Monumental Hoax Behind the StarLink Scare
National Post, Jan 6 2001
This is the sort of diatribe one has come to expect from the Canadian Government and/or the captains of industry -- the two are indistinguishable on the topic of biotechnology. Since Dr. Miller has addressed this issue from a position of advocacy he has voluntarily surrendered his scientific credibility.
He makes the assertion that "Scientists worldwide agree that adding genes to plants does not make them less safe ...", apparently in the hope that it will be interpreted as unanimous agreement with the claim. He conveniently ignores the fact that a large and growing body of scientists (worldwide) assuredly do not agree. A case in point is the recently concluded E.U.-U.S. Biosafety Consultative Forum which clearly stressed the need for more and better testing before these transgenic abominations even be considered for release on the public.
He tries to divert attention by claiming that since there are many foods freely available that are known to be dangerous to some -- peanuts, fava beans -- that the danger from the StarLink protein Cry9C is overstated and should be dismissed. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, one can choose not to eat peanuts, but, without labeling, cannot make such a choice for Cry9C. Also the familiar homily that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" applies here in spades -- the necessary testing for the safety of Cry9C simply has not been done.
The claim that "Gene-splicing is more precise ... and predictable" is -- there is no delicate way to put this -- a lie. The vast majority of such splices are non-viable specifically because gene-insertion is done randomly. In natural plant reproduction and conventional breeding, genomic command and control systems are non-linear and have been developed over long periods of natural selection. They may not be perfect even in the given environment, but the likelihood that a random gene insertion will improve things is infinitesimally small.
He claims that the (promised) reduction in pesticide use means that biotech is environmentally friendly. The evidence for this is at best equivocal at the present, but the claim will almost certainly be false in the near future as the corn-borer develops resistance to Bt. The only solution to this offered by the biotech industry is the refuge concept -- a swath of non-modified corn is planted so that some corn-borers do not become resistant and they then breed with the resistant ones. This has been shown to be wishful thinking.
Some other things not mentioned: 1) the growing concern about the cauliflower mosaic virus used routinely as a promoter to cause the new gene to switch on, 2) the production of virtually indestructible weeds such as triply resistant canola.
He did not get around to claiming that GM foods will grow hair, but, according to him, just about every other problem of universal concern will be solved if only biotech is allowed to flourish. Obviously this zealous hyperbole is a smokescreen to cover his failure to address a central issue raised by the StarLink fiasco, namely the unworkability of the monitoring system and the inability to segregate the good from the contaminated produce.
Braxton M. Alfred, PhD., Vancouver; B.R. Christie, PhD., Charlottetown; R.M. Beames, PhD., Vancouver; E. Ann Clark, PhD., University of Guelph; Hugh Lehman, PhD., University of Guelph (Ret).