ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

8 May 2002


"Pence cannot be dismissed as [a] crank or Monsanto lobbyist. His credentials and intellectual rigour are such that while many might disagree with his views, or squirm in discomfort at this attack on their ethical position, he cannot be ignored."
- Peter Marsh

The first item below is a eulogy to Gregory Pence from Peter Marsh of the SIRC - an organisation advised by Baroness Susan Greenfield of the Science Media Centre, but which according to PR WATCH is an industry PR front group (for more on the SIRC and its close relations with Sir John Krebs, the Royal Society and others, see:

Pence, a professor of philosphy at the University of Alabama, is among the media contacts listed by CS Prakash on his AgBioWorld website. Prakash gives Pence's 'Areas of expertise' as: 'Bioethics, GM food ethics, Ecofascism, Cloning, etc.'

According to the second article below Pence has undergone something of a Road to Damascus experience while writing his new book on GM foods: 'Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World'

Pence tells us, "Once upon a time, I thought that Greenpeace was an honorable organization, that organic food surpassed genetically-modified food in nutrition and safety, and that genetically-modified crops ­ such as Bt corn -- posed substantial risks to the environment. Two years of research changed my views, making me older and wiser."

This implies that before his "two years of research" on his latest book, "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World?", Pence held diametrically opposing views to those he now holds.

Yet in a book published back in 1998, this previous sceptic about GM foods expressed his unabashed support for the genetic modification of human beings (germline genetic engineering) and for human cloning.

In 'Who's Afraid of Human Cloning?' (New York: Roman & Littlefield), he wrote of GM humans:

"Many people love their retrievers and their sunny dispositions around children and adults. Could people be chosen in the same way? Would it be so terrible to allow parents to at least aim for a certain type, in the same way that great breeders...try to match a breed of dog to the needs
of a family?" (p. 168)

Pence's techno-enthusiasm is so extreme, in fact, that he thinks human cloning shouldn't even be regulated.  Yet we are asked to believe that he was once sceptical and cautious about GM foods. That seems about as likely as someone listed by Prakash as having had a historic focus on 'Ecofascism' having until recently "thought that Greenpeace was an honorable organization". And it inevitably raises serious questions about the basic honesty of 'the nation‚s lone philosopher on record in support of unregulated human cloning'.
from NBC report: The huckster parade

The human cloning debate resumed Wednesday in the House of Representatives, with legislators interviewing a dream team of cloning proponents: Brigitte Boisselier, the director of Clonaid, a laboratory run by a UFO cult; a scientist with no medical degree named Panos Zavos who is traveling the world in search of allies so that he can clone a human being within a year, despite the fact that he has no special qualifications to do so; and the nation’s lone philosopher on record in support of unregulated human cloning, Gregory Pence of the University of Alabama.


Ethics and ecofascism
Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World.

- Gregory E. Pence

"Members of today's Green parties in Europe seem to view their environmentalism as separate from Nazi ideology. This is a dangerous mistake."

To purchase a copy of Designer Food click here or on the graphic below.

Gregory Pence teaches bioethics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the United States, and he is no stranger to controversy. His views on human cloning, where he argued that it is wrong to rule out the potential for such procedures and portrayed opponents of cloning as 'genetic fatalists' who cannot entertain new ideas and scientific progress, made him a target for quite vitriolic censure.

His new book, Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World, will similarly upset the 'naturalists' and those who oppose even modest applications of science and technology as a means of improving the human condition. It is not so much what Pence has to say, but more the clarity with which he expresses his views - a rare and refreshing exception from the normally more cautious and hedging style of bioethicists. He simply does not mince his words. Take, for example, his analysis of one of the leading groups opposed to GM foods:

"How has Greenpeace International arrived at the morally bankrupt position that preserving plants is more important than feeding millions of starving humans? What has gone terribly wrong in the ethical footing of this elitist organization that it has slipped to this terrible place?"

Another 'heavyweight' anti-GM activist receives similarly short shrift:

"Although trained as a physicist, Vandana Shiva writes as an agricultural, Hindu theologian who wants to preserve each species as a natural kind and maintain an ancient India where 80 million cows formed the background both of the religion a farming system where women did most of the milking, feeding and recycling. But such thinking and writing distort the complicated truths about humans today. For example, I don't know any Indian girls who want to be milkmaids, but I know a lot who want to be physicians."

There is, perhaps, little that is really new in Pence's book about biotechnology itself. There is a clear, 'text book' introduction to the development of genetically modified foods and their safety compared with conventionally grown, and pesticide-sprayed, crops. There is also a tidy summary of the basis of many food fears - the issue of BSE / CJD in particular. It is, however, in the exercise of his own profession as an ethicist, and his critique of the moral positions of those that oppose GM so vociferously, that the book comes alive.

The term 'ecofascism' is used by Spence not as a loose, political insult but as a carefully reasoned and justified description of many of those in 'green' organisations and the ecology movement who for too long have laid claim to the moral high ground. He highlights the clear parallels between the fundamental tenets of contemporary environmentalism and those at the heart of National Socialism in the 1930s. He also comments: "Members of today's Green parties in Europe seem to view their environmentalism as separate from Nazi ideology. This is a dangerous mistake. The importance of Nature in Nazi ideology had real consequences: it led to breaking up estates and holdings across Germany to make organic farms. Hitler's and Hess's vegetarianism followed a devotion to purity and a horror of pollution that paralleled their thinking about race, eugenics, and ultimately, their actions in the Holocaust. The acceptance today of starvation for peoples of developing countries to preserve environmental purity over acceptance of genetic veggies is not far removed from the claim, then, that racial and environmental purity must triumph over the needs of poor, non-German citizens."

This is strong stuff. And it needs to be said and heard. Pence cannot be dismissed as crank or Monsanto lobbyist. His credentials and intellectual rigour are such that while many might disagree with his views, or squirm in discomfort at this attack on their ethical position, he cannot be ignored. Those who for too long have relied on emotion-laden mysticism to sustain their holier-than-thou Green posturing must now be required to re-consider their ethical and moral credibility.

Peter Marsh - 25 April 2001


Why Greenpeace Should See Green on GM Food

- Greg Pence, Birmingham News, Feb 24, 2002

Once upon a time, I thought that Greenpeace was an honorable organization, that organic food surpassed genetically-modified food in nutrition and safety, and that genetically-modified crops --such as Bt corn -- posed substantial risks to the environment.  Two years of research changed my views, making me older and wiser.

Take Greenpeace.  As on "Seinfield," we think of Greenpeacers as heroes risking their lives before evil whaling ships. But in recent years, Greenpeace has championed a high-minded environmental purity in England and Europe that puts millions, maybe billions, of humans at risk, opposing both Golden Rice that might cure  river blindness and the "dumping" of Bt corn on starving people.

Greenpeace has now abandoned all pretense of basing its views on science and has succumbed to a purity-of-the-land ideology. It backs Europe's view that GM crops and food should be prohibited not because of evidence of danger but for logical possibility of danger. (It is logically possible, but extremely unlikely, that the universe will implode tomorrow.) So disgusted was Greenpeace International founder Patrick Moore by this anti-scientific turn that in 2000 he quit.

Alliances with Green parties in Europe resulted in spectacular victories, such as a new law requiring the Dutch government to fund Greenpeace. Other alliances, with organic food growers and protectionist food organizations in France and England, created a juggernaut against GM food. Greenpeace's further argument that GM food would "McDonaldize" Europe gave it a winning hand.

What put Greenpeace in the game was mad cow disease, which scared the British and Europeans in the 1990s after they learned, shockingly, that their meat had become infected when their cattle were secretly fed brains of dead animals. Then Monsanto erred greatly in secretly introducing potato chips, corn, and soybeans that contained GM varieties into these countries. Unsurprisingly, Europeans did not embrace the news that their salads and potatoes might have been altered in some way they didn't understand.

At this juncture, Greenpeace could've explained that hybrids have been created for centuries, that scientists tested GM foods more than any food in history, and that GM crops can help the environment. Instead, it chose to be alarmist.

Health food stores sell all kinds of herbs, minerals, and supplements that have not been tested and for which no one has to report any unexplained deaths. Hybrids such as tangelos or super-broccoli mix thousands of genes, but no one screams "Danger!" from the rooftops about them. GM food only has a few, carefully controlled genes inserted, which are well-understood.

What causes problems in people are proteins: we know the proteins that cause food intolerance and allergic reactions. Any food that has such a protein should be labeled, whether created by gene insertion or sold as an organic supplement.

Field trials of GM crops, which could've proven GM crops to be safe or dangerous, have been burned down over a hundred times in Europe by Greenpeace and other radical environmental groups. Dozens of similar terrorist acts have occurred in North America. Recently, and for the second time in two years, the Earth Liberation Front burned down agricultural buildings at the University of Minnesota where GM crops were being studied.

Into this conspiracy against GM crops entered associations of growers of organic food, who profit immensely each time people fear new dangers in their food. Organic vendors implied that their foods are best for the environment, but is this true?

Organic crops are fertilized with manure, which, if it already exists, is a good way to dispose of manure. But what if billions of people needed to grow food organically? Where would all this new manure come from? Billions of new cattle would need to be created.

Organic crops, not using chemical fertilizers, also need a lot of land to grow. That means, to feed a billion more people, cutting down rainforests or plowing under pastures. On a planetary scale, organic crops are not sustainable.

Nor are they good for human labor. Prince Charles can afford a dozen people to tend his organic produce, but can most of us? And the organic food is harvested usually by cheap migrant labor. Not a food future I want to see.

Nor is organic produce perfectly safe. A very dangerous form of E. coli, O157: H7, aka "the hamburger bacteria," has sickened people who drank unpasteurized apple juice;  various forms of organic produce may also be contaminated with remnants of manure. In contrast, no one has ever been sickened from GM food.

Ironically, the "Bt" in "Bt corn" stands for bacillus thuringiensis, which can be sprayed on food that is labeled organic. This same safe stuff, as a gene, is what is added inside Bt corn. But it is not as if nothing like that is put on organic corn.

Anti-GM food zealots push a lot of bad science.

The names of so-called scientists who attack GM food reads like a "who's who" of malcontents who hate capitalism, hate America, or fanatics who value environments over people (Edward Abbey: "I'd rather shoot a man than a rattlesnake.") On the other hand, Nobel Prize winners and the National Academy of Sciences endorse the safety and environmental benefits of GM crops.

Behind all this lies a much graver danger. In a recent poll, two thirds of North Americans agreed that, "The environment should be protected at all costs." That statement should be critically examined.

The Third Reich glorified the purity of "blood and soil," the pure Alpine air, the German volk, and considered Jews to be "weeds." Hitler and some of his cabinet officers were vegetarians who pushed a national program of converting industrial farms into organic farms. This should warn us that other things may be masked by pro-environmentalism.

In my heart, I believe GM crops will be good for humanity, especially people in developing countries. I've suspect that environmental elitists care too much about the biodiversity that might create medicines and that sustains eco-tourism, but too little about how starving people can grow their own food. I'm saddened by how the reasonable, evidence-based arguments of advocates of GM crops disappear in the media under the sleazy, alarmist  tactics of opponents.

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