ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

26 February 2002


Gregory Pence, 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.'

The following press article has now gone out at the top of a Prakash AgBioView bulletin with the heading, 'Sleazy Alarmist Tactics'. According to the article's introductory paragraph Pence has undergone something of a Road to Damascus experience while writing a book on GM foods:

"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 "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World?", Pence held diametrically opposing views to those he holds now.

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".

Yeah, right, Mark Anthony.
Today in AgBioView - Feb 25, 2002

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.
Gregory Pence is a professor of bioethics in the philosophy department and medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and recently published "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World?" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
NBC: 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.

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