An opening slide from the lecture on biotech crops delivered by Steven H. Strauss to Science Pubs, delivered at McMenamins in Bend, Oregon, illustrates the dichotomy between the Free market, free technology, anything goes versus There is never enough regulation, biotech is opening a Pandora’s Box, go back to nature, amplify only negative science, ends justify means, all gene flow is unacceptable.
This was an excellent presentation aimed at a general public audience, of about eighty people average age about fifty, and my guess would be most were college graduates. There was a twelve question written multiple choice test given beforehand, and some of those questions might be difficult for a practicing biologist. I missed one, – Generally, transfer of a catfish gene into plants imparts a slightly fishy flavor. I should have payed more attention to that word generally, because had I done so I wouldn’t have missed the question. I was thinking, if you chose the right genes you could almost certainly create a fishy flavor. I was wrong because I didn’t pay attention to the question, and started thinking about how it might be done, for fifteen seconds. There was a prize to be given out to anyone who got all the questions right, but no one did and Debbie won the nice stainless steel OSU bottle for getting 10 out of 12. I put a question mark for – Americans have never eaten meat from cloned animals, or I would have had 10 right also. I asked him before the audience if not a single person had eaten cloned meat, and he said not a single person of the public had, but perhaps some lab people had. I didn’t pursue the question, but I had been thinking about Craig Venter saying he wouldn’t hesitate to eat genetically modified meat. A very interesting high-tech clicker device was used where each person voted on various proposals during the lecture.
Dr. Strauss discussed many issues, but to illustrate the difficulties of getting FDA approval, he showed an example of a simple anti-freeze gene taken from a similar fish and inserted into salmon, which made it possible to grow the salmon on fish farms in a way which would permit the market price to be less than one-half the price presently paid for wild salmon.
We must wonder where the growing population of people are going to get food to eat in the future if the known ways for creating more food are not permitted to be developed into commercial products. He said that much of the creative research being done here in the US is being used and developed commercially in China. Thus, they are getting the value of these new products, and we in the US and especially Europe, which is fanatically opposed to these developments are the ones who will be left out. We will suffer the economic hardships and the Chinese will profit from the bounty. If there is any danger, which is unlikely, it will go worldwide as quickly as a virus spreads so just avoiding these things will be of little help. It will be like avoiding catching a cold. Once it spreads it just goes worldwide until it dies out and the better route is to develop chickens which are flu resistant. Presently chickens and pigs are the chief reservoirs for flu so if those animals could be made genetically resistant to catching those diseases then we humans wouldn’t catch them either. When our animals are healthier we too will be healthier. This is win-win research which should be supported by everyone, because everyone benefits.
I asked Dr. Strauss about the problem of ever increasing human population and the inevitability of human growth ultimately catching up with and passing the food supply, no matter how much food can be created. He said he was very worried about that problem and didn’t know an answer, but that his job was on the supply side and he was working to supply people with what they needed. People like to reproduce.
My take is admitting the possibility of failure and thus the recovery side with The EarthArk Project.