It is indeed a sad reflection on our tertiary education system that Adrian Picot, a science graduate should espouse such a comprehensive set of untruths, half-truths and misinformed opinions as those expressed in his article “The BAD Science of GE food”. If this is Part One, I can only hope that Part Two will be deferred until he has read the Royal Commission Report and has made some attempt to understand plant genetics and molecular biology. Most of the views expressed by Picot are rhetorical and in various forms have been recycled several times.
I can think of no better response than to refer Adrian and others with similar views to Russell Brown’s article published in Scoop of July 5 ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0207/S00040.htm) and to his GE-Wire programme on 95bFM June 27. Many of the concerns expressed in Picot’s article are admirably addressed by Brown in his article “The Phoney War”. However I do feel compelled to dispel a few of the untruths and half-truths in Picot’s article.
First, the view that “the science of GE is immature and the creation of new organisms is at best a lottery” demands a response. The science of GE has developed enormously since its tentative beginnings in the 1970s. Random insertion of genes is the method of choice, but not the only method of introducing new or mutant genes. Precise insertion at a particular site is possible and is often used in generating gene knockouts, but is not widely used to generate transgenics because it is unnecessary. Contrary to the views expressed by Picot, random, or semi-random insertion of genes is subjected to a rigorous selection process both for the desired phenotype and for stability. Unstable gene insertions that are not desirable are eliminated at an early stage and following years of testing prior to commercialization. To my knowledge all currently commercialized GM crops have an extremely stable phenotype quite contrary to the current view being promoted by the Greens and the anti-GE movement.
Second, the view that “GE techniques are crude, destructive and potentially dangerous” is not supported by experience. A far more accurate view is that the techniques are sophisticated and creative, and that approved use of GE is demonstrably safe. It is quite wrong to state that GE changes cannot be ultimately controlled or contained. Control, containment and safe use is addressed by the regulatory agency, ERMA, which operates under the HSNO Act.