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Letter: Dr Peter Wills to Dr Stuart McCutcheon


Letter from Dr Peter Wills to Dr Stuart McCutcheon

Forwarded on behalf of Dr Peter Wills.

15 October 2003

Dr Stuart McCutcheon
Vice Chancellor University of Victoria
Po Box 600 Wellington 6001

Dear Dr McCutcheon,

As the alleged inspirer of the now infamous Madge billboard and as a scientist I reply to your assertion, reported in yesterday's NZ Herald, that GM protestors are making unscientific claims such as the implication that women might be genetically modified to have four breasts. Apparently in the next breath you reportedly characterize us as terrorists.

Some baby girls are born with more than two nipples and are surgically "normalised". But molecular biological processes are not bound by social norms and it is the aim of genetic engineering to gain exquisite control over natural variation and exploit it.

From my critical perspective I dispute the claims of how precisely and carefully genetic variation can be controlled through engineering, but the deliberate alteration of genes that determine processes of development is now an everyday event. The billboard portrays an outcome of GE that is technically plausible.

AgResearch is working on ways to control what happens during muscle development in cattle so that we can eat different meat. It is also learning how to use bovine lactation to produce proteins derived from human genes.

However, we are shocked to think of female humanoids being used as bioreactors, even if they had been engineered to have the intelligence and emotions of cattle as well as extra breasts. Ultimately, only ethical standards would block attempts to create multi-breasted woman-like animals whose milk proteins would not have the problems of cow/human mismatch such as AgResearch will struggle to overcome.

What is so special about human molecular biology that it should not be engineered to create bioreactors that do not have the problems of cows? Well, I find the idea repugnant, but I am also very offended by the idea of genetically altering cows for AgResearch Ltd's crass commercial purposes.

The real point of the billboard is that we do not see cows as a species worthy of a right of protection from genetic engineers. No, they are considered so sub-human that we change with impunity their genes and therefore the role of this species as domestic friends of human society with a heritage stretching back over thousands of years of simple animal husbandry.

In my view the close relatives and friends of humans should be afforded some of the rights that I want claim for humans - not to suffer unnecessarily and not to be genetically engineered. I hope the Madge billboard has shocked a few people into thinking about it. ERMA didn't feel any need to consider the issue before it gave AgResearch permission to proceed with its experiments.

Your reported insinuations about anti-GE terrorists are well out of date. When I testified to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification on 8 November 2000, Counsel for the Life Sciences Network, a body falsely representing itself as having the support of my employer, the University of Auckland, tried to link my point of view to concerns involving the Security Intelligence Service. On 8 May 2002, one of the persons who could perhaps have detected the fraudulent nature of the LSN's representations, QC Brendan Brown, used the same technique during cross-examination of my testimony to the Waitangi tribunal about genetic engineering, Western science and matauranga Maori, except that he flattered me by elevating the level of concern from the local (SIS) to the super-international (MI6).

If you want to call me a terrorist and invoke against me the draconian measures that have recently been passed into law against my most reasonable, thoughtful and academically sound protestations, then please have the courtesy of first addressing your accusations to my face and give me the chance to answer them.

Yours,

Peter R Wills Associate Professor Department of Physics University of Auckland email: p.wills@auckland.ac.nz Private Bag 92 019 Auckland http://www.phy.auckland.ac.nz/staff/prw/ New Zealand http://www.physics.auckland.ac.nz/html/wills.html

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