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Feb 22, 2008

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Sharon

You need to dig a little deeper and look at the correlation between Autism, Asthma, ADHD and Allergies and GMO's over the last 10 years. There's a bigger picture with a complex truth that you are missing- causation.

Michael W. Kruse

Hi Sharon,

Correlation is not causation and would dispute that there is correlation. The rise in asthma and allegories predates the emergence of genetic modified organisms. Scientists, both friendly and hostile to the GMO industry, have not found a causal link between genetic modification and harmful human affects.

I have a friend who is an allergist and immunologist. He points to the fact that in past generations, asthma and allergies frequently combined with other maladies to bring people to an early death. Radical improvements in medicine, technology, and the elimination of many once fatal diseases means that a great many people now live long lives and pass on a genetic predisposition to respiratory conditions to offspring. Thus, the increase in instances of these maladies. This is consistent with the rise in diseases like cancer and heart disease. You have to die from something. Once you eliminate certain types of death, the remaining other types of death are going to take greater numbers of people. If there is an environmental contribution to the problem, it likely lies in indoor pollution. More tightly sealed houses containing a greater number of synthetic substances and chemicals are a more likely culprit and there is some science that hints in this direction.

As to autism, from the Autism Society of America.

“There is no known single cause for autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic versus non-autistic children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that autistic children may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" that causes autism to develop.”

“Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.”

The welfare of billions of people ride on decisions about such issues and I need to see something more than correlation.

Rob Decker

Michael:

I think you may want to do some more research on GMO. You state, "GMO are no different then what agriculturists have been doing for millennia," but I don't think that's true, now. Many of the new GM practices of the 80s & 90s are a significant departure from natural genetic modification, and even a significant departure from the crossing of two non-naturally interbreeding plants through micropropagation.

GM now includes artificially modifying DNA with the use of bacteria and viruses, such that the properties of the new plant can be a mega-jump from the previous plant's, and potential unintended impact can be huge and not nearly as easily detectable.

Please don't misunderstand me. Those things that Mendel and Borlaug did are wonderful and, I think, part of God's commission to us in Gen. 1:28-29: "God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’"

But current GM practices introduce new DNA into plants through much more intrusive ways, through bacteria, viruses and gene-guns. I'm not saying this is wrong, but it's a mega-leap from previous practices and the potential impact is too.

For example, triticale is a hybrid from wheat and rye done through a more traditional GM practice. If Sonja is allergic to wheat, she could test out triticale to see if the characteristic of wheat that she is allergic to was passed on. And if she then is also allergic to triticale, she could avoid it and products that contain it. Easily detectable.

But, hypothetically, let's say some feature of wheat on gene xyz is inserted into a new breed of corn because it makes the resistant, i.e. toxic, to the Guyanan Corn Mite. And say that gene also carries the wheat allergens that Sonja's body doesn't like. As that new corn breed becomes widely used, not only is Sonja potentially allergic to it, but she won't know why. Allergy tests for "corn" would show no reaction. The listing of corn products on ingredient lists also becomes meaningless to Sonja.

Don't misunderstand me; I'm not opposed to these practices. I agree that much of the opposition comes from a variety of misinformed agendas. But we shouldn't assume that what is happening now is of course right just because it is opposed by groups that mistakenly oppose other things.

Also, the same blind faith in "science" and what "scientist say" can swing both ways. Currently, a scientifically naive press swallows blanket statements and comes to non-sequitur conclusions on global warming based on any 2 paragraph blurb from the latest "scientific study." But the statement from the Economist article you quote--"Despite scientific assurances that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption"--is just as naive and/or ill-stated. It implies that GMOs are one group, and that science has given a blanket stamp of approval on every GMOs. It may be correct to refer to "scientific assurances on current publicly available GMOs," especially if referring to potential toxicity to the public. But that's not the same thing. These types of mis-statements also give me pause.

There are huge implications and benefits—current and potential—from new GM technology, and it's important that checks and balances remain in place. So far, it seems that this is happening. On the other hand, as with Thalidomide during the early go-go years of the drug revolution, neither should the benefit and promise of new technology, nor should reaction against misinformed anti-Luddite bias, blind us to potential problems and the need for ongoing accountability.

Michael W. Kruse

Good stuff Rob. Thanks.

"But current GM practices introduce new DNA into plants through much more intrusive ways, through bacteria, viruses and gene-guns."

I'm aware of some this technology but I'm not immersed in it. I may have over stated my case. It wasn't my intention to suggest that there are no risks or potential complications. Doing a thing and not doing a thing contains risk. As you said, "checks and balances" are essential. Having Luddites in the mix as challengers is a part of that. :)

Rob

Michael:

Oops. In my post I meant to say "misinformed Luddite bias." It seems you understood what I meant to say.

Thanks again for your blog.

Dana Ames

Hi from San Diego-

The scary part for me is that I have heard that some of the DNA being inserted into plants experimentally is being taken from animal sources. To me, this crosses a boundary that Mendel never imagined. I can see speeding up the "natural course" of things with like species, but wandering too far away from that natural path could bring unintended consequences that we might not know how to ameliorate.

Dana

Michael W. Kruse

Dana, that gets back to Rob's concerns with which I totally agree. There has to be oversight. Some however seem opposed to GMO period.

BTW, what are you doing in San Diego? (and why wasn't I invited.) :)

Dana Ames

I'm at the Zondervan pastors' conf.

Just finished the critical concerns session with McKnight, Tickle, Crouch and T. Jones. Having coffee with Scot in a bit.

You could come if you paid the registration...

Actually, I signed up at last year's conf because I found out that NT Wright is going to be here and if he's going to be in my state I'm going to be there. The other folks are an added wonderful benefit, esp Scot and Phyllis.

Dana

Michael W. Kruse

Of course! Now I remember. I've thought about going to one of those each year but I never quite seem to get it on the schedule. I hope it is a great time.

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