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GM foods and crops

katherine.kaye at geography.oxford.ac.uk katherine.kaye at geography.oxford.ac.uk
Tue Nov 9 13:50:06 EST 1999

I am interested in the ethics of the GM industry and how they are perceived
by people in the US, as opposed to views in the UK, where we have had a very
lively (and to my mind, sensible) debate about a number of issues.

Before anyone jumps in with both feet, though, let me define some of the
things I think people are clear about over here (UK):

1) there is a difference between 'possible direct health effects' and
potential effects on the environment.

2) there are differences between what is established scientifically, what is
not yet tested, and what is scientifically untestable as opposed to
'economically not in the interest of companies to test'. We should not call
the latter category 'science' but 'economics'.

Here are some issues raised over here which I'd be grateful for views upon:

            (a) A woman has a child with combined nut and dairy allergies.
He has to drink soy milk and use soy products. Some genetically modified
soya products have been modified using a hazelnut protein. What should she
do, given that her son's allergy is so acute that he goes into anaphylactic
shock in 11 seconds after exposure to nut products (e.g., a nut oil used in
the homogenising of yoghurt)? (This person was on BBC Radio 4 last week; she
does exist, I just can't recall her name at present!)

           (b)  In Mali and Malawai (and formerly in Angola and Mozambique,
before they were torn to bits by their various wars) and in a number of the
South African countries and tribal areas, women may be cash-poor but
seed-rich and have control over the produce of their land. If GM seeds,
which require currency for purchase, are increasingly used then these women
have to enter into other arrangements either with men, or to earn money to
buy 'improved seeds'. Women are, according to the UN, already time-poor, so
access to additional money-earning activity is limited. A predicted net
result of moving into GM seeds will be an increasing disenfranchisement of
women and a corresponding increase in the economic power of men, who already
have better access to everything from education and medicine to food and

            (c) Apparently there has been very little work done on lateral
gene transfer (via soil organisms) and on full ecosystem dynamics - hence
the cries of discovery at the results of the Monarch butterfly experiment,
and the surprise that some of the genetic modifications of oilseed rape pass
on to common weeds (e.g. groundsel) and the humble domestic radish. I say
'apparently' - can anyone comment on what phlyae have been regularly
monitored for impacts of GM crop husbandry on any compartment of the host

With thanks, in advance,

Katherine J. Kaye (Dr.)
School of Geography
Mansfield Road
Oxford OX1 3TB

kkaye at ermine.ox.ac.uk

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