[NAFEX] Thank you Anton for Genetically Modified vs Mutagenesis

Jwlehman at aol.com Jwlehman at aol.com
Fri Dec 30 10:57:17 EST 2005

Dear Anton,

Thank you very much for your input to this important subject. There is often 
too much Chicken Little mentality involved due to ignorance thus aiding the 
fear of all gene transplanting. Hope I'm not stepping on too many toes. 

Too bad more people will not read your excellent explanation. Unless I hear 
differently from you I'll submit it for publication in Pomona, The Hoosier 
Kernel (Indiana Nut Growers news letter) and The Nut Shell (Northern Nut Growers 
news letter).

Thanks again,

Jerry Lehman  
Anton wrote:
The monetary aims of agribusiness is often questioned (and such questioning 
is healthy when done with an open mind), but every time I see a scare article 
come out, I can't help but be reminded that news organizations also have a 
monetary benefit in making their stories more interesting- even if that means 
erring on the side of sensationalism instead of sticking to logic and facts.

There are both similarities and differences among conventional breeding, 
mutagenesis aided breeding and transformation-directed modification of plant 
genomes (often called "genetically modified").  All are, in fact, natural processes 
that have been harnessed by humans.  And all three are indistinct in nature.  
In other words, they all are happening simultaneously and have been happening 
for millions of years before humans existed.  

Mutagenesis occurs naturally because there are natural sources of ionizing 
radiation that can result in changes in an organism's genetic code.  It also 
occurs at a low level just because every organism's enzymes that reproduce and 
repair DNA  make "mistakes" at some frequency.  Selection then sorts out the 
detrimental changes from the beneficial ones.

"Genetic modification" also occurs naturally.  Agrobacterium species and 
plant viruses have been introducing "foreign" DNA into plants for many millenia.  

In all cases, the differences that humans have brought can be thought of as 
acceleration and direction.  Humans have thought of ways to speed up natural 
selection to make plants more adaptable to specific agricultural situations and 
more nutritious or palatable to humans and animals.  Rather than wait a 
million years for the mutation that confers resistance to an herbicide or a pest, 
mutagenesis allows you to find that mutation in a few years.  Then the breeder 
backcrosses or outcrosses repeatedly to isolate the one desired mutation from 
the others that were either neutral or undesirable.

The persons I have met in agribusiness are keenly aware that food safety is 
an absolute must.  They realize that if any "GMO" food slipped through the 
incredibly strict screens for safety, the effects on the company's reputation and 
bottom line would be extremely costly.  The little discussed fact is that 
"GMO" food is safer and more wholesome than conventionally produced foods because 
of the dramatic decreases in required pesticides and fungicides and the 
greatly reduced levels of very hazardous natural toxins like aflatoxin (made by a 
natural fungus).  

I think that the public should continue to scrutinize agribusiness and 
academic laboratories, just as they should scrutinize their government and other 
major industries.  However, I also believe that the more the public understands 
about the process of food and feed improvement performed by BASF and other 
companies, the more they will not only welcome it, but demand it.  I also believe 
that many in agribusiness welcome constructive scrutiny, despite the 
inconvenience of it.

Currently, there are many crops, including fruit crops, that are practically 
untouched by these technologies that could greatly reduce pesticide 
applications because it is too expensive to bring them to market.  From a food safety 
and environmental safety standpoint, that is really unfortunate.

Zone 8

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