I read your exchanges with Doug Behrends with amusement (Western Farm Press - January 19, 2008). I am glad you mentioned Golden Rice as I think it is an illuminating case. As an agricultural scientist, I have no problem with using modern gene splicing techniques to move genes around a given genome within a crop or a group of related crops. However, when we start to talk about transgenic transfers (transfers between unrelated species, families, even kingdoms for heaven's sake), common sense would indicate caution. Why?
The main reason for me is that these are novel genetic combinations that the earth has never seen before and may, and I stress may, result in unforeseen problems. Golden Rice for example; what if the major pests of rice are limited by a lack of vitamin A? What if, by introducing Golden Rice into the ecosystem, not only does Golden Rice become decimated, but the newly empowered pest decimates other varieties as well? Have we even checked to see? No. All testing has been on humans to see if they will tolerate or benefit from the change. We have not looked at impacts on the ecosystem itself, positive or negative.
Far-fetched, you may say, and you would be right. However, we should not be so willing to take such large gambles with the future of our being able to live on this planet. (We only have the one, you know.) We should err on the side of caution when the stakes are so high.
As a scientist, I know very well how delicately balanced (and how resilient) ecosystems can be. Transgenic crops make me very nervous and I cannot support the blithe way you place all value on humans. Failing to value the ecosystems that support us all is, in my opinion, a mistake. We have all seen what happens when an unintended pest is introduced into an ecosystem that has no protection from it (light brown apple moth, gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease, rabbits, etc. — really, Harry, this list is endless). We should NOT introduce novel gene combinations without more fully understanding what the consequences may be. The one-in-a-million scenario that creates a pest may be the one that crashes agriculture completely. Without more knowledge, I repeat, we should err on the side of caution with transgenic anything.
Yours in science,
Dr. Jerry L. Miller
High Desert Agricultural Consulting