HIGHLIGHTING CBAC NOT THE RIGHT APPROACH
I am writing in response to the April 11 article "Canadians
Need More Info to Decide About GMOs." The writer is
probably quite correct in this assumption, but highlighting
the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC) is
certainly not the correct way to approach this problem.
The CBAC is not a public body; it was appointed by and
answers to the Biotechnology Ministerial Co-ordinating Committee,
which is composed of ministers of industry, agriculture
and agri-food, health, environment, fisheries and oceans,
natural resources, and foreign affairs and international
trade. The CBAC is housed in the office of the Canadian
Biotech Strategy within Industry Canada, the agency charged
by the government with promoting biotechnology.
From its inception, the biotech project in Canada has been
marked by extreme and unseemly haste, just as the practice
of genetic engineering has been lauded for its speed, as
if speed were a self-evident good. It is driven by the wishes
of corporate biotechnology and often slants its publications
to favour this point of view. For example, in the preamble,
the CBAC report states that "this genetic engineering
is more precise than randomly creating mutations because
the basis for the change is understood both at the DNA and
the protein level." This partial truth represents a
wilfully misleading statement.
Although it is true that the DNA construct that is introduced
into the recipient plants is generally well characterized,
the actual events that lead to the incorporation of the
construct into the genome and its subsequent expression
constitute a "black box." At present, it is impossible
to control the site of the insertion of the novel DNA or
the number of copies of the construct that become incorporated.
Instead of the CBAC, I recommend your readers turn to one
or both of two recent reports by two panels of experts:
the report of the committee set up by the Royal Society
of Canada (www.rsc.ca) and
the report of a committee of experts set up by the European
Union and the United States, with Nobel Laureate Norman
Borlag, pioneer of the Green Revolution, and Gordon Conway,
head of the Rockefeller Foundation, as participants (http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/us/biotech/biotech.htm).
Both committees highlighted with references the inadequacy
of the testing used to establish the safety of foods derived
from genetically engineered organisms and said there should
be more testing before we proceed with commercialization.
Both committees also recommended labelling, so that consumers
would, at the very least, have a choice.
Prof. Ann Oaks
Department of Botany (Retired)
TRANSLATE REPORT INTO PLAIN ENGLISH
I found the April 11 @Guelph article about the report
on GMO information pretty tough sledding because of the
turgid language and misuse of terminology. The worst example
is the one highlighted in the article: "A positive
overall predisposition to GM foods is a desirable cognitive
state for consumers, not to convince them to use GM foods,
but rather to positively predispose them to search for and
process specific information about GM foods so that they
become neutrally informed."
How can a positive predisposition to something be a cognitive
state? A predisposition in favour of something is an emotive
or evaluative state having nothing to do with cognition.
And what does "neutrally informed" mean? It sounds
like it should mean the opposite of positively or negatively
informed, but these terms don't make any sense either.
The report also refers to various "heuristics,"
a term that is supposed to refer to a method of discovery.
But what does the report mean when it refers to "the
'don't buy' heuristic"? Your reporter would have done
us a greater service if he had tried to translate the report
into plain English.
I did, however, gain the impression that the report recommends
there should be more information disseminated about GM foods.
I agree with this recommendation and look forward to a lively
and balanced debate in such publications as @Guelph.
Just one question. The report recommends that the CBAC
establish "a comprehensive communications program that
would be interactive, participatory and proactive and would
feature a Web site, television advertising, targeted information
kits, press kits and exhibits." Would I be right in
assuming that the CBAC plans to produce television advertising
that raises concerns about the use of GM foods? If so, I
am delighted. But if not, how can the program be described
as interactive and participatory?
Prof. William Hughes
Department of Philosophy (Retired)
A DARK DAY FOR DEMOCRACY
On April 20, I travelled to Quebec City with a busload
of students, faculty and staff, under the auspices of CUPE
local 3913. After 10 hours on the highway, we reached Quebec
City at sunrise Saturday. Throughout the morning, we watched
barrages of tear gas saturate the slopes of fortress Quebec.
We marched together in Saturday afternoon's spirited and
colourful parade, staying many blocks away from the fence.
To go any closer would have risked leading the entire demonstration
into thick clouds of tear gas.
After the parade, many of us, peaceful but resolute, chose
to walk up the Quebec streets through the gas clouds. With
my eyes and throat stinging, I came close enough to see
the phalanx of troops arrayed behind the fence. This barrier,
ostensibly built to protect the Summit delegates, served
as a sanctuary from which the police could shower tear gas
and rubber bullets indiscriminately. From 50 feet away,
I aimed a compact camera at the row of helmeted police.
One officer responded by aiming his tear-gas launcher at
me, as if to say: "Take one more step and I'll let
you have it!"
This was not police "restraint." It was a campaign
of intimidation designed to curtail the freedom of citizens
to dissent. The enthusiasm, good humour and commitment of
the marchers give me much hope, but April 21 was a dark
day for Canadian democracy.
I am proud that so many members of our campus community
expressed their commitment to justice and democracy by participating
in the arduous trip to Quebec City.
Prof. David Josephy
Chemistry and Biochemistry