Those promoting genetic engineering have claimed it is the cutting edge of science. Those in opposition are treated as ill-informed. African scientists who reject genetic engineering are treated as a needy, backward underclass and “starved for science.” Vaccines are considered the greatest gift of modern medicine and those opposed are said to be putting others’ lives at risk.
But whatever high ground the biotech and vaccine industries have claimed for themselves scientifically is crumbling. Both paradigms are beginning to collapse.
Genetically engineered food
In India, where Monsanto expected the approval of its first genetically food crop there, Bt-eggplant (to be followed quickly by many others already in the commercial pipeline), questions of terrible science, corruption of agencies and selling out to giant international food companies sprang up.
Senior biologist Pushpa Bhargava, the Supreme Court-appointed special invitee to the 30-member Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) pointed out that the 102-page report:
*Was cleared without adequate time for scrutiny, had enormous scientific and technical errors, was inconsistent in parts;
*Did not contain any dissenting report but read like a unanimous view of all the members of the committee though two other scientists had communicated their strong reservations and were ignored;
*Was missing crucial and necessary tests which had not been carried out;
*Contained tests which were either carried out by the company itself or in the case where the tests were carried out by accredited labs, the company provided only selected samples; and
*Was not reviewed by other experts, though he had requested a meeting to do so.
According to Public Health Watch, Bhargava was “in no doubt that the clearance of BT brinjal was pre-planned and the committee was an eye-wash.”
Meanwhile, “Statisticians have also punched holes in the biosafety dossier approved by the GEAC.”
Immediately after the unexpected and indefinite moratorium on Bt-eggplant (and thus all subsequent GM food crops), a Bill to establish the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India – BRAI) was secretly introduced into the Indian parliament. The Bill would circumvent the regulatory authorities that had stopped the Bt-brinjal clearance and flatten all scientific roadblocks to commercialization by moving authority over genetically engineered products to a biotech agency. That agency would be tasked solely with regulating genetically engineered products, not with appraising them scientifically or ensuring their safety.
The surprising Bt ban also prompted an overt response. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, “stepped in to make it clear that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will not have the last word on the introduction of Bt Brinjal or any GM (genetically modified) food.”
Over the course of the last year, the fortunes on those promoting vaccines have been even worse. Vaccines themselves were essentially unquestioned as a means to prevent diseases. They were to gold standard in medicine, with scientists seeking to eradicate diseases and to even provide cures for diseases through them.
But the H1N1 swine flu “pandemic” altered all that.
Because it triggered memories of the 1976 swine “pandemic” which never materialized, and of swine flu vaccines that killed hundreds and disabled many more, the public was wary of the vaccines that were both rushed and without liability for the makers. Despite the public’s reluctance, the government began aggressively pushing the vaccines, often through new state mandates. Meanwhile, public health officials were seeing little to match the CDC’s numbers and forecasts and researchers questioned what was going on, even challenging the idea of a pandemic.
Because the public feared harm from mandated vaccines and Bush era laws which had removed democratic public health options, they began researching vaccines to make a the case for vaccine choice and to warn each other and public officials of potential dangers in the swine flu vaccines. While it was not the intent, the flood of information through shared information on the internet, conferences, scientific articles and support from professionals, began to expose issues with vaccines themselves, not just with swine flu vaccines.
In the meantime, vaccine manufacturers reaped billions from one of the mildest flus on record and government officials prospered financially, but the vaccine manufacturers, the CDC, the WHO, the pandemic, and vaccines themselves were under scrutiny, especially for the questionable science behind what they were doing.
Despite immense pressure, only one in five Americans took the vaccines and questions about the association between vaccines and diseases have increased and become more pressing.
The following is a list of conditions and diseases now associated with vaccines, indicating the magnitude of questions and concerns emerging about vaccines:
chronic systemic disorders
slow brain degeneration
chronic immune activation
by-stander damage to neurons and synaptic connections
DNA strand breaks
choroids plexus papillomas
abnormal body hair loss
non-healing skin lesions
elevated ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate),
systemic lupus erythematosus
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
low-grade fevers; and
Before 2009, vaccines had been viewed as implicitly safe and valuable and the 1976 disaster seen as aberrant, and parents opposing vaccines because of autism as on the fringe. Today, rapidly growing citizens groups are fighting Bush/Cheney state laws mandating vaccines for children and others. And vaccines are now viewed by increasing numbers of people with suspicion, for reasons well beyond their association to autism.
The most thorough fundamental challenge to vaccines came from a Indian-Canadian microbiologist and vaccine specialist, who suggested they are inconsistent with the laws <http://shivchopra.com/?cat=9> of biology and proposed a worldwide moratorium “until such time as these issues are reviewed and discussed in an open and transparent manner with the due involvement of the public.”
Just such review and public involvement is what stopped the approval of Bt-eggplant.
Which brings the story back to India and the new Bill in Parliament where genetic engineering of food and vaccines come together.
Criminalizing Rejection of GMOs and Vaccines
The Bill, coming most like from biotechnology which claims to be the wonder of modern science, would allow genetically engineered products to bypass scientific appraisal for safety. That those behind a vaunted science reject scientific scrutiny is notable. But elements of the Bill indicate that those promoting GE food and medicine (vaccines and other products) are worried that even hand selection of agencies and removal of scientific testing may not be enough. To have genetic engineering succeed in the public sphere, they want imprisonment of critics now.
To that end, the Bill threatens anyone questioning of GM products with jail and fines. From the front page of Mail Today:
GOVT MOOTS JAIL FOR GM FOOD CRITICS
By Dinesh C Sharma in New Delhi
IF THE ministry of science and technology has its way, criticising genetically- modified ( GM) products could land you in jail.
An Indian citizen who questions the safety of any GM food or medicine could be put behind bars for a minimum period of six months under a new law proposed by the ministry.
The clause to silence critics of GM food is contained in the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India ( BRAI) Bill,2009 prepared by the Department of Biotechnology, which is a wing of the ministry of science and technology headed by Prithviraj Chavan.
‘Misleading public about organism and products’ is one of the crimes for which punishment has been prescribed in Section 63, Chapter 13 of the Bill which deals with various “ offences and penalties”. The clause specifically deals with critics of biotech products including GM food crops.
It reads, “ Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products specified in Part I or Part II or Part III of the Schedule I, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both.”
GM products covered under the Schedule I include genetically engineered plants and organisms, DNA vaccines, cellular products, gene therapy products, stem cell products and other such genetically engineered or transgenic products.
The list also includes vaccines for use in humans or animals that contain living genetically engineered organisms, cellular products including products composed of human, bacterial or animal cells as well as genetically engineered micro- organisms that may have application in agriculture, fisheries, forestry or food production.
Curiously, while every little term in the proposed law such as a “ company” or a “ director” has been defined, no explanation or definition has been given for terms used in section 63 such as “ evidence”, “ scientific record” and “ misleading”. If the Bill becomes a law and comes into force, anyone questioning the safety of Bt brinjal or stem cell therapy “ without evidence or scientific record” can be put behind bars. This is a scary scenario because many of the technologies mentioned in the Bill are still in the realm of research and have not been proven safe for humans.
Not just this, the Bill has another provision to punish anyone who “ without reasonable excuse, resists, obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, impersonate, threaten, intimidate or assault an officer of the Authority or any person assigned to discharge any function under this Act, or in exercising his functions under this Act” with a jail term of three months and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. In short, this clause seeks to punish anyone holding a demonstration or rally near the BRAI or where any official of the authority is visiting.
“This is a gag order, absolutely draconian and violative of Article ( 19) ( 1) ( a) of the Indian constitution which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “ It is definitely meant to scare people so that they don’t say anything against GM technology. Even journalists writing critical articles can be punished.”
The Bill has been criticised by several civil society activists. “If this law was in force today, environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who has questioned the safety of GM crops, would have been behind bars because he would have violated it,” said Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “ It is a dirty attempt to turn science into a ghetto, where all of us will be subjected to unhealthy GM products pushed down our throats by a willing government.” Kavitha Kuruganti of Kheti Virasat Mission said the Bill was meant to harass civil society’ groups concerned about the application of hazardous technologies.
“Who will decide what is ‘ misleading’, and on what basis? How about the ones who are making misleading claims about safety even when there is no conclusive proof of safety?” asked Kuruganti. …
The proposed legislation has no clauses on public participation in the process of approval.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (under the Convention on Biological Diversity which has been invoked in the preamble of the Bill, clearly states that signatory countries should “ consult the public in decision- making process regarding living modified organisms”.
Genetic engineering of food is rejected by most countries in the world and vaccines are being questioned from an increasing number of directions. In response, moves are made to slip both of them past scientific testing in India while the power of the state is called upon to imprison critics.
Faced with the collapsing of their scientific paradigms, it is not coincidental that the biotech and pharmaceutical industry’s approach to their critics mimic the Catholic Church’s treatment of Galileo.