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Genetically Modifying Genes and Scientific Evidence

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Genes, Twisted Truth, by Steven M. Druker

Institute of Science in Society    June 22, 2015

Review of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, by Steven M. Druker,  Clear River Press, Salt Lake City UT, 2015. ISBN 978-0-9856169-1-5 (hardcover), 978-0-9856169-0-8 (softcover).

Prof Peter Saunders

According to the advocates of genetic engineering, GMOs have been proven by countless rigorous trials to be safe, no humans or even animals have ever been harmed by them, genetic modification is no different from the natural and artificial breeding that has been going on for millennia, it has produced crops with all sorts of desirable properties such as drought resistance, we cannot hope to feed the world without it, and so on.

These statements are all false. And in Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, Steven Druker, a lawyer, shows them to be false exactly as if he were in a courtroom. He has collected a vast amount of documentary evidence: scientific papers and also internal reports and memos. He has interviewed many of the people who were involved and he explains the science so that lay readers can follow the arguments.

The book is a surprisingly good read, considering how long it is and the amount of detail it contains, but it is also a valuable reference text. When the GMO lobby confidently state that genetic engineering is the same as ordinary breeding, this is where you can learn why it is not. When they describe the work of Arpad Pusztai or of Gilles-Eric Séralini as ‘discredited’, you can find out what actually happened, and why neither result has ever been properly challenged, let alone refuted.

It’s not just a matter of one person’s word against another. Unlike the GM lobby, Druker presents solid evidence for what he claims. It’s there in detail and it is fully referenced; you are welcome to check it for yourself.

To give you a flavour of the book, here are brief outlines of two of the early chapters, one on Asilomar and one on tryptophan. Both stories are very important in the history of genetic engineering, but they are seldom mentioned today. When they are, the usual spin is that a few scientists raised their concerns at a meeting but soon accepted that these were unwarranted, and that the tryptophan incident had nothing to do with GM. In both cases, the truth is quite different.


Forty years ago, when transferring genes from one organism to another was first becoming a standard research technique, scientists naturally began to worry about its potential hazards. The US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) appointed a commission to look into the issues, and this led to a letter to the journal Science [1] and then, in February 1975, a meeting of over a hundred scientists at the Asilomar Conference Center in Monterey, California. The outcome was a statement [2] with a list of safety guidelines, including the requirement that research should be carried out using only disabled bacteria that could not survive outside the laboratory. Just the sort of thing you would expect when there is a possibility of danger. Chemists, after all, work in specially designed laboratories, not out in the open, and they have to make special arrangements to dispose of the waste from their experiments; they are not allowed to pour it down the sink and into the public sewers.

The Asilomar guidelines were, however, soon abandoned. They are seldom mentioned today, and if you have heard of them at all you’ve probably been told that while they were an understandable reaction to a new technology, they were soon shown to be unnecessary because it was conclusively demonstrated that the techniques pose no significant hazards.

Druker, who has looked carefully through the published records and interviewed many of those who were around at the time, tells a very different story. One of his key points is that the claim that genetic engineering was safe was largely based on research involving only one bacterium, E. coli K-12. But K-12 had been used in laboratories for many years and was relatively weak, i.e. it would be unlikely to survive outside the laboratory. So while the release of a genetically modified K-12 into the environment might not be dangerous, that would be reassuring only if all future research were confined to K-12. Even then, there would remain the risk that the transferred gene would pass into another, stronger organism.

Yet molecular biologists used, and continue to use, this evidence to justify their claim that genetic engineering involves no special risks and that GM organisms require no more testing than those that have been conventionally bred; they are, in the words of the US Food Additive Amendment of 1958, “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) and consequently exempted from testing.

It’s easy to understand why so many molecular biologists, rushing to push ahead in what they saw as an important and exciting new area, allowed their enthusiasm to cloud their judgement. They could also see the prospect of turning their research into profit, and that made them even less anxious to think about the dangers. Crucially, they managed to convince the Reagan administration that there was money to be made and jobs to be created and that the US must not be left behind. That, combined with the Reagan-Thatcher policy of relaxing all regulation – in banks as well as in molecular biology – made support for genetic engineering a part of government policy. The US government has consistently backed the GM industry and has used its strength to pressure other countries into accepting GM crops. The Asilomar guidelines and the concerns that led to them have been totally forgotten.

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Cartoon: The populist menace

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10 of the Biggest Corporate Tax Cheats In America

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April 5, 2011   By Joshua Holland AlterNet

If you or I were running a small business and we kept one set of books showing how much money we were making and a second set for the IRS that painted a picture of an enterprise on the brink of bankruptcy, we’d end up behind bars.

But that’s standard operating procedure for corporate America. In fact, public corporations have to do it — the law requires that they keep one set of books for their shareholders, and another for the IRS. As tax journalist David Cay Johnston explained, “Many corporations routinely tell investors they incur millions in corporate income taxes, while the financial records they give the IRS show they owe nothing or are due refunds.”

In the records kept by the IRS, corporations cook the books “by using tax shelters, offsetting income with losses from years ago, and employing countless other devices that make them look like paupers to the IRS but money machines to investors.”We got a peek into this process last week, when the New York Times revealed that multinational giant GE is not only avoiding corporate income taxes this year, but is taking a “tax benefit” of $3 billion. According to the Times, the company’s “extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

But of course, GE is not alone. Here are 10 other big corporate tax evaders (with an assist from an MSNBC analysis of leading corporate tax-dodgers). Keep in mind that neither political party ever actually cuts spending significantly, so every dollar these companies avoid paying is one that will come out of the paychecks of working America.

1. Google

CEO: Eric Schmidt (117 on Forbes list of the wealthiest with a net worth of $6.3 billion in 2010.)

2010 Pre-tax Profit: $10.8 billion

How Google avoids paying US taxes: According to MSNBC, Google reports income in overseas tax havens and then reports its costs here at home. Google also patents its products abroad, licenses its technologies from its overseas subsidiaries and then writes off the costs of the licenses.

Google fun-fact: Google rents 200 goats, complete with goatherd and a border collie, to keep the grass nicely trimmed at Google HQ. Oh, and this week Bloomberg reported that the Federal Trade Commission is considering launching a major investigation into Google’s anti-competitive practices.

2. News Corp

CEO: Rupert Murdoch (Murdoch ranked 53rd on Forbes’ list of highest-paid CEOs and was the 117th richest person in the world last year.)

2010 Pre-tax Profit: $3.3 billion

Taxation strategy: In 2008, the Government Accountability Office issued an analysis concluding that one of the companies with the greatest number of subsidiaries in offshore tax-havens was none other than News Corp., which then had more than 150 of them scattered across the world.

News Corp. fun-fact: Fox “News” devoted significant airtime to hyping the financial ties between Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, and the developers of the Park 51 Muslim community center planned for downtown Manhattan. Fox implied there was something sinister about the financier, but didn’t mention that he is also News Corp.’s second largest shareholder, with 7 percent of the company’s stock.

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Government sues bankers over offenses government regulators ignored

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Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

The government sues bankers over offenses government regulators once ignored.

By Bethany McLean Tuesday, March 29, 2011, Slate

Kerry Killinger. Click image to expand.

A couple of weeks ago, the government started signaling, at long last, that it was ready to get tough on the bankers who caused the 2008 financial crisis. On March 16 the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, sued three former top executives of Washington Mutual, or WaMu, for taking “extreme and historically unprecedented risks,” thereby causing the bank to lose “billions of dollars.” That same day, the New York Times reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission had sent so-called Wells notices—often a sign that civil charges are imminent—to a handful of former executives at mortgage-securitization giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The targets seem well-chosen. The collapse of WaMu, acquired by JPMorgan Chase at a fire-sale price in the fall of 2008 was, according to the FDIC, the biggest bank failure in U.S. history. The FDIC is seeking to recover $900 million from the three bankers. Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the government in the fall of 2008. So far, they have cost taxpayers about $130 billion.

Perhaps you’re thinking: If only the government had known at the time what these scoundrels were up to, we could all have been spared a great deal of pain. The trouble with that line of reasoning is that, um, the government did know what was going on. The Office of Thrift Supervision, which regulated WaMu, and the Office of Housing Enterprise Oversight, which regulated Fannie and Freddie, were supervising the very behavior that their sister agencies are now suing over. The government’s lawsuits call to mind a cynical boast by Burt Lancaster, playing tabloid power broker J.J. Hunsecker, in the 1957 noir classic Sweet Smell of Success: “My right hand hasn’t seen my left hand in 30 years.”

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The Oily Billionaire Koch Bros’ Obscene Game of Monopoly

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Here’s an infographic from  friends at The Other 98%:

Questions Raised About U.S. Firm’s Role in Egypt Internet Crackdown

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Date: January 28, 2011
Contact: Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35

WASHINGTON — A U.S. company appears to have sold Egypt technology to monitor Internet and mobile phone traffic that is possibly being used by the ruling regime to crack down on communications as protests erupt throughout the country. Boeing-owned, California-based company Narus sold Telecom Egypt, the state-run Internet service provider, “real-time traffic intelligence” equipment, more commonly known as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology. DPI is content-filtering technology that allows network managers to inspect, track and target content from Internet users and mobile phones as it passes through routers on the Web.

The company is also known for creating “NarusInsight,” a supercomputer system allegedly used by the National Security Agency and other entities to perform mass surveillance and monitoring of public and corporate Internet communications in real time.

Narus Vice President of Marketing Steve Bannerman said to Wired in 2006: “Anything that comes through (an Internet protocol network), we can record. We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their [Voice Over Internet Protocol] calls.”

Free Press Campaign Director Timothy Karr made the following statement:

“What we are seeing in Egypt is a frightening example of how the power of technology can be abused. Commercial operators trafficking in Deep Packet Inspection technology to violate Internet users’ privacy is bad enough; in government hands, that same invasion of privacy can quickly lead to stark human rights violations.

“Companies that profit from sales of this technology need to be held to a higher standard. The same technology U.S. and European companies want to use to monitor and monetize their customers’ online activities is being used by regimes in Iran, China, Burma and others for far more suspicious, and possibly brutal, purposes.

“The harm to democracy and the power to control the Internet are so disturbing that the threshold for the global trafficking in DPI must be set very high. That’s why, before DPI becomes more widely used around the world and at home, Congress must establish legitimate standards for preventing the use of such control and surveillance technologies as means to violate human rights.”

For more information, read Karr’s story at the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/timothy-karr/one-us-corporations-role-_b_815281.html

UK Scientist Resigns: ‘GM Dialogue’ Naked PR for Industry

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UK regulator Food Standards Agency must be held to account for ignoring incontrovertible evidence of harm and persisting in promoting GM food to the nation at taxpayers’ expense

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho June 1, 2010   The Institute of Science in Society

Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK resigned from UK Food Standards Agency’s Steering Group for GM Dialogue in a strongly worded open letter to the chair [1], exposing and condemning it as a naked “PR exercise on behalf of the GM industry”  at taxpayers’ expense, £500 000 to be precise.

Through freedom of Information, she learned that the FSA met with the industry group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) in September 2009 to discuss a “GM public engagement programme”, and in October, the ABC wrote to the FSA stating that “abc welcomes the opportunity to provide suggestions on the individuals and groups that would add value to the FSA GM engagement Steering Group.” And while it supports the activity and understand the importance of the initiative,  it believes  “GM must be presented as an option within the wider context of food security as part of a solution to feeding a growing population.” The industry also suggested edits to a draft FSA report to the Food Strategy Task Force, which claims that lack of demand and rising costs will drive out non-GM feed supplies, and GM and non-GM feed should no longer be segregated. In a subsequent report, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the FSA supported the industry’s line that ‘zero tolerance’ of unapproved GM crops in the EU threatens food supplies.

Not surprisingly, the background materials provided to the Steering Group by the FSA claim that “current problems with the supply of non-GM soya mean that over the next 12 months retailers and food manufacturers will need to consider whether they can sustain their current GM-Free stance” and: “The Government has recommended that discussions take place in the wider context of global food supply to take account of the long term security of global food production and changing food prices.” FSA has persistently refused to allow debate on the role of GM in feeding the world.

In her letter, Wallace pointed out that FSA’s policy note – which took six months to produce – does not suggest the public should be in any way consulted about plans to allow the contamination of feed shipments with unauthorised GM, or about the lack of labelling for meat or dairy products derived from animals fed on GM feed.

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