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GMO Biotech Lobby Gets Foot in Harper's Editorial Door?!

by Organic Consumers Association Thursday, May. 07, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Is Harper's magazine editorial staff jumping onto the biotechnology bandwagon, along with mainstream neoliberal and neoconservative politicians looking for quick-fix "solutions" to our petroleum based food crisis?

Recently watched a segment on "LINK TV" featuring an editor of Harper's magazine giving a talk that endorsed biotechnology and genetic engineering as a needed response to the excessive fuel needed for food transport crisis where we ship food products all over the country. Of course this is a problem, though locally owned NON-GMO small farmer raised crops would alleviate this quicker than converting to biotech! He also threatened audience members with the famine myth "If there's a food shortage nobody will be demanding organic non-GMO products anymore." as if organic consumers are already guilty of engaging in the "luxury" of eating non-GMO food. Looks like he got that old argument straight out of the Monsanto playbook!!

This current trend by a Harper's editor to endorse biotechnology could be a result of backlash from an earlier article challenging biotech scientists written by Barry Commoner;

"Unraveling the DNA Myth:

The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering"

by Barry Commoner


"Genetic science was founded on the discovery of the DNA double helix by Francis Crick and James Watson. In 1953, they pronounced DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid, a very long, linear molecule that is tightly coiled within each cell’s nucleus – as the molecular agent of inheritance. DNA is made up of four different kinds of subunits (bases, or nucleotides), which in each gene are strung together in a particular linear order or sequence. Segments of DNA comprise the genes that, through a series of molecular processes, give rise to each of our inherited traits. Crick’s hypothesis is that a clear-cut chain of molecular processes leads from a single DNA gene to the appearance of a particular inherited trait. According to Crick’s sequence hypothesis, the gene’s genetic information is transmitted, altered in form but not in content, through RNA intermediaries, to the distinctive amino acid sequence of a particular protein.

Tested between 1990 and 2001 in one of the largest and most highly publicized scientific undertakings of our time – the billion Human Genome Project – the central dogma collapsed under the weight of fact. Results published last February show that there are far too few human genes to account for the complexity of our inherited traits or for the vast inherited differences between plants, say, and people. The finding signaled the downfall of the central dogma; it also destroyed the scientific foundation of genetic engineering and the validity of the biotechnology industry’s widely advertised claim that its methods of genetically modifying food crops are precise, predictable, and safe.

This should not have come as a surprise. Experimental data have been accumulating for decades. By the mid-1980s, long before the Human Genome Project was funded, and long before genetically modified crops began to appear in our fields, a series of protein-based processes had already intruded on the DNA gene’s exclusive genetic franchise. An array of protein enzymes must repair the all-too-frequent mistakes in gene replication and in the transmission of the genetic code to proteins as well. Certain proteins, assembled in spliceosomes, can reshuffle the RNA transcripts, creating hundreds and even thousands of different proteins from a single gene. A family of chaperones, proteins that facilitate the proper folding – and therefore the biochemical activity – of newly made proteins, form an essential part of the gene-to-protein process.

By any reasonable measure, these results contradict the central dogma’s cardinal maxim: that a DNA gene exclusively governs the molecular processes that give rise to a particular inherited trait. The DNA gene clearly exerts an important influence on inheritance, but it is not unique in that respect and acts only in collaboration with a multitude of protein-based processes that prevent and repair incorrect sequences, transform the nascent protein into its folded, active form, and provide crucial added genetic information well beyond that originating in the gene itself. The net outcome is that no single DNA gene is the sole source of a given protein’s genetic information and therefore of the inherited trait.

The credibility of the Human Genome Project is not the only casualty of the scientific community’s resistance to experimental results that contradict the central dogma. Nor is it the most significant casualty. The fact that one gene can give rise to multiple proteins also destroys the theoretical foundation of a multibillion-dollar industry, the genetic engineering of food crops. In genetic engineering it is assumed, without adequate experimental proof, that a bacterial gene for an insecticidal protein, for example, transferred to a corn plant, will produce precisely that protein and nothing else. Yet in that alien genetic environment, alternative splicing of the bacterial gene might give rise to multiple variants of the intended protein – or even to proteins bearing little structural relationship to the original one, with unpredictable effects on ecosystems and human health.

Because of their commitment to an obsolete theory, most molecular biologists operate under the assumption that DNA is the secret of life, whereas the careful observation of the hierarchy of living processes strongly suggest that it is the other way around: DNA did not create life; life created DNA. When life was first formed on the earth, proteins must have appeared before DNA because, unlike DNA, proteins have the catalytic ability to generate the chemical energy needed to assemble small ambient molecules into larger ones such as DNA. DNA is a mechanism created by the cell to store information produced by the cell. Early life survived because it grew, building up its characteristic array of complex molecules. It must have been a sloppy kind of growth; what was newly made did not exactly replicate what was already there. But once produced by the primitive cell, DNA could become a stable place to store structural information about the cell’s chaotic chemistry, something like the minutes taken by a secretary at a noisy committee meeting.

There can be no doubt that the emergence of DNA was a crucial stage in the development of life, but we must avoid the mistake of reducing life to a master molecule in order to satisfy our emotional need for unambiguous simplicity. The experimental data, shorn of dogmatic theories, points to the irreducibility of the living cell, the inherent complexity of which suggests that any artificially altered genetic system, given the magnitude of our ignorance, must sooner or later give rise to unintended, potentially disastrous, consequences. We must be willing to recognize how little we truly understand about the secrets of the cell, the fundamental unit of life."

January 15, 2002

The article “Unraveling the DNA Myth: The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering” is published in Harper’s Magazine, February 2002

Barry's article and responses found @;

Is the Harper's editor now trying to be "fair" to biotechnology corporations who were rightly angered by Commoner's challenge to their flawed science??

Activist Micheal Pollan discusses the dangers when Democrats and Republicans both agree on similar issues like supporting genetic engineering biotechnology, and their agreement falls in line with the desires of large multinational corporations (ADM, Cargill, ConAgra, Smithfield, etc...);

"Q: Can you give an example?

A: Look at an issue I know something about, genetic engineering. Why was its introduction into our food supply not a contested fight in America?

Over labeling that would say that the food was genetically engineered?

About labeling, but also, before that, about whether we should even approve this technology. The reason there was not a fight is because both political parties were on board for it. The Republicans were predictably pro-business and anti-regulation. And the Democrats had allied themselves with the biotechnology industry, had picked it as one of the growth industries in the early 1990s. Also, the biotech industry, in the person of Robert Shapiro, the president of Monsanto, was very close to Clinton and his administration.

The key moment, when the rules and regulations were being decided for the industry, came at the end of the first Bush administration and the beginning of the first Clinton administration. Both parties agreed that the industry should proceed with as little regulation as possible. The result was that biotech was introduced with no political debate and remarkably little journalistic attention.

The larger meaning here is that mainstream journalists simply cannot talk about things that the two parties agree on; this is the black hole of American politics. Genetically modified crops were in the black hole until the Europeans reacted so strongly against them; then we began to have a little bit of politics around the issue, but still not very much. The things journalists should pay attention to are the issues the political leadership agrees on, rather than to their supposed antagonisms.

Q: War, for one?

A: War, definitely. Globalization is another example. There’s a bit of a split now in the Democratic Party over free trade. But, essentially, both parties agreed to sign on to GATT and the WTO and those kinds of agreements. And you scarcely read a critical word about free trade in the New York Times during that period of complete collusion."

interview found @;

There was some brief fallout after Monsanto responded to another article, David Ehrenfeld's " A Techno-pox Upon the Land" that appeared in Harper's;

"In the January 1998 issue of Harper's magazine, there are two responses to a previous article about the hazards of modern crop science and biotechnology. Here's the more interesting and infuriating one by Monsanto.

Monsanto's response to HARPER's magazine;

David Ehrenfeld's essay on biotechnology ["A Techno-pox upon the Land," Readings, October], which argues that genetic engineering and other argicultural technologies pose significant risks to humans, ignores the most fundamental challages facing agriculture today and unfairly criticizes the work of many thousands of dedicated scientists, public sevents, and farmers around the world.

The world's population has nearly doubled since 1960, and most demographers agree that it will nearly double again in the next forty years. Can agriculture continue to keep up? At monsanto, we are committed to finding safe solutions to this great challenge, and we believe that biotechnology continues to hold great promisee for increasing yields while preserving raw materials and precious lands.

Robert T Fraley, Co-President, Ag Sector

Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Mo

The other letter was from Norman E Borlaug, a noble laureate and faculty member of Texas A&M which basically said the world's population is growing and we should seek a more reasonable balance between food production/distribution and human population growth.


Date: Wed, 04 Feb 1998 16:50:09 -0500

From: "Dave Rietz (" dorietz [at]

Subject: Monsanto's response to HARPER's magazine

The world's population has nearly doubled since 1960, and most demographers agree that it will nearly double again in the next forty years. Can agriculture continue to keep up?

Robert T Fraley,

Co-President, Ag Sector

Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Mo

Sounds like an excellent reason to get REAL serious about birth/population control and family planning... instead of trying to figure out how to feed more people so there can be more babies who grow up needing more food with which to make more babies... until the whole system collapses REGARDLESS of what mankind does next.

Mr. Fraley's "pep-talk" assumes that the ONLY controls available belong to corporations who gain from all aspects of overpopulation. Time to correct the CAUSE, not the effect!

Regards... "

response found @;

David Ehrenfield reminds us of the power of boycott;

"The power not to spend, at least on nonessential goods and services, has not yet been exploited to pressure our political leaders to look beyond materialism for the public good.

We can only be sold what we want to buy. Europeans have demonstrated this truth with their boycott of “genetically modified” (GM) food, which has in turn spelled deep financial trouble for Monsanto, its largest purveyor. Monsanto has been a major contributor to both Republican and Democratic parties, and few would say that this has not affected national policy. But if Monsanto is weakened by popular lack of demand for its products and by the opposition of other commercial interests damaged by the GM food wars, will this not reduce its political influence as well?

A voluntary lowering of consumption—the end of gross materialism—would bring about many beneficial changes in our society. It would improve our health by breaking the stressful spiral of working more to buy more—and to pay the ever-ballooning interest on credit card debt. It would increase our need and concern for each other as we rediscover that neighbors can share goods and exchange services at great savings and with much joy."

this article found @;

David Ehrenfield's other articles found @;

Monsanto does not give up easyily either. Monsanto now sues Germany because the German government questions the safety of their MON810 biotech corn;

"Monsanto is now suing the German government (and, by that, the people) to force them to grow their GM Corn.

MON810 maize is genetically engineered to produce Bacillus thuringiensis, which is toxic to the corn borer pest. Permitted in Europe since 1998 for animal feed, it is marketed as a way to save farmers money on insecticides and other pest controls.

However German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner claimed last week that she had "legitimate reasons" to believe the maize to be a danger to the environment – and believes the Environment Ministry to agree with the view. Although MON810 has been permitted in Germany since 2005, she scrapped plans for 3,600 hectares (8,892 acres) to be planted in the eastern states for this summer's harvest.

Now the biotech giant has hit back, according to a Reuters article, filing a lawsuit against the Germany government in the administrative court in Braunschweig, northern Germany."

article found @;

Freedom of speech and ethical journalism means uncovering facts, not giving corporations the chance to regurgitate more deceptions. The standard of Harper's magazine would not be compromised if they refused to enable Monsanto to spread their lies out of some concept of "equal time" or "fairness". What is fair and just is for the farmer's who were screwed over by Monsanto to get their voices heard, not for some Harper's editors to cave into Monsanto's myths..

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