Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #51 - Letters to the Editor

Science in Society 51

Mobile phone hazards

Thank you very much for a great web site and information. My question with regard to Mobile Phones Damage the Brain (SiS 51) is: do the same hazards apply when using the speaker phone instead of the handset held to the head?
Pam Peterson, Florida, USA

Perhaps you should give information on how to protect oneself from this pollution: what parents should say to teenagers.
Claude Saint-Jarre, Montreal, Canada

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies
Speaker phones as such are not the problem. But if they are attached to cordless phones, the same hazards apply because the base station of most cordless phones sends out wireless signals constantly, see Wireless Phones and Brain Cancer (SiS 51). For advice on making mobile phones more safe, see  European Environment Agency Highlight Mobile Phone Cancer Risks  (SiS 51). In general, I would advise young people not to use the mobile phone at all unless absolutely necessary, and not to carry the phone switched on in their pockets or near to vulnerable parts of their body. Texting should be the preferred mode of use.

Genetically engineered E. coli outbreak

In How Genetic Engineering May Have Created E. Coli Outbreak (SiS 51) you assume that the German strain had not been genetically engineered and released deliberately. Early reports mentioned that fragments of plague DNA had been found in the samples. Doesn't that suggest a bio-weapon source? And how would an engineered strain “accidentally” contaminate a remote organic sprout farm? Organic farming and gardening are taking increased market share from conventionally grown - including GMO - foods. Look at the effect the German 'outbreak' had on consumption of fresh and organic produce around Europe. And look at the Wall Street Journal article and video on “deadly organics” - and I smell a rat. Remember the Baxter case in 2009? Baxter Pharmaceuticals distributed swine flu vaccine contaminated with bird flu to several Labs in Europe. It was only by “chance” that a Czech lab worker tested the vaccine and found the contamination. Rejecting conspiracy theories out of hand is irrational. There's abundant evidence of conspiracies organised by government agencies. They need to be exposed, instead of being let off the hook - as happened with the fake swine flu non-epidemic.
Paul Carline, London, UK

You mentioned that transgenic nucleic acids must be thoroughly broken down before release. Any thoughts on how such break down of all DNA and  RNA fragments could be accomplished?
Todd Millions, Cypress Hills Range, Canada

Would DNA RNA be broken down by composting? E.coli is killed by it, which is the main reason that organic foods are much safer than conventional food that is often grown with un-composted animal, and sometimes human manure; but would composting control horizontal gene transfer?
Samuel Eglington, Dereham Norfolk, UK

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies
The fact that the outbreak strain has genes from plague bacterium has been over-blown. It also has genes from other pathogens like Salmonella and Shigella, as well as non-pathogens. It is just about possible that someone took an outbreak strain from the recent past, say EC55989, and engineered the current strain as a bioweapon But my thesis remains the same: most of the gene swapping and recombination would have been done by the bacteria themselves with substantial help from human genetic engineers releasing GMOs and GM nucleic acids into the environment. Conspiracy theory is similarly overblown. Vested interest and greediness for profit can create the most amazing ‘bedfellows’, our regulators included, as regulatory agencies are infiltrated by vested interests.

The most thorough way to break down DNA and RNA is by hydrolysis using strong acids, such as heating with 6M HCl. This should be applied to all wastes containing live bacteria or recombinant nucleic acids before they are released into the general environment.

There is very limited evidence, which does indicate that composting speeds up degradation of transgenic DNA. However, the researchers did not rule out horizontal gene transfer within the compost. It is fair to say that composting may reduce horizontal gene transfer, but not eliminate it. It is better than applying un-composted plant residue or animal manure containing transgenic DNA directly to the soil.

Food scarcity a corporate scare story

The politics of food scarcity in The New Politics of Food Scarcity (SiS 51) is not new; it is the same old politics for the giant corporate grain buyers. Three exporters now control 80 percent of the world's grain trade, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), ethanol, food and feed mills. They find every way possible to get people to advocate for oversupply and low farm prices. US and EU farm policies lowered farm prices for decades under this pressure. Your article describing a food shortage that doesn’t yet exist, supports the corporate spin.

We need both price floors and supply reductions (when appropriate) and price ceilings with reserve supplies, but almost nowhere are these policies mentioned. Farm prices have fallen below parity since 1953 under corporate-led policy changes. Rice fell to 16 percent of parity in 2001, wheat fell to 26 percent in 1999, corn fell to 25 percent in 2005. Even recent higher yearly average prices of these 3 crops have been well below parity, within the bottom 25 percent of all time prices figured in constant dollars. Export dumping, where the US and UK lost money on exports for decades devastated the Least Developed Countries, which are 70 percent rural, so now 80 percent of the "undernourished" are rural, and in need of higher farm prices. But because of the decades of lower prices, they are so poor they can't afford fair trade food. Dilemmas like this are not explained here, but instead we get faulty reasoning based upon partial data interpreted relatively (ie. food and farm prices are relatively much higher [ie. than the lowest prices ever in history).
Brad Wilson, Fireweed Farm, Springville, National Family Farm Coalition, USA

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho replies
I agree wholeheartedly with your account of what is left out in the article, which is covered substantially in other articles, especially The Food, Inc. Horror Movie (SiS 46), where the health hazards of industrial farming is also highlighted. Consumers everywhere I know deplore the low prices paid to farmers, and the huge profits made by the now corporate ‘middlemen’. However, I think you underestimate the environmental destruction brought on by decades of unsustainable practices of industrial overproduction. Add to that the recent scramble for biofuels, financial speculation (see  Financing World Hunger, SiS 46), and climate change, and we do have a food crisis.

Cold fusion not yet beyond reasonable doubt

Regarding your article, Cold Fusion Ready for Commercial Production?, Dennis M. Bushnell, NASA Langley's  chief scientist, was recently interviewed on EV where he said of low energy nuclear reactions. “This has come out of twenty years of people producing energy but not knowing what it is and we think we have a theory on it. It’s producing beta decay and heat without radiation. The research on this is very promising and it alone, if it comes to pass, would literally solve both climate and energy. ... So I think were almost over the .."We don’t understanding it" problem. I think we’re almost over the "This doesn’t produce anything useful" problem. And so I think this will go forward fairly rapidly now.”

 I have analysed all the published experiments to see if it could be one of the numerous fakes postulated by people on the internet: My conclusions are written up in a paper here Unfortunately the four series of tests didn’t measure everything, or weren’t run for long enough, so although EVERY type of fake was eliminated by one experiment, but no one experiment eliminated all possible fakes. Therefore at present I judge Rossi’s device to be real by a “preponderance of evidence”, but not yet “beyond all reasonable doubt”.
Alan Fletcher, Campbell, California, USA

No way other than ecological agriculture

Regarding African Union to Support Organic Farming  (SiS 50), there is no guaranteed way of ensuring food and nutrition security and improved livelihoods among small scale farmers while at the same time conserving and improving their operating environment and building their capacity to adapt to climate change effects other than ecological/sustainable agriculture. Ecological/sustainable agriculture works in harmony with and not against nature (i.e., maintains the equilibrium in the ecosystem) and that is the very essence of its sustainability.
Dr. Henrietta Kalinda, Deputy Director, Kasisi Institute, Lusaka, Zambia                                   

Article first published 28/02/11

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Dr. Arden Andersen Comment left 10th August 2011 00:12:05
The comments by Mr. Wilson of the National Farmily Farm Coalition sound very compelling until one really analyses the nutrient density, chemical residue and genetic contamination of the food today compared to that produced in the 1940's, the subsequent human and animal diseases directly attributable to this tainted "food" and as Dr. Ho states the environmental costs of conventional production. When these are taken into account, conventional farmers are actually receiving much more than parity prices.