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The public media have been preoccupied with pseudo-scientists threatening to clone human beings. But that is a smokescreen. Behind the scenes, reproductive and stem cell scientists are quietly leading us to the brave new world of human farm incorporated.
The right of scientists to research on human embryonic stem cells - to the extent of creating human embryos that are destroyed in the process - must be strongly contested.
The science and technology of adult stem cells are streets ahead of embryonic stem cells, and they are much safer.
Adult stem cells may go down in history as the most significant discovery in biology of the past century, rivalling the DNA double-helix.
A series of four reports strongly challenges the British governments push for a human DNA Biobank and heavy public investment into health genomics. Instead of delivering healthcare in the new millennium, it is intended to deliver patients to the health market. Unfortunately, it is likely to fail even that, and worsen the public health crisis, provoking the re-emergence of genetic discrimination and eugenics, and harming those most in need of care and treatment. Already, people seen as disabled or defective are treated as objects and denied a voice.
The latest Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) collapsed as the US again rejected formal mechanisms to verify compliance, leaving itself isolated in the international community.
The US accepts that bioweapons and genetic engineering must both be controlled. But it wants bilateral instead of multilateral agreements. And it rejected not only the BWC, but also the Cartegena Biosafety Protocol, that has already given rise to tough regional regulations on genetic engineering such as the Model Biosafety Law of Africa, and the new EC Directive. (While UKs BWC delegation supports multilateral agreements, its scientists are busy watering down the EC Directive at home.)
There is no effective defence against bioweapons and the hazards of genetic engineering. The limitations and dangers of vaccines are coming to light in the midst of rumours that vaccine companies and the CIA may be linked to the anthrax attacks.
The only effective defence against bioweapons, as indeed against any other weapon is to resolve international conflict towards consensual peaceful control. One of the most important sources of conflict is the glaring, deepening inequality that blights the lives of billions and the conscience of all. The richest 1% earn as much as the poorest 57%, and now four fifths of the worlds population are living beneath the European and American poverty line.
The latest independent scientist to fall victim is a well-known critic of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. That was when I decided to review the science seriously, only to find the establishment position distinctly wanting.
But given that Britains Minister of Sciences idea of science policy is to increase competitiveness and spin-off companies, should we be surprised? Expensive vaccines are being sold to the Third World to serve vaccine manufacturers instead of tackling serious diseases, with readily available, cheap, effective and safe means. Mosquito nets, for example, beat any expensive transgenic mosquitoes and vaccines that can be created against malaria. And foods like honey could provide broad-spectrum antibiotics.
GM crops are failing on every count, and the weight of evidence in favour of ecological farming is growing apace. But the OECD is still promoting GM crops.
The same cabal of OECD countries are not above manipulation and deceit in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation in Doha, to make sure that the rich can extract even more from the poor.
UK government minister is saying "not yet" to commercial growing of GM crops. Questions on the safety to health and the environment are unresolved.
The good news is that genuine peoples science may be starting up in different arenas. Adult stem cells mending the patients own heart and curing cancer is excellent news, and should aim towards minimising intervention. This would also reduce patented methods, cell lines and immune suppressive drugs.
Academic ecologists have found irrefutable evidence that biodiverse systems are more productive (as indigenous farmers already know). There is much scope for research partnerships between academic scientists and farmers.
As the dominant reductionist medical model is failing, scientists are rediscovering indigenous herbal medicines. This can potentially revitalise indigenous health systems, protect biodiversity, and provide safe, effective and affordable healthcare for all. However, it could also encourage biopiracy and harass the communities concerned.
Scientists should reject biopiracy and plagiarism of indigenous knowledge and insist on involving the local community at every stage, to ensure that its interests are safeguarded. Commercial benefits should go towards enhancing local biodiversity and revitalising the indigenous health system. These are fully in line with the proposals from the recent indigenous peoples gathering in Brazil.
Finally, farmers and citizens have taken on the experts. A 17-year-old Dutch student performed his own experiments to show that mice really dont like GM food, and when forced to eat it, become distressed and unwell.
Local inhabitants in the highlands of Scotland are holding a constant vigil in protest of their local GM crop trial, and witnessing the crop fail in front of their very eyes. And celebrated French farmer José Bové and his friends are fighting prison sentences for destroying GM rice in protest of research that does not benefit farmers.
This could be the beginning of real dialogue between people and scientists that could bring us closer to integrating science in society.
Article first published
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