Saving Millons of Lives through 'Frankenscience'
Not even Greenpeace is willing to protest too loudly about the use of cloned pigs for organ transplants
March 28, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
March 24, 2000
THE BridgeNews FORUM: Viewpoints on farming, farm policy and related agricultural issues.
CHURCHVILLE, Va.-It's big news: Scientists have cloned pigs. Science is a big step closer to producing replacement organs for the hundreds of thousands of urgently sick people on waiting lists for organ transplants.
The cloned pigs will be genetically modified so that the bodies of human patients won't reject replacement kidneys, hearts and livers. They are also a potential source of stem cells for treating burn victims and people suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases.
Oddly, no placard-bearing activists from Greenpeace have appeared in the streets to protest this example of what they call "Frankenscience." Could it be that even rich people in New York and Paris fear heart failure and Alzheimer's disease?
The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported on a genetically engineered drug called Enbrel, which helps fight children's arthritis. About 100,000 American children suffer the stiff joints and near-constant pain of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. About one-third of them aren't helped by the standard drug treatment, methotrexate.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has not yet written a protest letter to the Food and Drug Administration demanding the kids' new arthritis drug be held off the market until testing has conclusively proven it can't endanger, say, the Monarch butterfly.
Medical researchers recently found a better genetic test for colon cancer, which is very much an inherited disease. In a study, the old test found the abnormal genes in 10 of 22 patients who had developed the colon cancer.
The new test predicted the colon cancer in all 22, permitting precautionary measures to be taken. Eventually gene therapy could allow us to correct the colon cancer gene in afflicted people and nearly eliminate the disease.
Why isn't the World Wildlife Fund protesting? After all, saving lives is saving lives, whether by curing First World diseases or feeding Third World inhabitants.
If population is the problem, a new way to save people's lives in New York is just as dangerous to the planet's wildlife as a new high-yielding rice variety to feed babies in Africa.
Such a rice variety was recently developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association in the Ivory Coast. It's an unnatural cross between the high-yield rice of Asia and the hardy traditional rice grown in Africa. It should double yields for 250 million African rice consumers.
In reality, many "environmentalists" harbored a hostility to high- yield farming long before biotechnology. When the Green Revolution of the 1960s forestalled the massive world famine that environmentalists had predicted, Paul Ehrlich wrote "The Population Bomb," which predicted massive overpopulation instead.
The miracle is that high-yield farming allowed the world to feed more people on less land while the human population restabilized. The peak population is now projected at about 8.5 billion in 2035. World farmers are feeding today's 6 billion on the same farmland they formerly used to feed 2 billion. Farmers have saved almost all the wildlife habitat we had when Paul Ehrlich wrote his book.
If biotech crops let us feed 8.5 billion people in 2050 on the same 37 percent of the earth's land area we already farm, that will be a technological triumph for nature.
Unfortunately, environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others have attacked genetically modified crops, even though they have not documented a single real-world risk from the crops that have made it through the testing and approval processes.
Affluent city folks will end up deciding which farm and medical technologies are permitted in the future. Hopefully they'll notice the same knowledge of biotechnology that holds out the hope for victory over colon cancer also has the potential to cure crop viruses and malnutrition in the Third World.
Hopefully they'll decide it's worth curing poor people as well as rich ones, and that it's just as important to save tropical forests as local green space.
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Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.