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Biotech’s PR Problems Continue

Maybe “Fish gotta swim” but the FDA has extended the approval period for transgenic Salmon genetically engineered to reach market weight sooner. No evidence at all has been presented that filets from these fish would present a danger human consumers – and may well provide a benefit to an increasingly hungry world.

This report once again reminded me how far scientific advances in biotech have exceeded the industry’s attempts to explain their benefits to the consuming public. As biotech companies wisely sold the advantages of herbicide resistant corn, cotton and soybeans to farmers well prior to their “launch”. Farmers were tired of using herbicides that could kill their human handlers. By the time the Supreme Court decided that plants were patentable (in 2002), about 65% of U.S. corn was transgenic (and patented as well). However, the EU countries don’t grow much corn, and the lack of lobbying there contributed to the general ban on imports of genetically engineered crops and sandwich shops that advertise that their snacks have no GMO’s.

Now the Supreme Court will be answering the not-so-simple question “Are human genes patentable?” Will it be long before a stem cell suit comes before the Justices? When it does, I hope that they don’t recall last week’s episode of the TV series “Nikita” (loosely based on the “Femme Nikita” films). Nikita learns that an Eastern Europe dictator who lost a leg in an assassination attempt has been able to replace it with the help of a secret group of scientists who can grow new limbs using “pluripotent stem cells.” Nikita is about to kidnap their sales rep when he comes to visit the dictator, to get the scientists to replace the missing hand of her fiancé – the bionic one is not working well. At the last minute, she sees that the rep’s plane is full of children from orphanages that the scientists plan to use as experimental subjects. In the ensuing confusion, she shoots the rep, thus ruining her chance to find the lab.

Could you design a more effective story to illustrate the evils of biotechnology in general and stem cell research in particular? Right now, most U.S. stem cell research is funded only due to executive order. BIO and other organizations will have to fight harder than ever to win the war against science that is advancing on multiple fronts.


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