The Risk-Monger is breaking with tradition and publishing an article he did not write. But he fully supports the content and hopes people give this some thought (and a smile).
The following is a fictional letter from M-Corporation (a fictional American pesticides-biotech company). It was sent to all members of the SPD (Social Democratic Party), B90/Grüne (Green Party), Die Linken (Left Party) and the relevant NGOs. Although it is fictional, it reflects the thoughts that must be going through the minds of “Big-6” managers. The longer version in German was sent to all members of the German Parliament on 21 February 2018. The anti-science developments in Germany may be extreme, but it is not unique. This “letter” with its bitter irony may therefore be of interest for people outside this country who believe that political decisions should be based on science rather than populism.
Dear Politicians, NGOs and those campaigning against Green Biotech,
M-Corporation is one of the six large companies (also called BIG-6) that control 75% of the global market of agrochemicals and 60% of the seeds market. The managers of M-Corporation would like to express our gratitude for your excellent work and hope for further fruitful cooperation. In recent years, M-corporation has been spending 4.5 million dollars a day for research and development. But money alone does not make innovation.
We are very thankful that you are continuously sending well-trained scientists to our country to help strengthen America in general and the dominance of our company in particular. Thanks to your precautionary policies on gene technologies, young scientists do not see any chance to apply their knowledge and expertise in Germany (nor the EU) and emigrate mainly to the US. Just the decision of BASF to close down research and development in Germany led to the relocation of more than 100 experienced scientists from Limburgerhof to Raleigh, North Carolina. This has to be considered as a generous development aid worth more than 200 million dollars. We thank you sincerely for your support and would like to emphasize that further science refugees are welcome!
In addition to this development aid, costs for approval and safety evaluations of new biotech products also help our business greatly. Thanks to German gene technology legislation, our smaller, innovative competitors do not have sufficient financial resources to survive a registration process that may take 10 to 15 years and cost several hundred million dollars. We urgently ask you to continue demanding these standards – otherwise M-Corporation’s market dominance may fade away.
New challenges are looming on the horizon and we need your support! New gene editing techniques like CRISPR/Cas allow for targeted changes in the DNA code (in similar ways as they may happen randomly in nature). Altering single nucleotides can switch genes on or off and can produce, for example: canola with increased omega-3 fatty acids, blight-resistant wheat, drought-resistant corn or tomatoes and strawberries which have regained their original flavours.
A few years ago, BASF scientists developed the “Amflora” potato which made the production of industrial starch (amylopectin) more efficient and more environmentally-friendly. It took 14 years to get the product on the market. Today, a good student could do this as a BSc thesis work. This is extremely dangerous for M-Corporation because young scientists could then come up with innovative ideas, found start-up companies and swamp the market with new products.
In addition, the editing technology is, in most cases, indistinguishable from natural mutations. To the contrary, the previous mutagenesis methods using radiation and cancerogenic chemicals produce thousands of mutations while editing produces only one. It is questionable if we can get patents on single base substitutions that may as well occur by a beam of sunlight.
The best way to deal with this unfortunate situation is to completely ban all gene editing. You successfully explained to the public that one known mutation is much more dangerous than several thousand unknown mutations. This campaign was unique and amazingly effective!
We also appreciate your creation of the term “extreme gene technology” for single base pair exchanges. If you manage to keep citizens scientifically illiterate and especially if you successfully replace science at schools with courses on “The Risks of Technology” it will be easy for M-Corporation to maintain our dominant position. Keep up the good work!
Unfortunately, not only plant breeding and genetic modifications are of concern to us. In India and Bangladesh, about 30% of vegetable pesticides cover aubergines (brinjal). Farmers spray 80 to 120 times per season to keep the brinjal fruit borer under control. It is certainly not in our interest that the Indian company, Mahyco, developed a Bt-brinjal that is resistant to the fruit borer. Our pesticides sales volumes almost collapsed in Bangladesh! Fortunately, Greenpeace, in collaboration with local pesticide producers banned Bt-brinjal in India. This clearly shows what we can achieve by concerted action! If we can no longer define which plants are developed and which not, our profits will break down and you will lose us as your most needed official enemy!
We strongly urge you to double your efforts – you can count on our support!
Your measures to expand organic farming by further subsidies is highly appreciated. The European Union (including Germany) is the largest importer of food and seeds worldwide. Organic farming yields are up to 50% lower than conventional farming. More organic farming means more imports are required. This is certainly good news for us. In South America, our partners are looking forward to cultivating large areas of tropical rain forests to guarantee German food supply!
Last but not least, we have noted with some concern that our beloved M-Corporation may be acquired by a German company. This is not good news since German companies usually have much higher social and environmental standards. This will cost huge amounts of money and significantly reduce our profits.
As our reliable partners, we expect you to do whatever is possible to stop this merger and follow the mission of our President: “America First”!
We are aware that your campaigns require financial support and we will certainly provide adequate funding by safe channels. We count on your contribution to our mutual interests and we are looking forward to a continuous fruitful collaboration.
The letter (originally in German) was drafted by Dr. Reinhard Szibor, Prof. emeritus for human genetics and forensic medicine