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  Consequences Of Genetic Intervention

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By: Kaspar Mittelstrass, M.D.
(Original title: Was verursacht der Mensch durch den Griff in die Erbanlage? Merkurstab 1995; 48:469-71. English by A. R. Meuss, FIL, MTA.
Was verursacht der Mensch durch den Griff in die Erbanlage? Papers read at a specialist conference held 4-6 March 1994, organized and published by Arbeitskreis fuer Emaehrungsforschung e.V. (nutrition research group), D-75378 Bad Liebenzell-Unterlengenhardt. 115 pp. ISBN 3-922290-24-8.)

"European Union Commissioner Bangemann recommends that people should not be afraid of genetically engineered foods." This might well have been a newspaper headline in May, 1995. Bangemann sees no need to declare the use of genetic engineering on food labels.

This is the current "non-result" of violent political controversy on a subject causing concern to many experts and organizations representing the interests of many different spheres of life where genetic engineering is applied in a highly irresponsible manner.

If Bangemann had studied the book Gentechnik published by the Arbeits-kreis fuer Emaehrungsforschung he would have found the necessary information presented succinctly and in an easily understandable style, and this might have made him take a more responsible attitude.

Genetic engineering involves revolutionary interventions in the development of life forms; it is as big a step as that taken from hunting and gathering to tilling the soil and animal husbandry. We are indebted to the Arbeitskreis fuer Emaehrungsforschung for taking up the subject and offering opportunities to form an opinion. The volume also contains articles by plant breeders using the biodynamic approach. These offer alternatives to genetic engineering. The book thus not only enables us to form an opinion on genetic engineering but also shows directions in which development may be taken in harmony with nature. The result is a compact, very readable book that throws all kinds of different lights on the problems of gene manipulation in biotechnology.

Petra Kuehne gives a clear, brief outline of the basis of genetics and genetic engineering as an introduction. She also has contributed an article on what genetic engineering and biotechnology are able to achieve today and are intended and able to do in the future. She relates this to the history of civilization through millennia, showing that manufactured foods have increasingly emancipated from their natural background. Plants (non-mushy tomatoes) and animals (Hermann bull, whose offspring are said to produce milk more akin to human milk - lactoferrin), changed by transfer of foreign genes and substances harvested from genetically changed microorganisms, are the logical consequence of modem scientific thinking which relates to physical matter only.

The species-specific nature of animals and plants is pushed aside and cannot develop. When people consume such foods there is danger of their essential human nature being pushed aside too, with due consequences. Or they are confronted with changed essential natures, with the digestive process having no mechanism for the essential task of breaking them down completely. Genetic engineering cuts out the normal rhythm of life so that development is faster and more radical. The changes are irreversible, and their later effects are not discernible.

Van der Wal's paper makes a fundamental contribution to the whole subject. He offers a wider view of heredity, doing away with rigid concentration on DNA but contrasting it with the significance of the periphery. The DNA dogma is only half the truth. Its role depends on interaction with the environment. The organism as a whole is brought to mind. Condition and cause are given their rightful place. Questions are asked about the cause-effect principle, which narrows the view, and the question is put as to meaning. This alone helps us find the essential ethical approach to perceiving true nature and, therefore, an ethic based on insight.

Peter Kunz considers genetics, genetic engineering and plant breeding. He sees genetic engineering as a logical consequence of developments in agriculture and does not exclude it on principle, though he wants to see it in the context of interaction between plant and total environment. Listing a large number of critical aspects he pleads for responsible evaluation of risk factors with these methods.

Legal, ethical and moral problems are referred to again and again in the papers and articles. Angelika Meier-Ploeger takes a practical approach to the legal issues, which tend to be on the dry side. Her paper is competent and lively. She is in favor of ethics based on individual insight, rather than an ethical norm and ably evolves the theme.

Peter Gruenewald's paper relates to the medical aspect of genetic engineering, giving many facts well known to the medical profession. The question he puts is whether heredity has a function in the mental, spiritual and biographical development of the individual. He also asks about the effect manipulation has on the DNA, which is the physical vehicle for heredity.

Careful observation (e.g. of motor development from childhood to adulthood) increases the conviction that the forces of heredity in the human organism have to be forced back more and more by the spiritual principle in man if human beings are to achieve self-determination and freedom. Gene manipulations may also be considered from this point of view.

If we see ourselves merely as genetically-determined higher animals, we deprive ourselves of the potential for human development. Human freedom lies in the individual being able to be what he thinks himself to be. Thinking in terms of genes and genetic engineering has an influence on the human mind, forcing us to accept a particular approach, and this will have real social consequences in time to come. This is the conclusion arrived at in a wide-ranging paper.

The articles by biodynamic agri- and horticulturists Berthold Heyden (Keyserlingk Institute, Salem), Georg Wilhelm Schmidt (Hera Research Facility, Uess) and Amadeus Zschunke (Eckarthof, Lengwil/Switzerland) describe possible methods of helping plants to open up to the forces of the environment, thus regenerating their reproductive and nutritive potential. The future lies not in genetic engineering but in recognizing and aiding the life principle.

The scientific side of genetic engineering is highly interesting and highly topical, adding not only to our knowledge but also to our insight. We shall come across this science more and more frequently in future, and I would like once more to thank the Arbeitskreis fuer Ernaehrungsforschung for publishing this book, which is definitely worth reading. It helps us to understand the processes of genetic engineering and shows the thinking which lies behind it. It offers an introduction to the inherent problems and a critical assessment of the current situation.

Kaspar Mittelstrass, MD
Filderklinik Haberschlaiheide 7
D-70794 Filderstadt

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