Well deserved media coverage has been given to experiments involving recombinant DNA, some of which create “new” life forms by splicing pieces of genetic material from one species into another.
Media attention increased recently when Advanced Genetic Sciences (AGS), in Oakland, California, tested genetically altered bacteria in the open air without approval. Originally they had approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to perform the test on a California strawberry patch but had jumped the gun. The EPA-sponsored experiment was the second one approved for outdoor recombinant DNA testing.
The first DNA experiment to be approved, which seemingly has been overlooked totally by the mass media, was by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Last fall, the NIH Recombinant DNA Committee approved field testing of a modified bacterium which is expected to prevent crown gall tumors in tobacco plants.
What apparently has been completed overlooked (or implications not fully understood) is that the NIH-approved experiment, if successful, could lead to a disease resistant tobacco plant which, in turn, would lead to a major increase in the yield of tobacco crops.
This could prove a special boon to the domestic tobacco industry, which is already badly beleaguered by a shrinking market, falling prices, and foreign competition.
The irony, if not hypocrisy, of one arm of the government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, supporting the tobacco industry while another, NIA — parent agency of the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, lung, and Blood Institute — attacks it, has not received the media interest it deserves in the past.
Now we have the extraordinary circumstance where the conflict falls within the same agency. And yet, it also does not seem to attract media attention.
Or, as a public health authority with the American Cancer Society in Oakland, put it “Here you have a case of the National Institutes of Health funding research to make a better tobacco plan when the ultimate product kills 350,000 people each year.” It would seem that that deserves some media attention.
CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS, 11/18/85, “Field test of genetically altered tobacco approved,” pp 4-5; 11/25/85, “Field-Test Approval of DNA Products Draws Criticism,” by David Hanson, pp 24-25; personal letters to PROJECT CENSORED, Steven D. Stellman, Ph.D., 3/11/86, Assistant Vice President for Epidemiology, Epidemiology & Statistics Department of Research, American Cancer Society, New York, and George P. Saunders, M.P.H., American Cancer Society, Oakland.