The return of mad cows?

The infamous four breasted anti-GE image produced by MAdGE

Remember MAdGE?

This was a group of trendy, bored Remuera housewife-types Mothers Against Genetic Engineering led by former 1980’s pop star Alannah Currie, who were – unsurprisingly – against genetic engineering.

MAdGE was probably more famous for its soft-porn poster of a four-breasted woman or its members taking off their tops in Parliament’s public gallery rather than anything it actually achieved. The group suddenly appeared on the scene in 2002 and then disappeared just as quickly a year or so later. 

MAdGE claimed that genetic engineering posed the greatest threat to mankind since – well – the last biggest threat to mankind. Fanned by conspiracy theories and pseudo-science, Currie and her cohorts believed that GE was the likely cause for everything from cross-pollinated ‘Franken food’ to mad cow disease.  

Thankfully, Currie quickly got bored with lecturing people about the evils of GE and took off back to the UK and reinvented herself as artist-upholsterer. Her group was the precursor to the next lot of uninformed, bored Remuera housewives types who now, a decade later, are protesting about the next greatest threat to mankind – climate change.

Ironically, today’s climate change female warriors (worriers) are also led by another middle-aged, scaremongering ‘artist’ – actress Robyn Malcolm! (Let’s hope she too can find a new career, may be as polar bear taxidermist in Iceland, and saves us from her ill-informed lectures about global warming)

Anyway, just like one of Currie’s awful 1980’s Thomson Twins tunes, the anti-GE conspiracy theories could be on the comeback following recent media reports revealing a potential cover up of research about genetic engineering.

News that a report critical of AgResearch’s practices at its genetic engineering laboratories has sparked a war of words between the Canterbury University professor who wrote it and the Crown research institute.

Professor Jack Heinemann, from the university’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, was asked by GE Free New Zealand to look into AgResearch’s monitoring of the risk of horizontal gene transfers at its Ruakura facility.

His report looked at the agency’s offal holes containing genetically engineered cow carcasses and its monitoring of the risk of material from those pits contaminating the soil.  Heinemann found what he described as fundamental flaws in the monitoring of horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified animals disposed of in offal pits.

He said AgResearch was monitoring soil that was irrelevant because it was at the top of the offal pits, and not metres below, where the animals were buried. Heinemann said whenever signals were detected that the risk of a transfer existed, they were not rigorously pursued.

However, AgResearch says its monitoring programme is in line with best practice science and in seven or eight years of practice has not detected any measurable transfer of genetic material.

Meanwhile, research manager Jimmy Suttee says the CRI was entitled to seek out whoever it wished to refute the report’s claims, and that its monitoring methods at Ruakura were sound. Suttie also denied that the report damaged AgResearch’s reputation, saying he did not think the public understood the debate.

However, that is exactly the problem Dr Suttie – the public do not understand issues like GE and climate change. And this makes it easy for groups like MAdGE – and the global warming screamers – to sow seeds of doubt and talk about conspiracy theories.

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. Organisations like AgResearch need to be open and honest about their research, so broken down pop singers, actresses and other mad cows can stick to their day jobs rather than stirring up unnecessary public concerns via pseudo science and scare tactics.