The importance of commenting

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Thirteenth in a series - L is for Lab

Yesterday was the last day you could comment on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website concerning their Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement on Biotechnology Regulations. The commenting period began June 29, 2018.

In early 2017 the Agency had published a draft of Proposed Rules and invited public comment. That 32-page document addressed the need to regulate the import, interstate movement and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms (basically). Though the GE plants are for the purpose of introducing new or improved types of food, or affecting crop yield or resistance to disease, or meeting other goals, they could have detrimental effects so oversight is needed.

That document states:

To date, APHIS has issued more than 18,000 authorizations for the environmental release of GE organisms in multiple sites, primarily for research and development of improved crop varieties for agriculture. Additionally, APHIS has issued more than 12,000 authorizations for the importation of GE organisms, and nearly 12,000 authorizations for the interstate movement of GE organisms. APHIS has, to date, denied slightly more than 1,500 requests for permits or notifications, many of which were denied because APHIS ultimately decided the requests lacked sufficient information on which to base an Agency decision.

Biotech labs are busy places. Biotech is big business and hopeful investors watch its developments religiously. So do groups that are concerned about the environment and health safety.

After the APHIS document was posted in early 2017 and open for public comments, it was withdrawn in early November 2017 to go back to the drawing board. The commenters brought up too many reasons why the proposed rules needed work.

APHIS of the USDA is only one government agency concerned with what biotech labs are inventing. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety) and probably others are involved with oversight of biotech products and developments.

Whether approving the release of the first GE mosquito whose mission was to decimate its fellow mosquitoes, or permitting genetically modified livestock that produce human milk, or letting people try a new drug even though its risks are not fully understood, in the USA, biotech must answer to the regulators.

Laboratory safety is carefully prescribed and guarded but no one can prevent scientists from tinkering with the genomes of living organisms. The inventions of biotechnology are changing our definition and experience of life everyday. As Christians, what are the questions we need to ask relating to GE? What should our comments be? A comment can be a powerful lever in a democratic society.

Transgenic Lox - Not Kosher!

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twelfth in a series - K is for Kosher

Many Jews today follow dietary laws that God commanded some 3600 or more years ago. In Leviticus 11 and again in Deuteronomy 14 the Lord explains that animals that chew their cud and have split hooves are good to eat, and lists the creatures that should be avoided. A kid should not be boiled in its mother’s milk, and this rule was later extended to forbid that meat could be consumed or even combined with dairy products. Animal slaughter and preparation were prescribed in set ways. Certain birds were not permitted. Only fish with fins and scales were allowable. Some insects were OK, like locusts.

These rules have at times been viewed metaphorically by rabbis, theologians and others, for example, the godly man does not have concourse with the entire creation but only with its clean aspects. As Gentiles were brought into God’s kingdom through Christ, the rules were set aside except that Christians should not eat animals that were strangled or that had their blood. (Acts 5:20)

In general it is accepted that God limited his people’s diet to healthful foods that were least likely to promote disease due to bacteria from the forbidden creatures and insects due to their loathsome habits. As well, it is easier to corral or capture herbivores than animals with incisor and canine teeth that can shred you.

A pig is an omnivore that eats both plants and animals, as humans do, and is not particular about his diet — even eats dead animals, insect, his own feces, though by today's farm standards pork is generally regarded as safe if properly cooked.

For the kosher rule, the difficulty today is that porcine (pig) material may be found in unexpected settings. This article describes a method for detecting porcine ingredients that proved they were in a chicken nugget. Or, what about your meatballs? But those examples only show that meats do get mixed up in production and cooking or frying, not that the cow had any pig genes. We’re not talking GM; biotech simply invented the test to verify there was porcine material in the food.

This article describes the detection of both porcine and bovine DNA in pharmaceutical gelatin capsules which are used to encase medicines. Taking ones medicine may not be kosher.

It can be very difficult to be kosher in ones intake, so there are councils whose work is to maintain the standards, and some police the biotech world. “Kosher and/or halal (Muslim) certification is a good example with which to study how sacred notions and beliefs influence the secular, commercial world of biotechnology.”

The religious Jew has studied whether genetically modified foods may be considered as kosher. We Christians have wondered that as well. Is it OK with God to change the genetic structure of a creature that He made? Is it OK to eat GM foods? Will we suffer unintended consequences? Most Americans eat GM foods, including Jews for whom they must be approved by the Orthodox Union.

Are there transgenic critters among those that chew the cud and have split hooves— that is— do the kosher ones have genes from other animals? I read about some but in the articles it was noted that these GM creatures will not enter the food supply— unless by accident. They were modified to make the cow healthier or to produce materials for human health, such as antibodies to fight the ebola virus. And in any case the added gene was not from a non-kosher source.

But are there any formerly kosher creatures in the food supply that have been modified by genes from non-kosher ones? Aha! Yes.

Some salmon, also known as lox when brined, often served with bagels in Jewish circles, are transgenic. The AquAdvantage salmon “produce extra growth hormone, allowing them to grow to market size in 18 months, rather than the usual 3 years.”

From where do the genes derive to promote the fast growth of the AquAdvantage salmon? From the Ocean pout, which is not a kosher fish. This is not your Father’s salmon.

Angel fish bild.JPG
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1

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A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

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As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

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