Get ready for genetically engineered cabbages that come complete with their own scorpion poison, just for you to eat. It's touted as requiring less pesticide use and being, of course, completely safe. Close investigation, though, indicates that neither claim is likely true.
A pesticide made with scorpion poison genetically engineered into a virus was first tested back in 1994. Interestingly, the scientists who sprayed the test field wore full body suits to protect them from this "harmless" poison. One must wonder at just how safe it could be when the developers themselves don't trust it more than that! Of course, the head of the trial, Professor David Bishop, insisted that the trial was safe—though he himself opted to take a vacation, rather than be there for it.
In the newer incarnation of scorpion poison genetic engineering, genes from the scorpion, Androctonus australus hector, for production of poison are being genetically engineered into cabbages. The goal is to produce them for public consumption. With the FDA's history of rubberstamp approvals for genetically modified crops, it seems unlikely that anything will interfere with their production and entry into a supermarket near you.
Let's examine the justifications given for this never-to-be-found-in-nature cabbage-scorpion chimera:
1. It will result in the use of less pesticide.
At first blush, this seems to make sense. But it's specious reasoning. The reality is that, instead of spraying pesticides onto the plants, the plants will contain them in every single cell. The result is that the pesticide will end up in the bodies of people who eat the cabbage. Thus, human beings will become the unofficial pesticide sinks, instead of the environment. I suppose there's a plus in that, but I do not personally intend to be one of those pesticide sinks. Do you?
2. It's completely safe.
Where have we heard that before? In this instance it stems from two things:
- The scorpion venom has been modified so that it won't hurt humans: This isn't quite true. What they've done is select a section of the genome that codes for a toxin, called AAiT, which is known to be poisonous to insects.
- A study that purports to show that it does no harm to humans: Well ... not exactly. The human testing was not performed on live people, nor was it performed on normal healthy cells. It was tested on MCF-7 breast cancer cells—not exactly normal human cells. Do you find that comforting? I certainly don't.