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<nettime> background on CAE science in light of accusations
Claire Pentecost on Mon, 7 Jun 2004 06:37:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> background on CAE science in light of accusations

Below is a text i just finished, attempting to contextualize the work of CAE 
and the federal accusations against Steve Kurtz. I have collected information 
on their GMO project and also on CAE's in-progress, unpublished investigation 
of bioweapons research and policy, as well as the statute under which Kurtz is 
accused. It may be useful to further discussions of this case. 

I welcome comments, questions, corrections. This is intended for the 
CAEdefensefund site and of course i want to get it right.

claire pentecost

Critical Art Ensemble has very publicly and legally performed scientific 
processes to demystify them and make them accessible to audiences. "Free Range 
Grains," CAE's latest project, includes a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for 
testing food products for the presence of genetically modified organisms. 

The biotech industry is a very little understood force transforming our lives 
with almost no public input.  In the case of genetically modified agriculture, 
transgenic crops were approved by the FDA for commercial use in 1994 with no 
studies on the long term effects on human health and the natural environment, 
no plan for tracking those effects, no liability for the corporations selling 
this technology, and no public debate.  Slowly over the last decade, US 
consumers have become aware that all foods containing corn, soy or canola are 
genetically modified, unless they are labeled organic. Still the majority of 
the population does not realize they are part of an immense unregulated 
experiment. There are no labels for these ingredients. When the industry states 
that there are no studies on these products indicating harm to human health, 
what they are saying is that there are no studies. The one bona fide 
independent study conducted did suggest damage to the intestines and other 
organs of rats. This study basically ended the 36 year career of Dr. Arpad 
Pusztai at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland. Days after he spoke 
publicly of his findings in August 1998, Dr. Pusztai was removed from service, 
his research papers were seized, and his data confiscated; and he was 
prohibited from talking to anyone about his research work. 

The new corn, soy , canola, and cotton were engineered to resist herbicides 
sold by the same company selling these seeds and/or to contain a bacteria toxic 
to pests  that feed on the crop.  These traits were marketed to produce higher 
profits for the companies that control them as intellectual property; they were 
not about nutrition or flavor or even increased crop yield. Claims that the 
transgenic products would reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides in the 
field (and incidental claims that they would produce higher yields) have proven 
to be false. ( I can get a footnote)

The equipment that CAE used to test common food products to demonstrate the 
presence of transgenes has been confiscated by the FBI although field and 
laboratory tests have shown that it was not used for any illegal purpose, nor 
is it possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of 
dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and 
possess such equipment.

When the Joint Task Force on Terrorism searched Kurtz's home, he was in the 
midst of researching the issue of biological warfare and bioterrorism, to 
assess the actual danger these weapons pose and to bring U.S. policy on such 
threats into public dialogue. To do this research, he had many books on the 
subject and had legally acquired three bacteria commonly used as educational 
tools in schools and university biological departments.  It is likely that 
these are the "biological agents" indicated in the charges against Kurtz. They 
are bacillus globigii, serratia marcenscens and e.coli.

Harmless to humans, Bacillus globigii is extremely common and found easily in 
samplings of wind-borne dust. BG is safely used in biological studies as a 
stand-in for pathogenic bacteria. It is used as a biological tracer for anthrax 
because its particle size and dispersal characteristics are similar to those of 
anthrax. A household bleach-and-water solution easily kills it.

Serratia marcescens is another harmless, common microbe which lives in soil, 
water, on plants, and in animals. It is distinguished by  bright red color and 
may grow on bread and other edibles stored in a damp place.  Various Christian 
miracles in which communion wafers seemed to "bleed", have now been thought to 
be a result of S. marcenscens.

Because this microbe is so common, because of its bright hue and because it 
used to be considered benign, scientists and teachers frequently used it in 
experiments to track microbes and to demonstrate the importance of hand 
washing. For example, it was used to in handshaking experiments in which one 
person dipped a hand in a broth of S. marcescens and then shook hands with 
another person who in turn shook the hand of another and so on down the line.

More recently, S. marcescens has been found to be pathogenic (pneumonia, 
urinary track and possibly other nonlethal infections) to _some_ people, it is 
no longer _recommended_ for use in schools and is not as widely used to track 
bacterial movement in the environment. But it is still legal, and educational 
institutions still use it.  I found a webpage of high school student reports on 
their own experiments using this bacteria: (http://
www.horacemann.pvt.k12.ny.us/academics/science/expbio/main.html). It also can 
be killed with bleach, which is often recommended by city water departments 
when customers inquire about the reddish film that may appear in toilets.

E. coli, a well-known intestinal flora, is one of the most widely used bacteria 
in biological laboratories. There are many different strains; some that receive 
periodic attention in the media are responsible for foodborne illnesses. This 
is very distant from the particular strain found in Kurtz's possession. What 
he had is a variation of the benign form found in our stomachs, which had been 
even further disarmed by laboratories.

One of the technicalities on which the prosecution may focus is the definition 
of a biological agent as one that has been _extracted_ from a natural source.  
Even though the bacteria in question would be easy to collect in any household, 
the particular samples Kurtz possessed were cultured in a lab and purchased.  

The accusations derive from the USA PATRIOT ACT OF 2001, SEC. 817 EXPANSION OF 

"Whoever knowingly possesses any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system of 
a type or in a quantity that, under the circumstances, is not reasonably 
justified by a prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful 
purpose , shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, 
or both. In this subsection, the terms "biological agent" and "toxin" do not 
encompass any biological agent or toxin that is in its naturally occurring 
environment, if the biological agent or toxin has not been cultivated, 
collected, or otherwise extracted from its natural source.;"

For an excellent source evaluating the current diversion of public monies into 
bioweapons research and defense and the consequent militarization of the health 
system, as well as the disruption of other extremely important immunological 
research, please see "Bioterrorism Preparedness: Cooptation of Public Health?" 
By Victor W. Sidel, MD; Robert M. Gould, MD; Hillel W. Cohen, DrPH         

The Council for Responsible Genetics has also produced and collected many 
papers on the subject:     http://www.gene-watch.org/programs/biowarfare.html
See in particular their Boston University Biodefense webpage:   

The implications of the current charges against Kurtz, given what we know about 
the evidence, is that it is illegal for a citizen to possess materials commonly 
used for research in legitimate institutions everywhere.  If we allow the 
government to call this terrorism the effects will be felt not only by artists, 
academics, amateur scientists and researchers of all kinds but will exacerbate 
the chill already being felt by institutional scientific research. 

The case of highly respected infectious disease researcher Dr. Thomas Butler 
has already demonstrated the deleterious effects of unfair and disproportionate 
persecution of researchers on all scientists. To quote a statement by four 
Nobel laureates in support of Dr. Butler, "the determination to convict Dr. 
Butler and put him in jail sends a strong message to the scientific community 
that runs counter to the best interests of our country and scientific research. 
It says: this 62-year-old man, who voluntarily reported missing material and 
cooperated with federal investigators, is now being repaid with a ruined career 
and a personal cost from which he and his family will never recover. The 
message says that those scientists most involved in bioterrorism-related 
research are most likely to be victims of punitive attacks at the hands of 
federal authorities. We worry that the result will be reluctance to engage in 
this urgently needed type of research."

When there is no public authority willing to protect and inform citizens 
against the interests of corporations (in the case of transgenic agriculture) 
and when millions of public dollars are being rerouted toward a militarization 
of public health research, art has become a place where issues can be brought 
into public light, understood and discussed.  Many artists are currently 
training themselves in science and technological methods in order to better 
inform audiences of the processes affecting their health, their choices and 
their lives. These artists are not pretending to be scientists, but they are 
performing "prophylactic, protective  bona fide research" toward educational 
"or other peaceful purposes" (as stated by H.R. 3162 provisions under on which 
it is legal and permissible for a citizen to possess biological agents).

Researched and compiled by Claire Pentecost

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