of genetically engineered foods and widespread biotech food production
threatens to eliminate farming as it has been practiced for 12,000 years.
Little Marais, Minnesota
The technology of genetic engineering (GE), wielded
by transnational "life science" corporations such as Monsanto
and Novartis, is the practice of altering or disrupting the genetic blueprints
of living organisms -- plants, animals, humans, microorganisms -- patenting
them, and then selling the resulting gene-foods, seeds, or other products
Life science corporations proclaim, with great fanfare,
that their new products will make agriculture sustainable, eliminate world
hunger, cure disease, and vastly improve public health. In reality, through
their business practices and political lobbying, the gene engineers have
made it clear that they intend to use GE to dominate and monopolize the
global market for seeds, foods, fiber, and medical products.
GE is a revolutionary new technology
still in its early experimental stages of development. This technology
has the power to break down fundamental genetic barriers -- not only between
species -- but between humans, animals, and plants. By randomly inserting
together the genes of non-related species -- utilizing viruses, antibiotic-resistant
genes, and bacteria as vectors, markers, and promoters -- and permanently
altering their genetic codes, gene-altered organisms are created that
pass these genetic changes onto their offspring through heredity.
Gene engineers all over the world are now snipping,
inserting, recombining, rearranging, editing, and programming genetic
material. Animal genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into
the chromosomes of plants, fish, and animals, creating heretofore unimaginable
transgenic life forms. For the first time in history, transnational biotechnology
corporations are becoming the architects and "owners" of life.
With little or no regulatory restraints, labeling
requirements, or scientific protocol, bio-engineers have begun creating
hundreds of new GE "Frankenfoods" and crops, oblivious to human
and environmental hazards, or negative socioeconomic impacts on the world's
several billion farmers and rural villagers.
Despite an increasing number of scientists warning
that current gene-splicing techniques are crude, inexact, and unpredictable
-- and therefore inherently dangerous -- pro-biotech governments and regulatory
agencies, led by the US, maintain that GE foods and crops are "substantially
equivalent" to conventional foods, and therefore require neither
mandatory labeling nor pre-market safety-testing. This Brave New World
of Frankenfoods is frightening.
There are currently more than four
dozen genetically engineered foods and crops being grown or
sold in the US. These foods and crops are widely dispersed into the food
chain and the environment. Over 70 million acres of GE crops are presently
under cultivation in the US, while up to 500,000 dairy cows are being
injected regularly with Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).
Most supermarket processed food items
now "test positive" for the presence of GE ingredients.
In addition several dozen more GE crops are in the final stages of development
and will soon be released into the environment and sold in the marketplace.
According to the biotechnology industry almost
100% of US food and fiber will be genetically engineered within 5-10 years.
The "hidden menu" of these unlabeled genetically engineered
foods and food ingredients in the US now includes soybeans, soy oil, corn,
potatoes, squash, canola oil, cotton seed oil, papaya, tomatoes, and dairy
Genetic engineering of food and fiber products is
inherently unpredictable and dangerous -- for humans, for animals, the
environment, and for the future of sustainable and organic agriculture.
As Dr. Michael Antoniou, a British molecular scientist points out, gene-splicing
has already resulted in the "unexpected production of toxic substances...
in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals with the
problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen."
The hazards of GE foods and crops fall basically into
three categories: human health hazards, environmental hazards, and socioeconomic
hazards. A brief look at the already-proven and likely hazards of GE products
provides a convincing argument for why we need a global moratorium on
all GE foods and crops.
Toxins & Poisons
Genetically engineered products clearly have the potential
to be toxic and a threat to human health. In 1989 a genetically engineered
brand of L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement,
killed 37 Americans and permanently disabled or afflicted more than 5,000
others with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder, eosinophilia
myalgia syndrome (EMS), before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration.
The manufacturer, Showa Denko, Japan's third largest
chemical company, had for the first time in 1988-89 used GE bacteria to
produce the over-the-counter supplement. It is believed that the bacteria
somehow became contaminated during the recombinant DNA process. Showa
Denko has already paid out over $2 billion in damages to EMS victims.
In 1999, front-page headline stories in the British
press revealed Rowett Institute scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai's explosive
research findings that GE potatoes, spliced with DNA from the snowdrop
plant and a commonly used viral promoter, the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus
(CaMv), are poisonous to mammals. GE-snowdrop potatoes, found to be significantly
different in chemical composition from regular potatoes, damaged the vital
organs and immune systems of lab rats fed the GE potatoes.
Most alarming of all, damage to the rats' stomach
linings -- apparently a severe viral infection -- most likely was caused
by the CaMv viral promoter, a promoter spliced into nearly all GE foods
Dr. Pusztai's pathbreaking research work unfortunately
remains incomplete (government funding was cut off and he was fired after
he spoke to the media). But more and more scientists around the world
are warning that genetic manipulation can increase the levels of natural
plant toxins in foods (or create entirely new toxins) in unexpected ways
by switching on genes that produce poisons.
And since regulatory agencies do not currently require
the kind of thorough chemical and feeding tests that Dr. Pusztai was conducting,
consumers have now become involuntary guinea pigs in a vast genetic experiment.
As Dr. Pusztai warns, "Think of William Tell shooting an arrow at
a target. Now put a blindfold on the man doing the shooting and that's
the reality of the genetic engineer doing a gene insertion."
Increased Cancer Risks
In 1994, the FDA approved the sale of Monsanto's controversial
GE recombinant Bovine
Growth Hormone (rBGH) -- injected into dairy cows to force
them to produce more milk -- even though scientists warned
that significantly higher levels (400-500% or more) of a potent
chemical hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), in the
milk and dairy products of injected cows, could pose serious
hazards for human breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
A number of studies have shown that humans with elevated
levels of IGF-1 in their bodies are much more likely to get cancer. In
addition the US Congressional watchdog agency, the GAO, told the FDA not
to approve rBGH, arguing that increased antibiotic residues in the milk
of rBGH-injected cows (resulting from higher rates of udder infections
requiring antibiotic treatment) posed an unacceptable risk for public
In 1998, heretofore undisclosed Monsanto/FDA documents
were released by government scientists in Canada, showing damage to laboratory
rats fed dosages of rBGH. Significant infiltration of rBGH into the prostate
of the rats as well as thyroid cysts indicated potential cancer hazards
from the drug. Subsequently the government of Canada banned rBGH in early
1999. The European Union has had a ban in place since 1994.
Although rBGH continues to be injected into 4-5% of
all US dairy cows, no other industrialized country has legalized its use.
Even the GATT Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations food standards body,
has refused to certify that rBGH is safe. (Also see: Monsanto and Fox
TV Unite to Suppress Journalists'Free Speech on Hazards of Genetically
Engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST)
In 1996 a major GE food disaster was narrowly averted
when Nebraska researchers learned that a Brazil nut gene spliced into
soybeans could induce potentially fatal allergies in people sensitive
to Brazil nuts. Animal tests of these Brazil nut-spliced soybeans had
turned up negative.
People with food allergies (which currently afflicts
8% of all American children), whose symptoms can range from mild unpleasantness
to sudden death, may likely be harmed by exposure to foreign proteins
spliced into common food products. Since humans have never before eaten
most of the foreign proteins now being gene-spliced into foods, stringent
pre-market safety-testing (including long-term animal feeding and volunteer
human feeding studies) is necessary in order to prevent a future public
Mandatory labeling is also necessary so that those
suffering from food allergies can avoid hazardous GE foods and so that
public health officials can trace allergens back to their source when
GE-induced food allergies break out.
Unfortunately the FDA and other global regulatory
agencies do not routinely require pre-market animal and human studies
to ascertain whether new allergens or toxins, or increased levels of human
allergens or toxins we already know about, are present in genetically
engineered foods. As British scientist Dr. Mae-Wan Ho points out "There
is no known way to predict the allergenic potential of GE foods. Allergic
reactions typically occur only some time after the subject is sensitized
by initial exposure to the allergen."
Damage to Food Quality
A 1999 study by Dr. Marc Lappe published in the Journal
of Medicinal Food found that concentrations of beneficial phytoestrogen
compounds thought to protect against heart disease and cancer were lower
in genetically modified soybeans than in traditional strains. These and
other studies, including Dr. Pusztai's, indicate that genetically engineering
food will likely result in foods lower in quality and nutrition. For example
the milk from cows injected with rBGH contains higher levels of pus, bacteria,
When gene engineers splice a foreign gene into a plant
or microbe, they often link it to another gene, called an antibiotic resistance
marker gene (ARM), that helps determine if the first gene was successfully
spliced into the host organism.
Some researchers warn that these ARM genes might unexpectedly
recombine with disease-causing bacteria or microbes in the environment
or in the guts of animals or people who eat GE food, contributing to the
growing public health danger of antibiotic resistance -- of infections
that cannot be cured with traditional antibiotics, for example new strains
of salmonella, e-coli, campylobacter, and enterococci. EU (European Union)
authorities are currently considering a ban on all GE foods containing
antibiotic resistant marker genes.
Residues in the Soil and on Crops
Contrary to biotech industry propaganda, recent studies
have found that US farmers growing GE crops are using just as many toxic
pesticides and herbicides as conventional farmers, and in some cases are
using more. Crops genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant account
for 70% of all GE crops planted in 1998.
The so-called "benefits" of these herbicide-resistant
crops are that farmers can spray as much of a particular herbicide on
their crops as they want -- killing the weeds without damaging their crop.
Scientists estimate that herbicide-resistant crops planted around the
globe will triple the amount of toxic broad-spectrum herbicides used in
agriculture. These broad-spectrum herbicides are designed to literally
kill everything green.
The leaders in biotechnology are the same giant chemical
companies -- Monsanto, DuPont, AgrEvo, Novartis, and Rhone-Poulenc --
that sell toxic pesticides. These companies are genetically engineering
plants to be resistant to herbicides that they manufacture so they can
sell more herbicides to farmers who, in turn, can apply more poisonous
herbicides to crops to kill weeds.
"Genetic pollution" and collateral damage
from GE field crops already have begun to wreak environmental havoc. Wind,
rain, birds, bees, and insect pollinators have begun carrying genetically-altered
pollen into adjoining fields, polluting the DNA of crops of organic and
An organic farm in Texas has been contaminated with
genetic drift from GE crops on a nearby farm and EU regulators are considering
setting an "allowable limit" for genetic contamination of non-GE
foods, because they don't believe genetic pollution can be controlled.
Because they are alive, gene-altered crops are inherently more unpredictable
than chemical pollutants -- they can reproduce, migrate, and mutate. Once
released, it is virtually impossible to recall genetically engineered
organisms back to the laboratory or the field.
Damage to Beneficial Insects
and Soil Fertility
Earlier this year, Cornell University researchers
made a startling discovery. They found that pollen from genetically engineered
Bt corn was poisonous to Monarch butterflies. The study adds to a growing
body of evidence that GE crops are adversely affecting a number of beneficial
insects, including ladybugs and lacewings, as well as beneficial soil
microorganisms, bees, and possibly birds.
Creation of GE "Superweeds"
Genetically engineering crops to be herbicide-resistant
or to produce their own pesticide presents dangerous problems. Pests and
weeds will inevitably emerge that are pesticide or herbicide-resistant,
which means that stronger, more toxic chemicals will be needed to get
rid of the pests.
We are already seeing the emergence of the first "superweeds"
as GE herbicide-resistant crops such as rapeseed (canola) spread their
herbicide-resistance traits to related weeds such as wild mustard plants.
Lab and field tests also indicate that common plant pests such as cotton
boll worms, living under constant pressure from GE crops, will soon evolve
into "superpests" completely immune to Bt sprays and other environmentally
sustainable biopesticides. This will present a serious danger for organic
and sustainable farmers whose biological pest management practices will
be unable to cope with increasing numbers of superpests and superweeds.
Creation of New
Viruses and Bacteria
Gene-splicing will inevitably result in unanticipated
outcomes and dangerous surprises that damage plants and the environment.
Researchers conducting experiments at Michigan State University several
years ago found that genetically-altering plants to resist viruses can
cause the viruses to mutate into new, more virulent forms. Scientists
in Oregon found that a genetically engineered soil microorganism, Klebsiella
planticola, completely killed essential soil nutrients. Environmental
Protection Agency whistle blowers issued similar warnings in 1997 protesting
government approval of a GE soil bacteria called Rhizobium melitoli.
By virtue of their "superior" genes, some
genetically engineered plants and animals will inevitably run amok, overpowering
wild species in the same way that introduced exotic species, such as kudzu
vine and Dutch elm disease, which have created problems in North America.
What will happen to wild fish and marine species, for example, when scientists
release into the environment carp, salmon, and trout that are twice as
large, and eat twice as much food, as their wild counterparts?
The patenting of genetically engineered foods and
widespread biotech food production threatens to eliminate farming as it
has been practiced for 12,000 years. GE patents such as the Terminator
Technology will render seeds infertile and force hundreds of millions
of farmers who now save and share their seeds to purchase evermore expensive
GE seeds and chemical inputs from a handful of global biotech/seed monopolies.
If the trend is not stopped, the patenting of transgenic
plants and food-producing animals will soon lead to universal "bioserfdom"
in which farmers will lease their plants and animals from biotech conglomerates
such as Monsanto and pay royalties on seeds and offspring. Family and
indigenous farmers will be driven off the land and consumers' food choices
will be dictated by a cartel of transnational corporations. Rural communities
will be devastated. Hundreds of millions of farmers and agricultural workers
worldwide will lose their livelihoods.
The genetic engineering and patenting of animals reduces
living beings to the status of manufactured products and will result in
much suffering. In January 1994, the USDA announced that scientists had
completed genetic "road maps" for cattle and pigs, a precursor
to evermore experimentation on live animals. In addition to the cruelty
inherent in such experimentation (the "mistakes" are born with
painful deformities, crippled, blind, and so on), these "manufactured"
creatures have no greater value to their "creators" than mechanical
Animals genetically engineered for use in laboratories,
such as the infamous "Harvard mouse" which contains a human
cancer-causing gene that will be passed down to all succeeding generations,
were created to suffer. A purely reductionist science, biotechnology reduces
all life to bits of information (genetic code) that can be arranged and
rearranged at whim.
Stripped of their integrity and sacred qualities,
animals who are merely objects to their "inventors" will be
treated as such. Currently, hundreds of genetically engineered "freak"
animals are awaiting patent approval from the federal government. One
can only wonder, after the wholesale gene-altering and patenting of animals,
will GE "designer babies" be next?
Published in Motion Magazine
August 29, 1999.
Originally published by Ronnie Cummins in the August 24, 1999 issue
of the Internet publication Campaign
for Food Safety News. Republished with permission.
Ronnie Cummins works at the Campaign
for Food Safety
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