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Biotechnology – A Genetic Pandora’s Box
The biotech industry has experienced explosive growth, less so than the high-tech industry. It is driven by two factors – the curiosity and remuneration of its scientists. The profits are huge and it is these profits that are blinding its proponents and fueling the debate.
It all started in 1995 with the improvement of the humble tomato. But what did it open Pandora’s Box. Today we see many varieties of genetically modified products that look similar on the outside but are very different in their genetic make-up. This practice of creating designer foods through gene manipulation is seen as the future of agriculture. Geneticists tell us with bated breath that this new technology will revolutionize our lives and electrify the food industry. Some of the purported benefits of this gene manipulation are:
o Food more tolerant to chemicals and better resistant to pests and diseases
o Greater nutritional content and improved food processing properties
o Resistance to adverse soil and weather conditions
o Improved ripening, texture and taste of foods
But is it safe?
Although the technology is effective, the issue of food safety remains dubious and makes misleading claims. Genetic engineering is still in its infancy, and scientists have no idea what they’re messing with. By inserting genes to change the structure and content, they interfere with DNA, which is a self-organizing, self-replicating macromolecule, with the ability to correct errors. The introduction of an alien gene introduces instability. The stress will cause the molecule to try and pull out, or mutate, the foreign gene, resulting in a new structure and potentially gross malfunction. This instability or unwanted trait will not become apparent for several generations.
At this time, Agriculture Canada and the USDA have not identified long-term health risks. Despite promises to the contrary by the biotech industry and regulatory authorities, all tests conducted to date are meant to protect the industry without guaranteeing public safety. Standard toxicology tests are conducted by the industry to benefit from, no testing by regulatory authorities (they rely on industry data), no independent scientific tests, no long-term studies, no sixth, seventh, eighth and later generation studies, and no monitoring. Publishing for the Environment. In other words, the test is one-sided. The only meaningful experiments are those that use human populations as involuntary guinea pigs and the environment as outdoor laboratories.
The biotech industry specializes in half-truths, outright fraud, and outlandish claims. It should come as no surprise to learn that there are large biotech players manufacturing and distributing biocides (eg Monsanto). Not surprisingly, intense lobbying by the same companies has led to a large increase in permitted herbicide residues on crops. GM crops can tolerate increased use of herbicides, leading to a significant increase in use.
So we can easily see that biotechnology, instead of being used to solve agricultural problems, is more profitable than needed. It increases farmers’ dependence on industrial inputs to legally restrict farmers’ right to reproduce, share and store seeds. By controlling the germplasm from seed to sale and forcing farmers to pay inflated prices for the seed-chemical package, the companies are determined to get the most return on their investment.
Public opinion polls show global public opposition to genetically modified foods. In France, Britain, Denmark, USA and European countries, 68-90% of all polled people were against the use of GM products. Giant chemical companies are well aware of this dilemma.
(There is strong opposition from the public, the media and at least even from retailers) – Leaked internal Monsanto report.
Yet we may continue to dine on DNA-altered cuisine unknowingly. Marketers of genetically modified foods are putting their adulterated products on the global market in the hope that no one will notice. Manufacturers intentionally mix GM and non-GM products in their foods, which is like force-feeding unsuspecting people. How many people in Canada know that approximately 60% of the food they eat is genetically processed? How many know that the US, Canada and Argentina produce more than 90% of the world’s GM food crops? The absence of food labeling helps a lot in this growing market (as it does with irradiated food).
[Labeling is the key issue … If you put a label on genetically engineered food; you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it. – head of Asgrow, Monsanto seed subsidiary].
More genetic risk
What about environmental balance? Modified crop genes can cross-pollinate rural areas, destroy wild habitats, and create genetically polluted environments. Once released, genetic material can never be retrieved. These organisms are a new life form that can mutate and interbreed with other organisms over generations. It is a non-indigenous species that has no natural habitat outside the laboratory. Their introduction will surely shut down environmental factors that have a domino effect of cascading changes throughout the ecosystem.
“If something goes badly wrong, we’re going to face a kind of pollution problem that’s self-perpetuating. I’m not sure who would have the first idea of how this could be done, or indeed who would have to. Pay.” – Prince Charles, Seeds of Disaster, The Daily Telegraph, 8 June 1998
Here are some examples of agricultural genetic failures that have led to some problems:
o Flavor Sour Tomato was a commercial disaster
o Bt-resistant insects caused extensive damage to Bt-cotton
o Roundup Cotton Cotton balls are sprayed with Roundup
o Soybeans with the Brazil nut gene contain a protein that is dangerous for those with nut allergies
o Genetically modified potatoes damaged the immune system in mice
Transgenic canola can harm bees by destroying their ability to detect floral perfumes
These are just a few samples taken from known examples. There may be many more that we are not aware of because latent genetic abnormalities have not yet been uncovered. It only takes one rogue gene to cause disaster. Biotechnology offers no benefits to the public or the environment, only to the biotech companies they hope to kill. It could be a bigger kill than they expected. The use of genetically modified crops is tantamount to a gigantic experiment on the world’s ecosystems. But with this experiment, the ultimate cost may be life itself.
“My concern is that other advances in science may lead to other tools of mass destruction, perhaps even more readily available than nuclear weapons. Genetic engineering is one possible area, because of the terrible things that are happening there.” – Joseph Rotblatt, Nobel Laureate.
1) Allen, Scott – Tinkering with DNA on Your Dinner Plate – New York Times Syndicate, 1999
2) Alison Abbott, German Physicians Warn of Genetics Risk, Nature, Vol 384 No 9, 1997
3) Andy Coghlan, The Devil We Don’t Know – Virus Resistance Is What Keeps Genetic Engineers Awake At Night, New Scientist, 12 September 1996
4) Anon, Jean Food Row, News in Brief, The Sunday Times, 16 August 1998
5) Anon, Battle Lines Drawn Over Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods, Campaigns and News, Ecologist, July/August 1998
6) Ambassador College Department of Agriculture – Genetic Engineering, Complex Path to Failure – Our Living Environment, May 1970/73, Vol 1, No 5.
7) Asda, Labeling of genetically modified ingredients, Asda, 28 January 1998
8) BBC, News on Genetically Modified Food, The World at One, Radio 4, BBC, 10 August 1998
9) BBC, Report on Virulent and Cross-Species Viruses, Frontiers, Radio 4, BBC, 24 February 1999
10) BBC, Report on GM Crops, One Planet, BBC World Service, BBC, 16 December 1998 11) Clive Cookson, Field of Genes, Financial Times, 11 August 1998
12) Cummins, E. Joseph – More on Tinkered Genes – Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, Issue 3, p.135,1993.
13) FDA, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition-Emerging Technologies – Biotechnology, 1995
14) FDA/CFSAN, Fed.Register – Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties – Vol.57, No.104, p.22984-22989, May 29, 1992.
15) food labeling; New Breeds, Federal Register, April 28, 1993, Vol. 58 pages 25837-25841
Hsu, Karen – The Future of Food is Now – New York Times Syndicate, 1999.
16) Kendall, Patricia-Food Biotech.: Boon or Threat-Journal of Nutr. Education, 1997 – Society for Nutrit.Education.
17) McCullum, Christine – The New Biotechnology Era: Issues for Education and Policy – Journal of Nutrition Education and Policy, May/June 1997 – Society for Nutritional Education.
18) p. Hatchwell, Opening Pandora’s Box – The Risk of Releasing Genetically Engineered Organisms, The Ecologist, July/August 1989
19) Reuters – Fooling with Mother Nature – Copyright 1998 ABC News
20) Reuters – Suit Warns of Food Risk – Copyright 1998 ABC News.
21) Staunton, Dennis and others – GM Food Threatens the Planet – Guardian Newspapers Ltd, 1999.
22) Steve Gorelick, Hiding Harmful Information from the Public, Ecologist, Sept./Oct. 1998
23) Wales, Prince of – Genetically Modified Food: Is It An Innovation We Can Do Without? – Online Forum, Copyright St James’s Place and Press Association Limited 1999
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