Is Genetic Engineering (GE) Safe?
Lack of Information
There has been no long term, independent research into the “safety” of GE food products or crops. Almost all the information and studies available are generated by the very industry promoting the products and crops.
An Imprecise Technology
Genetic engineering can move genes from one organism to another. A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the genetic engineer has no idea where (or even if) the gene will be inserted in the DNA of the recipient organism, neither are they aware of the possible repercussions. According to one prominent gene scientist:
“Think of [someone] 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.”
The new gene may have unintended effects. Genes produce proteins, which usually have specific purposes. In a different organism the new protein could have altered properties and new or added effects which are not intended or foreseen. Scientists don’t know enough about living systems to perform DNA surgery without causing mutations and changes in the organism that could have adverse effects.
– Widespread Crop Failure
Genetic engineers intend to make money by patenting GE seeds. This means that when a farmer plants GE seeds, all the seeds are exactly the same, unlike regular crops. As a result, if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop, there could be widespread crop failure.
– Threats To Our Entire Food System
Insects, birds and wind can carry GE seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Once transgenic plants pollinate, genetically original plants and wild relatives can be cross-pollinated. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from gene drift.
– No Long-Term Safety Testing
GE changes the fundamental nature of the food we eat. Without long-term testing, no one knows if these foods are safe. For example, pesticide side effects was only known after 20 years of usage.
Genetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins or poisons in foods.
A major cause of controversy in the UK on the potential human health impact of GE potatoes, revealed that rats fed with GE potatoes had suffered significant damage to their immune systems and vital organs.
Research has also shown that milk from GE bovine growth hormone (BGH) treated cows (in the US) may contribute to increased risk of breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in man;
– Allergic Reactions
Genetic engineering can also produce unforeseen and unknown allergens in foods. A study by scientists at the university of Nebraska shows that soybeans genetically engineered to contain Brazil nut proteins caused reactions in people who were allergic to Brazil nuts.
When plants genetically engineered to be resistant to certain viruses are infected with other viruses, new, recombinant viruses can arise which have their host specificity and other biological properties changed.
– Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
Genetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to mark the inserted genes to help identify the GE plants. These genes may be picked up by bacteria and the bacteria will not be affected by the antibiotic anymore. This could contribute to the already increasing antibiotic resistance among bacteria and virus.
– Decreased Nutritional Value
In some cases, GE crops can have altered nutritional content. Transgenic foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness and nutritional superiority. For example, a luscious-looking, bright red tomato could be several weeks old and have little nutritional worth.
– Problems Cannot Be Traced
Without labels our public health agencies are powerless to trace problems of any kind back to their source. The potential for tragedy is staggering.
– Increased Use Of Herbicides
More than 50 per cent of crops developed by companies have been engineered to be resistant to herbicides. Farmers, knowing that their crops can tolerate the herbicides, will use them more liberally.
– More Pesticides
Crops are now also being engineered to produce their own pesticides. This will promote more rapid appearance of resistant insects. This strategy will put more pesticides in our fields and in our food – which could be harmful to human health.
– Ecology May Be Damaged
The influence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the food chain may damage the local ecology causing unforeseen changes in the environment. New organisms may compete successfully with wild relatives and possibly wipe them out.
When GE crops are planted in close proximity to sexually compatible wild relatives, the spread of genes from one plant to the other through cross-pollination is inevitable. This sort of gene spread has already been reported for transgenic canola in Europe and Canada. Much of the research needed to assess the potential impacts of such cross-pollination has simply not been done.
There could also be dire impacts of GE crops on other species,for example, alarm over the impact of GE crops on the environment were heightened when monarch butterflies had died after feeding on milkweed dusted with pollen from GE corn.
– Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned Up
Once GE organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them. The negative effects are irreversible.
– Impact On Agriculture And Farmers
GE crops and foods pose serious risks to health and the environment, but they also mean trouble for all kinds of farmers. These problems include:
– Loss Of Markets
As consumers around the world increasingly saying no to GE foods because of the possible environmental and health impacts. Farmers are losing markets, and are forced to bear the financial and logistical burdens of testing and segregating GE crops, which they agreed to plant due to promises by Agri-business of greater yields and better profits.
– Loss Of Independence
GE crops gives agribusiness’s control over seeds, and therefore its control over farmers. Worldwide, about 1.4 billion farmers save seeds, freely replanting, trading and sharing them, as well as breeding them to create strains that are well suited to local conditions. GE seeds are licensed not owned, generally for one season. The farmer can eat or sell the harvest, but cannot use the seeds produced by the crop.
In fact, one major Agri-business transnational company (TNC), Monsanto, has taken legal action against hundreds of farmers to assert its control over how seeds are used. New technology under development will soon allow these restrictions to be enforced biologically.
“Terminator” And “Traitor” GE Technology
In the North, the Agro-chemical TNCs sign contract with farmers for the seeds they buy, and the related chemicals they need. While these agrochemical TNCs may not push contracts in developing countries (due to the problem of policing such agreements) these companies have other insidious ways of trapping farmers into using GE seeds. This includes the development of GE seeds that render crops sterile and/ or control their genetic traits via chemicals.
– “Terminator” Technology
The infamous “Terminator” technology identified by the Canada-based Erosion Technology Concentration (ETC) group in March 1998 is a technique for genetically altering a plant so that the seeds it produces are sterile.
It is a threat to agricultural biodiversity and the wellbeing of 1.4 billion rural people who depend on farm-saved seed and local plant breeding.
– “Traitor” Technology
The new generation of “Terminator”-type technology works by controlling the GE crops. The seed only grows if sprayed by a chemical produced by the specific company. There are also technologies to control other processes such as germination, sprouting, flowering, fruit ripening, etc.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Asia & The Pacific