Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops:
Why We Need A Global Moratorium
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 promoter–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, 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 products. 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
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, 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 and crops. 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 prodce 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 health. 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) Food Allergies
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
health disaster.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 & Nutrition
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.
Increased Pesticide 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
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 non-GE farmers. 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 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” and “Superpests”
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. Genetic “Bio-Invasion”
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 agricultura
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 inventions.
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?
Also see: Interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva - “The deeper you can manipulate living
structures the more you can control food and medicine.”
St. Louis, Missouri More articles on Genetic Engineering 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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