Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops

Why We Need A Global Moratorium

by Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

The technology of Genetic Engineering (GE) is the practice of altering or disrupting the genetic blueprints of living organisms-plants, trees, fish, animals, humans, and microorganisms. This technology is wielded by transnational «life science» corporations such as Monsanto and Aventis, who patent these blueprints, and sell the resulting gene-foods, seeds, or other products for profit. Life science corporations proclaim that their new products will make agriculture sustainable, eliminate world hunger, cure disease, and vastly improve public health. However, these gene engineers have made it clear, through their business practices and political lobbying, that they intend to use GE to monopolize the global market for seeds, foods, fiber, and medical products.

GE is a revolutionary new technology that is still in its early experimental stages of development. This technology has the power to break down the natural genetic barriers-not only between species-but between humans, animals, and plants. Randomly inserting together the genes of non-related species-utilizing viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and bacteria as vectors, markers, and promoters-permanently alters their genetic codes.

The gene-altered organisms that are created 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. The research is done with little concern for the human and environmental hazards and the negative socioeconomic impacts on the world’s several billion farmers and rural villagers.

An increasing number of scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude, inexact, and unpredictable-and therefore inherently dangerous. Yet, 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 GE 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 80 million acres of GE crops are presently under cultivation in the US, while up to 750,000 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. The «hidden menu» of these unlabeled GE foods and food ingredients in the US now includes soybeans, soy oil, corn, potatoes, squash, canola oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, tomatoes, and dairy products.

GE food and fiber products are 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 into three categories: human health hazards, environmental hazards, and socio-economic 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

GE 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. More than 5,000 others were permanently disabled or afflicted with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder, eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 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 paid out over $2 billion in damages to EMS victims.

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