Engineering: Why We Need A Global Moratorium
By Ronnie Cummins
The technology of genetic engineering (GE) is the
practice of altering or disrupting the genetic blueprints of living organisms,
patenting them, and then selling the resulting gene-foods, seeds, or other
products for profit. Life science corporations, such as Monsanto and Novartis,
say their new products will make agriculture sustainable, eliminate world
hunger, cure disease, and vastly improve public health. In reality though,
the gene engineers have made it clear they intend to use GE to monopolize
the global market for seeds, foods, fiber, and health and medical products.
Gene Engineers Are Busy
Genetic engineering is a new technology that has the power to break
down fundamental genetic barriersnot only between species but between
humans, animals, and plants. By joining together the genes of non-related
species and permanently altering their genetic codes, gene-altered organisms
are created that pass these genetic changes on to their offspring. Gene
engineers are now snipping, inserting, recombining, rearranging, editing,
and programming genetic material. Animal genes and even human genes are
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 restraint, 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 worlds farmers and rural villagers. Despite an increasing
number of scientists warning that current gene-splicing techniques are
crude, unpredictable, and therefore inherently dangerous, pro-biotech
governments and regulatory agencies, led by the U.S., maintain that GE
foods and crops are substantially equivalent to conventional
foods and require neither mandatory labeling nor pre-market safety-testing.
GE on the Shelf
There are currently more than four dozen GE foods and crops being
grown or sold in the U.S. that are widely dispersed in the food chain
and environment. Over 70 million acres of GE crops are presently under
cultivation in the U.S., while up to 500,000 dairy cows are injected regularly
with 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 biotech industry, almost all American food and fiber
will be genetically engineered within five to 10 years. The hidden
menu of these unlabeled genetically engineered foods and food ingredients
in the U.S. now includes soybeans, soy oil, corn, potatoes, squash, canola
oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, tomatoes, and dairy products.
Genetic engineering of food and fiber products is inherently
unpredictable and dangerous. The hazards fall into three categories: human
health, the environment, and society. A look at the already proven and
likely hazards of GE products provides a good argument for why we need
a global moratorium on all GE foods and crops.
Toxins and Poisons
Genetically engineered products clearly have the potential to be toxic.
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,
before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The
manufacturer, Showa Denko, Japans third largest chemical company,
had for the first time used GE bacteria to produce the supplement. It
is believed that the bacteria somehow became contaminated during the recombinant
DNA process. Showa Denko paid over $2 billion in damages to the victims.
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.
Increased Cancer Risks
In 1994, the FDA approved the sale of Monsantos controversial
GE recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)injected into dairy cows
to force them to produce more milk. This occurred despite the fact that
scientists warned that significantly higher levels of a potent chemical
hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), in the milk and dairy products
of injected cows could pose serious risks for human breast, prostate,
and colon cancer. The U.S. General Accounting Office 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 to public health.
Because of this and other tests, the government of Canada banned rBGH
in early 1999 and the European Union (EU) has had a ban in place since
1994. Although rBGH continues to be injected into four to five percent
of all U.S. dairy cows, no other industrialized country has legalized
its use. Even a United Nations food standards body has refused to certify
that rBGH is safe.
Food Allergies and Nutrition
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 the nuts. As
British scientist 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. A 1999 study 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 GE soybeans
than in traditional strains. These and other studies indicate that genetically
engineering food will likely result in foods lower in quality and nutrition.
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 ARM genes might unexpectedly
recombine with disease-causing bacteria or microbes in the environment
or guts of animals or people who eat GE food. This will contribute to
the growing public health danger of infections that cannot be cured with
traditional antibiotics, for example new strains of salmonella, E. coli,
campylobacter, and enterococci. EU authorities are currently considering
a ban on all GE foods containing antibiotic resistant marker genes.
Increased Pesticide Residues
Contrary to biotech industry propaganda, recent studies have found
that U.S. farmers growing GE crops are using just as many toxic pesticides
and herbicides as conventional farmers, and in some cases more. Crops
genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant account for 70 percent
of all GE crops planted in 1998. The supposed benefits of
these herbicide-resistant crops are that farmers can spray as much of
a particular herbicide on their crops as they wantkilling 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 herbicides are designed to literally
kill everything green. The leaders in biotechnology are the same giant
chemical companiesMonsanto, DuPont, AgrEvo, Novartis, and Rhone-Poulencthat
sell toxic pesticides. These companies are genetically engineering plants
to be resistant to herbicides they manufacture so they can sell more herbicides
to farmers who, in turn, can apply more poisonous herbicides to crops
to kill weeds.
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 dont believe
genetic pollution can be controlled. Once released, it is virtually impossible
to recall GE organisms to the laboratory or the field. In early 1999,
Cornell University researchers found that pollen from GE 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 Superweeds, Superpests,
and New Viruses
Genetically engineered crops that are herbicide-resistant or produce
their own pesticide present dangerous problems. Pests and weeds will inevitably
emerge that are pesticide or herbicide-resistant, which means that in
turn, stronger, more toxic chemicals will be needed to kill the pests
who have developed immunity to pesticides. 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 bollworms, living under constant pressure
from GE crops, are evolving into superpests that are immune
to sprays and other environmentally sustainable biopesticides. This presents
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.
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 GE soil microorganism, Klebsiella planticola, completely
killed essential soil nutrients. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
whistleblowers issued similar warnings in 1997 protesting government approval
of a GE soil bacterium called Rhizobium melitoli. Likewise, by virtue
of their superior genes, some GE plants and animals will inevitably
run amok, overpowering wild species in the same way introduced exotic
The patenting of GE foods and biotech food production threatens to
eliminate farming as it has been practiced for 12,000 years. GE patents
such as the Terminator Technology, recently withdrawn from production
by Monsanto, may 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 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.
The patenting of genetically altered animals reduces living beings
to the status of manufactured products. In January 1994, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) announced that scientists had completed genetic
road maps for cattle and pigs, a precursor to increasing 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 (or onco-mouse), which contains a human cancer-causing
gene that will be passed down to all succeeding generations, were created
to suffer. Currently, hundreds of GE animals are awaiting patent approval
from the federal government.
It is time for a moratorium on all GE foods and crops unless comprehensive
pre-market safety testing is done to ensure that the environment and human
health will be protected. All GE crops and foods already on the market
must be labeled and safety-tested.
But we need more. We need to stop factory farming and
phase out industrial agriculture. Industrial factory farms will have applied
over a billion pounds of pesticides in 1999. These chemicals end up in
our groundwater, rivers, and estuariesnot to mention our food. Many
of these chemicals wind up in human body fat and in womens breast
milk, and are associated with increased risk of a variety of cancers,
developmental abnormalities, and neurobiohavioral problems. Many American
fruits and vegetables carry pesticide residues that exceed limits the
EPA considers safe for children. An estimated 300,000 farm workers are
poisoned annually by exposure to pesticides. Factory farms and feedlots
routinely utilize growth hormones and antibiotics, promote animal
cannibalism by feeding animals so-called rendered animal protein,
and intensively confine animals. Factory-style hog, beef, and poultry
feedlots are polluting waterways and destroying rural communities. These
pose a direct threat to family farmers, putting them out of business and
forever changing the rural landscape of the country.
U.S. regulatory agencies must address the growing number
of environmental, human health, and economic impacts associated with industrial
agriculture. They must ban and phase out the most dangerous farm chemicals
and feed additives. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) must become the norm
on non-organic farmswith reduced use of toxic pesticides and chemical
fertilizers in favor of natural composting, crop rotation, cover crops,
and utilization of beneficial insects.
The organic food industry is the fastest growing sector
of retail food sales, growing by 25 percent annually. In 1998, U.S. consumers
spent an estimated $5 billion on organic foods. While organic currently
represents close to two percent of the U.S. food market, food industry
insiders project it will grow to five percent by 2001. The huge growth
in organic food has occurred without help from the USDA, which has spent
billions of taxpayer dollars promoting industrial agriculture, particularly
genetic engineering. Of 30,000 research projects supported by the USDA
in 1995 and 1996, only 34 focused on organic production. A significant
shift in USDA resources toward organic food production would help organic
farmers increase yields, open markets, and protect the environment. Our
taxpayer money at the USDA should better reflect what consumers want and
set a goal of 30 percent organic by 2010.
Ronnie Cummins is Director of
Campaign for Food Safety/Organic Consumers Association. For information
call 218-726-1443 or visit: www.purefood.org.
The above material has been made into a petition, and will be presented
to elected officials, year 2000 Congressional candidates, and regulatory
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.