issue that has entered the mainstream media in a lot of countries
(except western) is Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification
(GM) of food. A lot of food that we eat today contains genetically
modified ingredients and usually without our knowledge.
of this technology maintain that it ensures and sustains food
security around the world as the population increases.
goes on, the science behind genetic engineering is no doubt
improving. Biotechnology could be the wave of the future and
genetically modified foods could really provide alternatives
to help increase food production. However, there is a growing
wave of concern from citizens, farmers and scientists who question
the way the research is currently being handled by a few large,
profit-hungry corporations. That is, as well as scientific debates
on the merits of genetically engineered food, there are equally,
if not more important, debates on the socioeconomic ramifications
of the way such science is marketed and used. Critics believe:
of food shortages is a political and economic problem.
Food shortages and hunger are -- and will be -- experienced
by the poorer nations.
GE Food is an expensive technology that the farmers of the developing
nations would not be able to afford easily.
Patenting laws go against the poor around the world and allow
biotech companies to benefit from patenting indigenous knowledge
often without consent.
This is a very young and untested technology and may not be
the answer just yet.
Crop uniformity, which the biotech firms are promoting, will
reduce genetic diversity making them more vulnerable to disease
and pests. This furthers the need for pesticides (often created
by the same companies creating and promoting genetically engineered
Hence this leads to questions of the motives of corporations
and countries who are using the plight of the developing world
as a marketing strategy to gain acceptance of GE food as well
as dependency upon it via intellectual property rights. That
they are against any labeling or other precautionary steps and
measures that states may wish to take is of paramount concern.
in which we reach the answer to the question, "are GE foods
safe?" is where a lot of the problem lies. A quick acceptance
of GE foods without proper testing etc. could show corporate
profitability to be very influential, while a thorough debate
and sufficient public participation would ensure that real social
and environmental concerns are in fact adhered to. And this
pattern would probably indicate to us how other major issues
in the future ought to be dealt with.
A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that
genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans,
domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health
effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity,
antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for
environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture
could lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening
numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction,
and the potential contamination of non-genetically engineered
life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.
Following Are Some of the Facts:
gene transfers from one species to another are dangerous.
Biotechnology companies erroneously claim that their manipulations
are similar to natural genetic changes or traditional breeding
techniques. However, the cross-species transfers being made,
such as between fish and tomatoes, or between other unrelated
species, would not happen in nature and may create new toxins,
diseases, and weaknesses. In this risky experiment, the general
public is the guinea-pig.
companies also claim their methods are precise and sophisticated.
In fact, the process of inserting genes is quite random
and can damage normal genes. Genetic research shows that many
weaknesses in plants, animals, and humans have their origin
in tiny imperfections in the genetic code. Therefore, the
random damage resulting from gene insertion will inevitably
result in side-effects and accidents. Scientists have assessed
these risks to be substantial. (Refs: Palmiter, R.D. et al
(1986) ANNUAL REVIEW OF GENETICS 20: 465; Inose, T. et al
(1995) INT. JOUR. FOOD SCIENCE TECH. 30:141.)
health damaging effects. When genetic engineers insert a new gene into any organism
there are "position effects" which can lead to unpredictable
changes in the pattern of gene expression and genetic function.
The protein product of the inserted gene may carry out unexpected
reactions and produce potentially toxic products. There is
also serious concern about the dangers of using genetically
engineered viruses as delivery vehicles (vectors) in the generation
of transgenic plants and animals. This could destabilise the
genome, and also possibly create new viruses, and thus dangerous
new diseases. (Refs: Green, A.E. et al (1994) SCIENCE 263:1423;
Osbourn, J.K. et al (1990) VIROLOGY 179:921.)
engineered products carry more risks than traditional foods.
The process of genetic engineering can thus introduce
dangerous new allergens and toxins into foods that were previously
naturally safe. Already, one genetically engineered soybean
was found to cause serious allergic reactions, and bacteria
genetically engineered to produce large amounts of the food
have produced toxic contaminants that killed 37 people and
permanently disabled 1,500 more. (Refs: Nordlee, J.A. et al
(1996) THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE 688; Mayeno, A.N.
et al (1994) TIBTECH 12:364.)
pollution of food and water supply.
More than 50% of the crops developed by biotechnology companies
have been engineered to be resistant to herbicides. Use of
herbicide-resistant crops will lead to a threefold increase
in the use of herbicides, resulting in even greater pollution
of our food and water with toxic agrochemicals. (Ref: Goldberg,
R.J. (1994) WEED TECHNOLOGY 6:647.)
effects caused by genetic engineering will continue forever.
Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, genetic pollution
is self-perpetuating. It can never be reversed or cleaned
up; genetic mistakes will be passed on to all future generations
of a species.
Biotech companies claim that government regulatory bodies
will protect consumers. However DDT, Thalidomide, L-tryptophan,
etc. were approved by U.S. regulators with tragic results.
Recently it was found that 80% of supermarket milk contained
traces of either medicines, illegal antibiotics used on farms,
or hormones, including genetically engineered bovine growth
hormone (rbGH). The facts show that regulators are not protecting
the public adequately. (Ref: Epstein, S.S. (1996) INT. JOUR.
HEALTH SERVICES, 26:173.)
concerns. Transferring animal genes into plants raises important
ethical issues for vegetarians and religious groups. It may
also involve animal experiments which are unacceptable to
transfer across species and competition from new species damaging
the environment. When new genetic information is introduced into plants,
bacteria, insects or other animals, it can easily be passed
into related organisms, through processes such as cross pollination.
This process has already created "super weeds".
Existing species can also be displaced from the ecosystem
with disastrous effects, as happened with genetically modified
Klebsiella soil bacteria. (Ref: Holms, M.T. and Ingam, E.R.
(1994) Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America (Supplement),
are now being engineered to produce their own pesticides.
This will promote the more rapid appearance of resistant
insects and lead to excessive destruction of useful insects
and soil organisms, thus seriously perturbing the ecosystem.
In addition, the pesticide produced by the plant may be harmful
to the health of consumers. (Refs: Union of Concerned Scientists
(1994) GENE EXCHANGE, 5:68; Mikkelsen, T.R. et al (1996) Nature
380:31; Skogsmyr, I. (1994) THEORETICAL AND APPLIED GENETICS
88:770; Hama, H. et al (1992) APPLIED ENTYMOLOGY AND ZOOLOGY
Threat To Humanity's Food Supply
Giant transnational companies are carrying out a dangerous global
experiment by attempting to introduce large numbers of genetically
engineered foods widely into our food supply. Because genetic
manipulations can generate unanticipated harmful side-effects,
and because genetically engineered foods are not tested sufficiently
to eliminate those that are dangerous, this experiment, not
only jeopardizes the health of individuals, but could also lead
to national or even global food shortages and large-scale health
There is no logical scientific justification for exposing society
to this risk, nor is it necessary to take this risk for the
purpose of feeding humanity. It is only of benefit to the biotech
industry, which will obtain short term commercial gains at the
expense of the health and safety of the whole population. Tampering
with the genetic code of food is reckless and poses a serious
threat to life. It could easily upset the delicate balance between
our physiology and the foods that we eat. There is already ample
scientific justification for an immediate ban on genetically
modified foods in order to safeguard our health.
Leading Scientists and Public Figures Have To Say:
simply do not have enough reliable scientific evidence on their
safety to be able to make a valid decision as to whether there
are potential health effects or not.''
Saunders, chairman of the British
Medical Association's public health committee
perception that everything is totally straightforward and safe
is utterly naive. I don't think we fully understand the dimensions
of what we're getting into."
Philip James (author of the "James" report on the
structure and functions of the proposed UK Food Standards Agency
to oversee national food safety standards), Director of the
Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, on genetically engineered
is... a need to develop more effective and appropriate screening
methods to alert companies and government agencies to the unexpected
consequences of the often random insertion of genetic traits
From Professor Philip James' evidence to the House of Commons
Select Committee on Science and Technology, March 1999.
one is going to introduce a particular protein genetically one
can look at the structure of the protein and ask if we know
that this type of structure causes allergies. But if you say
the structure may be slightly modified in this particular plant,
how on earth are we going to assess whether that is going to
induce in a very small subsection of the population an unknown
allergenic response? I am not sure how we are going to cope
with that yet."
Professor Philip James' evidence to the House of Lords European
Communities Committee, January 1999
experts [at the Royal Society of Canada] say this approach [of'substantial
equivalence'] is fatally flawed for genetically modified, or
GM, crops and exposes Canadians to several potential healthrisks,
including toxicity and allergic reactions."
Star, 5 Feb 2000, on Royal Society of Canada report on Biotechnology
relies to a large extent on our ability to introduce foreign
genes into cells. A major problem with present day technology
is the non-predictability of the integration of such transgenes.
DNA introduced into plant cells mostly integrates at random,
i.e. at non-predetermined positions of the genome. The biological
process ultimately responsible for random integration is known
as illegitimate recombination. DNA integrated at random frequently
contains multiple copies and often copies are scrambled. Multiple
copies also often induce gene silencing and hence instability
in the expression of the introduced genes. In addition, the
DNA integrates at loci of unknown stability and capacity for
expression and randomly integrated copies may induce unpredictable
and undesirable mutations in the host genome.....Although our
understanding of the general biology of recombination in plants
is constantly improving, we still lack the knowledge for precision
engineering of plants' genes."
on behalf of the European Commission on GM food safety from
Université Blaise Pascal Aubière (FR),
Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung Köln (DE), University
of Ghent (BE)
is no precise harmonisation of methodologies to assure the safety
of transgenic food products, it being difficult to use traditional
animal feeding studies for toxicological assessments. This clearly
raises biosafety issues for the use of GM products in food.
In vivo and in vitro validated nutritional-toxicological testing
procedures are urgently required. .....if the testing procedure
investigated in this project does not allow assessment of the
toxicity of the gene products introduced into the food product
via the GM plants, the whole strategy for the safety assessment
of novel foods from GM plants will need to be revised".
on behalf of the European Commission on GM food safety from
Institute of Food Safety and Toxicology
Søborg, Denmark (DK)
of the key issues in the risk assessment of GM crop plants is
whether unexpected hazardous metabolic perturbations (so-called
unintended effects) may have taken place in the organism due
to genetic modification, that could affect its food or nutritional
status. It is recognised that no adequate and effective animal
models to identify and trace the sources of potential unintended
effects are currently available. The objective of this project
is to develop new methodologies that are of sufficient sensitivity
and specificity to assess risks from this possible food-borne
hazard. Implicit in this objective is the need to develop new
knowledge which will serve as a basis to understand the implications
of the genetic modification process on metabolic pathways in
plants. ........The project is highly pertinent to EU
legislation on Novel Foods and GM food crops in particular.
It is especially relevant to underpin Community policies. The
new methodology will also be of use for the agro-food industry
as it contributes to a more informed awareness of the 'real
risks' related to GM foods by providing an objective scientific
data package directed towards a holistic view of the genetic
on behalf of the European Commission on GM food safety from
State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products
(RIKILT) Wageningen, Netherlands
I agree with you in the sense that when you use these methods
you don't know what part of the chromosome that the new gene
is being introduced into and that is, you know, what I would
say is a drawback to the technology."
Bevan Mosely, former head of the Institute of Food Research,
Reading, and a current member of the United Kingdom's Advisory
Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) responsible for
reviewing the safety of genetically modified foods, in a response
to the question - "So how can we know that something
isn't really going to go horrendously wrong?" - put
to him by Charles Colett of Radio Wey Valley, Hampshire, United
Kingdom, February 1998.
disastrous effects may come from undetected harmful substances
in Genetically Modified Foods."
Andrew Chesson, vice chairman of European Commission scientific
committee on animal nutrition and formerly an ardent advocate
of food biotechnology (A year earlier Dr Chesson chaired the
audit committee which ruled there was no evidence to support
Dr Pusztai's claims on the toxicity of GM potatoes).
personally think that the chance of creating some novel food
problems with the GM product is there. I think it is unlikely
but I wouldn't put my hand on my heart and swear it was not
Sir Robert May, President of the Royal Society (and Chief Scientific
Officer to the UK Government 1995-2000)
findings demonstrate the fragmentary nature of current knowledge
of genome structure and function and regulation of gene expression
in general, and the limited understanding of several physiological,
ecological, agronomical and toxicological aspects relevant to
present-day and planned genetic modifications of crops"
genetically engineered plant may contain an identical profile
of expected plant toxicant levels (ie expected toxicants)
as is normally found in a closely related, natural plant. However,
gentically modified plants could also contain unexpected high
concentrations of plant toxicants. The presence of high levels
of toxicants in the bioengineered plant food could occur by
two or more mechanisms.........
unexpected toxicants could be closely related chemicals produced
by common metabolic pathways in the same plant genus/species;
however, unexpected toxicants could also be uniquely different
chemicals that are usually expressed in unrelated plants....
task of assessing the presence or the abscence of expected and
unexpected toxicants in plants and the control plant could be
very difficult, because thousands of plant biochemicals have
been shown to have toxic effects on animals and microorganisms."
J. Mathews Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health
Service US - memorandum to the FDA Toxicology Section of the
Biotechnology Working Group
this time it is unlikely that molecular and compositional analysis
can reasonably detect or predict all possible changes in toxicant
levels or the development of new toxic metabolites as a result
of gentic modifications introduced by the methods of biotechnology."
Dr. Samuel I. Shibko Director of Division of Toxicological
Review and Evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services,
Public Health Service US - memorandum to Dr. James Maryansksi,
FDA Biotechnology Coordinator
is a profound difference between the types of unexpected effects
from traditional breeding and genetic engineering which is just
glanced over in this document.....
Effects - This is the industry's pet idea, namely that there
are no unintended effects that will raise the FDA's level of
concern. But time and time again, there is no data to backup
their contention, while the scientific literature does contain
many examples of naturally occurring pleitropic [multi-response]
effects. When the introduction of gene's into [a] plant's genome
randomly occurs, as in the case of the current technology (but
not traditional breeding) it seems that many pleiotropic [multi-response]
effects will occur. Many of these effects might not be seen
by the breeder because of the more or less similar growing conditions
in the limited trials that are performed...
proteins (enzymes) that while acting on one specific, intended
substrate to produce a desired effect, will also affect other
cellular molecules, either as substrates, or by swamping the
plant's regulatory/metabolic system and depriving the plant
of resources needed for other things. It is not prudent to rely
on plant breeders always finding these types of changes (especially
when they are under pressure to get a product out)."
Priybl of the US Food and Drug Administation Microbiology Group
- internal memorandum on FDA GM food safety testing policy document
addition to the human food safety and environmental concerns
outlined in the appendices to the Notice, CVM believes that
animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants present
unique animal and food safety concerens .....
of plant constituents or toxicants in meat and milk products
may pose human food safety problems. For example, increased
levels of glucosinolates or erusic acid in rapeseed may produce
a residue problem in edible products."
B. Guest, Director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine
(CVM), to Dr. James Maryanski, FDA Biotechnology Coordinator.
Subject: "Regulation of Transgenic PlantsFDA Draft
Federal Register Notice on Food Biotechnology."
scientific case put forward for this GM maize is not adequate.
If the GM maize was approved for commercial growing in the UK
then people would be justified in turning their back on consuming
milk derived from it. As a scientist I wouldn't drink milk from
cows fed GM maize with the present state of knowledge."
Bob Orskov, director of the International Feed Resource Unit
in Aberdeen, Scotland at UK MAFF hearings in London, October
2000, concerning proposals to allow Aventis's GM forage maize,
Chardon LL onto the National Seed List.
hon. Members have said, some of the new [genetically engineered]
wonder drugs have been accepted, and I think rightly so.
There is some comfort in the regulatory process for medicine
which, I admit, is not in place for
food and agriculture."
Minister of State for Food Safety, House of Commons, July 30
don't we require a pharmaceutical type analysis of the safety
of these foods with proper trials?"
UK cabinet minister with overall responsibility for biotechnology,
raising a variety of issues in relation to GM crops and food
in a leaked internal memo to one of his civil servants, February
everything we grow, everything
we eat is the root result of human intervention, human breeding
and so on. But this is unnatural in a different sort of way
from the kinds of breeding programs that have characterized
humanity for ten thousand years....
the question which people have, I believe, not only a right
but a duty to ask, is how wisely will we use these unprecedented
new powers? What are the risks associated with doing something
this new and this profound at the very wellsprings of life?
How are they going to be managed? How will we have credible
oversight? How will we have credible and effective monitoring
of the introduction of this technology? Certainly, humanity's
record for using technology wisely, sensitive to its potential
effects on society, on people, on environment is, at best, mixed
and hardly encouraging....
have not yet identified, yet alone cloned, the gene for wisdom,
and some skepticism about our ability to manage powerful new
technologies is appropriate.... "
Shapiro,Chief Executive of Monsanto - speech on genetic engineering
presented at State of the World Forum, Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco,
CA , October 27, 1998.
Contaminated 'From the provocative Gorilla News Network (GNN), "Contaminated"
presents a brief overview of how the world's food supply is
slowly being transformed by a radically improvised agricultural
The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified
This is a lecture presented by Jeffrey Smith (author of Genetic
Roulette), in which he summarizes the health risks of genetically
engineered foods. Entertaining and very informative.
The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified
The Health Dangers of Genetically
Modified Foods(Part 3)
The Health Dangers of Genetically
Modified Foods(Part 4)
The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods(Part 5)
The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods(Part 6)