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GM food for thought

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com GM food for thought Mickey Z. Online Journal
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 24, 2003
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      GM food for thought
      Mickey Z.
      Online Journal Contributing Writer

      "There is no love sincerer than the love of food." - George Bernard

      July 15, 2003 - Unless you've gone exclusively organic, the odds are
      you've eaten potatoes that are registered pesticides.

      Monsanto's New Leaf Superior potato is engineered to produce the
      insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt kills the Colorado potato
      beetle but it is also in every one of the New Leaf Superior's cells.
      Thus, it is legally registered with the Environmental Protection
      Agency (EPA) as a pesticide, not a food . . . and the Food and Drug
      Administration (FDA) cannot regulate the New Leaf Superior potato
      because the FDA does not have the authority to regulate pesticides.

      This would be an interesting and important issue even if it began and
      ended with the New Leaf Superior but the concerns swirling around
      genetically modified (GM) food run far deeper than a baked bug
      killer. Among the countless GM projects in use or in development, we
      have trees engineered never to flower, potatoes mixed with jellyfish
      genes that glow in the dark when they need watering, and so-
      called "edible vaccines."

      Is any of this safe? Is it even understood? Corporate proponents and
      their flacks would like us to believe so and they often go to great
      lengths to discredit critics. For example, the most recent GM defense
      paints agro-giants as saviors: altruistic entities trying to feed the
      world. As part of his bullying effort to force GM food on the EU,
      President [sic] Bush declared, "European governments should join, not
      hinder, the great cause of ending hunger in Africa." But hunger isn't
      a result of insufficient resources . . . it's more about the
      inequitable distribution of abundant resources. In a recent study of
      food production and hunger, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
      concluded, "Globally, there is enough land, soil and water, and
      enough potential for future growth in yields, to make the necessary
      production feasible."

      Hunger is a political problem that GM food will not and cannot solve.
      Roughly 150 million acres of farmland around the world are planted
      with GM crops . . . primarily soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.
      These four big moneymakers do little if anything to nourish hungry
      people in developing countries.

      "The field is dominated by five very large multinational
      corporations," says Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller
      Foundation. "For these corporations, there is no profit to investing
      in expensive research on new products that can only be purchased by
      subsistence African farmers with little money. So quite logically,
      these companies are not focused on improving the basic crops of the
      developing world such as millet, sorghum, cowpeas, yams or cassava."

      What these companies are focused on is ignoring public sentiment and
      rigorous science. Early in 2001, the Royal Society of Canada - the
      nation's foremost scientific body - said there was insufficient
      research into the potential allergic effects and toxicity of
      genetically engineered foods. GM foods could cause "serious risks to
      human health," the society said. "Genetic engineering of food has far
      outrun the science that must be its first governing discipline," adds
      Ralph Nader. "Many unknowns attend the insertion of genes across
      species, from ecological risks to food allergies. These unknowns beg
      for investigation."

      Long-term (and unbiased) research is needed to make anything
      approaching an accurate assessment. While such investigation does not
      appear forthcoming at this juncture, there is enough already known
      about GM food to put its safety in doubt:

      Scientists have discovered that the aforementioned Bt may produce
      allergies in people. A July 1999 study of Ohio crop pickers and
      handlers shows that Bt "can provoke immunological changes indicative
      of a developing allergy. With long-term exposure, affected
      individuals may develop asthma or other serious allergic reactions."

      Genetic engineers use antibiotic "markers" in almost every GM
      organism to indicate that the organism has been successfully
      engineered. These markers may play a role in the diminishing efficacy
      of antibiotics against diseases.

      Scientists warn that once the GM organisms and their altered genes
      are released into nature, they may spread widely. Poisons, mutagens,
      and carcinogens might be created in harmful concentrations.

      English Nature, Britain's chief conservation agency, believes GM
      farming will lead to a new generation of herbicide-resistant crops,
      which could devastate the countryside. Dr. Brian Johnson, a co-author
      of the English Nature report, said: "If you hit them with most of the
      conventional herbicides they just smile at you. They certainly don't

      GM soy-based infant formula has raised levels of estrogen, and today
      more than 1 percent of three-year-old U.S. girls have pubic hair. Any

      Scientists believe GM crops may be deadly to wildlife (i.e. the
      Monarch butterfly) and may result in increased pesticide pollution
      and soil damage, genetic contamination of the environment, and risks
      to biodiversity.

      Tobacco plants were genetically engineered to produce the Gamma-
      linoleic acid. Instead the plant unexpectedly mainly produced the
      toxic octadecatetraenic acid. This substance does not exist in the
      natural tobacco plant. (Reddy SA, Thomas TL. Nature Biotechnology,
      vol 14, sid 639-642, May 1996).

      When a yeast was manipulated for increased fermentation there was an
      unexpected production of a metabolite (methyl-glyoxal) in toxic and
      mutagenic concentrations. (Inose, T. Murata, K. Int. J. Food Science
      Tech. 30: 141-146, 1995).

      When a gene from the Brazil nut was inserted into a soy bean it
      appeared that it unexpectedly caused strong allergic reactions in
      people allergic to nuts who never had any problems formerly in eating
      soy products.(Nordlee, J.A. et al. The New England Journal of
      Medicine 14: 688-728; 1996).
      GM advocates point to studies and statements from scientific bodies
      as support for their safety claims. However, technology like GM food
      is typically based upon research that is funded by corporations. In
      their book, "Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates
      Science and Gambles with Your Future," authors Sheldon Rampton and
      John Stauber discuss the vast amount of time that "a modern
      researcher spends writing grant proposals; coddling department heads;
      corporate donors, and government bureaucrats; or engaging in any of
      the other activities that are necessary to obtain research funding."
      The influence of this money on research can result in the suppression
      of certain studies while corporations commission writers to pen
      favorable articles in peer-reviewed journals. In 1999, the editor of
      the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drummond Rennie,
      complained that the "influence of private funding on medical research
      has created 'a race to the ethical bottom.'"

      Government agencies have also become bottom dwellers. "Pharmaceutical
      companies are big campaign finance contributors having given $44
      million over the last ten years," explains Dr. Ray Greek, president
      of Americans For Medical Advancement. "Food and Drug Administration
      scientists who approve drugs or decide upon regulations are also
      current, past or future employees of the drug industry. They are
      inextricably tied to the industry that they are supposed to be
      policing. What this means is that the FDA is effectively financed and
      staffed by the pharmaceutical industry. The agency 'works for' the
      industry, not for consumers, because consumers are not making
      campaign contributions; nor are they arbiters of job security."

      In such an environment, it comes as no surprise to hear Philip J.
      Regal, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, equate the current
      lack of regulation with "playing Russian roulette with public
      health." Regal adds: "We've had years and years of scientific
      discussion about this, and the conclusion is very clear. If it
      continues along this path, some of these foods are eventually going
      to hurt somebody."

      "Recombinant DNA technology is an inherently risky method for
      producing new foods," warns Dr. Richard Lacey, professor of medical
      microbiology at the University of Leeds. "Its risks are in large part
      due to the complexity and interdependency of the parts of a living
      system, including its DNA. Wedging foreign genetic material in an
      essentially random manner into an organism's genome necessarily
      causes some degree of disruption, and the disruption could be
      multifaceted. It is impossible to predict what specific problems
      could result in the case of any particular genetically engineered

      As with any new technology, the onus is on the proponents to prove
      safety . . . not the critics to prove danger. If there is doubt, the
      technology should not be utilized (see: DDT and Agent Orange). If
      corporations want glow-in-the-dark potatoes, let's do away with the
      subterfuge and shine some light on the process. Our
      scientific/medical paradigm is overloaded with "institutions" like
      vaccinations, animal experimentation, nuclear power, and
      pharmaceuticals that were developed in the dark and force-fed to the
      public. Those who question these theologies are met with mockery and
      personal attacks . . . and often find themselves relegated to the
      fringe. Will the same happen to anyone challenging GM food?

      More than 450 scientists recently signed a statement calling for a
      complete moratorium on the release of GM crops. "It is time to re-
      establish priorities," Nader concludes. "Protection of human health
      and the environment must take precedence over corporate efforts to
      rush the latest product to market and please investors. The
      commodification of life must be stopped. Sci-fi-like proclamations
      about 'improving' the human species through germline modification
      must not be permitted to translate into public policy."

      No one can say with certainty that GM foods are safe or unsafe. Isn't
      that reason enough to mandate more research . . . under public

      For more information, visit: http://www.thecampaign.org

      Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and
      Activists Making Ends Meet and an editor at Wide Angle. He can be
      reached at: mzx2@....
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