THE POTENTIAL DANGERS OF CONSUMING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

While scientific progress and recent technological breakthroughs in the agricultural field have appeared to have many profoundly beneficial effects with respect to creating more plentiful and hardy crops, these breakthroughs may have come at a high cost.  The following excerpts from various authors look at some of the dangers in consuming genetically modified foods which you may not have been aware of... for example, some experts have found that, despite their outward appearance, many genetically modified foods contain only 2/3 or less of  their original nutirient content!

Because all living organisms are highly complex, genetic engineers cannot possibly predict all of the effects of introducing new genes into them. This is the case for even the simplest bacteria, not to mention more complex plants and animals.

This is because the introduced gene may act differently when working within its new host the original genetic intelligence of the host will be disrupted the new combination of the host genes and the introduced gene will have unpredictable effects; and therefore there is no way of knowing the overall, long-term effect of genetically engineered foods on the health of those who eat them.

Unnatural 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. Biotechnology 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.

Palmiter, R.D. et al (1986) ANNUAL REVIEW OF GENETICS 20: 465; Inose, T. et al (1995) INT. JOUR. FOOD SCIENCE TECH. 30:141.

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.

Green, A.E. et al (1994) SCIENCE 263:1423; Osbourn, J.K. et al (1990) VIROLOGY 179:921.

Genetically 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 supplement, tryptophan, have produced toxic contaminants that killed 37 people and permanently disabled 1,500 more.

Nordlee, J.A. et al (1996) THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE 688; Mayeno, A.N. et al (1994) TIBTECH 12:364.

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.

Epstein, S.S. (1996) INT. JOUR. HEALTH SERVICES, 26:173.

Transferring animal genes into plants raises important ethical issues for vegetarians and religious groups. It may also involve animal experiments which are unacceptable to many people.  Gene 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.

Holms, M.T. and Ingam, E.R. (1994) Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America (Supplement), 75:97

Crops 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.

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)

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