|Genetically Engineered Food?
You Make the Call!
by James A. Riddle
What is genetically engineered food?
Genetically engineered food is food that is produced from
genetically engineered crops or livestock. Genetic engineering is a process whereby genes
from one organism are spliced into the DNA of another organism, creating a new organism
that is not possible through traditional breeding methods. Genes from different species,
or even different kingdoms, are inserted into host organisms to create traits not found in
the original host organism, such as herbicide tolerance or insect resistance. Genetically
engineered foods are not labeled.
This paper discusses some of the impacts of genetically engineered
crops, and highlights the environmental, economic, and societal concerns associated with
GE crops and foods.
Science now shows that GE crops have unanticipated ecological
* Research at Cornell and Iowa State Universities has confirmed that
Bt corn pollen kills Monarch butterflies and other lepidoptera. This impact on non-target
species was not predicted prior to the release of Bt corn. Every cell of the Bt corn
carries the Bt toxin, and the plant itself is a registered pesticide.
* Research in Europe shows that GE crops damage beneficial insects,
including lacewings and ladybugs. Beneficial insects that prey on aphids which have
consumed Bt toxins have lower survival and reproduction rates than those which feed on
healthy aphids. This impact was not researched or anticipated prior to release.
* Toxins from genetically engineered Bt crops accumulate in the
soil, killing organisms and altering soil ecology, according to research at New York
University. The GE Bt toxin was found to exude from the roots of living Bt corn plants.
After 234 days, the toxin had not degraded. The research abstract concludes "there
may be a risk that non-target insects and organisms in higher trophic levels could be
affected by the toxin." This is a huge issue, and was previously unanticipated.
* Genetically engineered Bt toxin is significantly different from
the topically applied Bt sprays which have been used by organic growers for 50 years.
Topical Bt must be digested by an insect and react with enzymes and digestive acids in
order to be toxic. Left on plants, it degrades under UV light in a matter of days. GE Bt
is an active toxin found in every cell of the altered plant. It is not dependent on
digestive enzymes and acids to become actively toxic, and it does not degrade in UV light.
* It is inevitable that the planting of insecticidal GE crops, such
as Bt corn, cotton and potatoes, will result in pesticide resistant pests, because the GE
toxins are present in every cell of every plant at all times. Any biologist or
entomologist knows that this is a recipe for resistance. As insects develop resistance,
conventional growers will need to apply more and stronger insecticides, and organic
growers will likely lose access to a previously effective, selective, least-toxic, and
* Research in Canada shows that herbicide resistant canola
cross-pollinates with wild and domestic relatives, creating "superweeds" which
are resistant to herbicides.
* The effects of altering one gene on the host genome, and on the
ecosystem into which the organism is released, are unknown.
* And despite what the biotech industry would like us to believe,
farmers are spending more on pesticides than ever before. Genetic engineering has not
resulted in a decrease in pesticide use.
GE crops are bad for the U.S. economy:
* US corn exports to Europe dropped by 96% in 1999 because we cannot
provide non-GE corn.
* US soybean sales to Europe dropped from $2.1 billion in 1996 to
$1.1 billion in 1999.
* Genetic engineering is part of a failed farm policy which is
driving farmers off the land. The USDA predicts corn prices below $2/bu through at least
2001 and soybean prices below $5/bu through 2004.
* Major buyers in Europe, Japan, Canada, and Mexico don't want GMO
* Domestic buyers, including Frito-Lay, Gerber, Heinz, Seagrams,
Whole Foods, Wild Oats, North America's largest potato processor, and the entire sugar
industry want non-GE crops.
GE crops are having a negative impact on family farmers:
* GE seeds cost more, yet may yield less. 40 research plots in 1999
showed that Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 4% less than non-GE varieties.
* The November 1, 1999, issue of Chemical and Engineering News
reported that DuPont and Monsanto together own 73% of the seed corn companies in the U.S.
Novartis, Dow, and Cargill own most of the rest. In the face of this concentration,
farmers have few planting choices, and most of the best genetics are bundled with GE
* For corn farmers, the share of a farmer's gross income spent on
seed and chemicals has risen from 9.5% in 1975 to 16.9% in 1997. For soybean farmers, the
share spent on seed and chemicals has risen from 10.8% to 16.3%. * Over 30 patents have
already been issued for Terminator and Traitor technology, which is designed to produce
crops which have sterile seed, making farmers chemically dependent and preventing them
from saving their own seeds. This is the most transparently greedy and ecologically
dangerous GE technology of all.
* Farmers who plant GE crops must sign licensing agreements allowing
biotech companies unlimited access to their farms. The farmers don't buy the seed - they
only lease the right to grow it.
* Farmers who save their own seeds are subject to investigation,
harassment, and litigation by biotech companies. Farmers are encouraged to "turn
in" their neighbors, if they suspect they are saving seeds.
* Farmers whose crops have been subjected to genetic drift have even
been investigated and accused of saving GE seeds without having signed licensing
* Farmers are being exposed to unprecedented economic and
environmental risks, with no protection from biotech companies. Farmers who plant GE crops
may be liable for contamination of neighboring non-GE and organic crops due to genetic
drift. Biotech companies carry no insurance to cover these damages. Insurance companies
claim genetic engineering is an "unquantifiable risk."
* Genetic pollution is another unanticipated consequence of GE
technology, especially for wind and insect pollinated crops such as corn, canola,
potatoes, and squash. Genetic drift is a huge issue for organic growers, since genetic
engineering is prohibited by all organic standards in the world, and consumers expect
organic foods to be free of GE ingredients.
* The development of GE-free labels is not the answer to protect
consumers. It places the burden on farmers and consumers who want to avoid genetic
engineering, rather than on the corporations who profit from the technology. Corporations
and producers who profit from GE technology must bear the burden of segregating and
labeling GE products.
* Unless GE products are tracked and labeled, a moratorium must be
imposed. A moratorium on the planting of GE crops would present a huge economic
opportunity for farmers and processors in non-GE zones, since the world is demanding
Genetically engineered foods are being rejected by consumers:
* The British and Portuguese Medical Associations are calling for a
global moratorium on the planting of GE crops.
* Research in Great Britain has shown that rats developed intestinal
growths when fed GE potatoes.
* Research in Great Britain also shows that incidences of soy food
allergies have increased corresponding with the sale of Roundup Ready soybeans.
* GE crops contain antibiotic resistance marker genes, bacteria
genes, and virus genes. None of these genetically engineered substances have ever before
been part of the ecosystem or the human diet.
* Germany has banned all planting, growing, and selling of GE corn
produced by Novartis, based on research published in Freiburg, Germany, that showed the GE
corn can cancel out the effect of antibiotic treatments for illnesses because the corn has
been modified to resist certain antibiotics.
* GE crops have been rushed to market without proper testing, and
with no labeling. The regulatory process has been shrouded in secrecy and conflict of
interest. The Food and Drug Administration ruled in 1992 that GE crops are
"substantially equivalent" to regular crops and foods, and do not have to be
safety tested or labeled, even though they contain unique, altered genes, and can be
* The FDA's own researchers found that genetic engineering could
have unpredictable consequences, and urged caution, yet their objections were overruled.
To this day, there is still no sound science which proves GE crops are safe for the
environment or human health. · * 81% of respondents want genetically engineered foods to
be labeled. A January 2000 MSNBC poll showed identical results.
* The Mexican Senate has unanimously passed mandatory labeling
* The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan already
require genetically engineered foods to be labeled, a right recently confirmed by the
United Nations BioSafety Protocol agreement.
Genetic engineering raises a host of unanswered questions:
* What are the long term impacts of increased Bt toxins on soil
* How can genetically engineered toxins be removed from the
environment once they have been introduced?
* What are the impacts of one spliced gene on a target organism's
genone? What are the impacts on the ecosystem into which the transgenic organism is
* What are the impacts on livestock which consume GE proteins? ·
Why do cows, when given the choice between GE corn fodder and non-GE fodder, consistently
choose the non-GE feed?
* Why do farmers complain about burning lungs after breathing Bt
* Could there be a relationship between GE crops and frog mutations?
* Organic farming, which takes care of the earth, is the fastest
growing sector of agriculture, with tremendous domestic and international consumer demand.
How much public money is spent on organic research and promotion versus genetic
engineering research and promotion?
* Are University and government researchers encouraged to conduct
"public interest" research, or are they funded to conduct "corporate
* Is research suppressed if the findings contradict the claims and
agendas of biotech companies?
* Just because something can be done, does that mean it should be
done? We can kill bugs with DDT, and kill plants with Agent Orange, but that doesn't mean
* Shouldn't sound science be used to establish a product's safety
before it is released into the environment and placed in the food chain?
For more information on genetic engineering, contact:
Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and
Technology - www.psrast.org
Organic Consumers Association - www.purefood.org
Food First - www.foodfirst.org
Institute for Ag and Trade Policy - www.iatp.org
Union of Concerned Scientists - www.ucs.org
General information - www.biotech-info.net
James A. Riddle Organic Independents/Organicworks! Rt. 3 Box 162-C
Winona, Minnesota, USA, 55987-9514 Ph/Fax: 507-454-8310 E-mail: email@example.com
James Riddle is an organic grower, inspector, and policy specialist
from Winona, MN. He has been an organic inspector for 14 years, and was founding president
of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association. He has trained hundreds of organic
inspectors worldwide. Mr. Riddle is co-author of several organic texts, including the
Organic Trade Association's American Organic Standards. He has been a member of the U.S.
delegation to the Codex Commission on Food Labeling for 4 years, and he chairs the
Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Organic Advisory Task Force. Mr. Riddle has a degree
in Biology from Grinnell College.