Genetic Engineering IS NOT Breeding
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Biotech News, by R. Wolfson, Ph.D.
(published in the Feb. 1997 issue of Alive magazine)
The biotech industry and our departments of agriculture claim that
genetic engineering is a natural extension of traditional breeding.
However, traditional agriculture methods, such as cross-pollination or
selective breeding, are based on natural reproductive mechanisms. These
traditional methods will cross only one kind of plant or animal with a
Genetic engineering crosses the coded DNA barrier and utilizes very
powerful (and unnatural) laboratory techniques for transferring genetic
material directly between plants and animals. Using these techniques,
genes from any plant, animal, virus, or other organism, including a human,
can be inserted into any other organism. Using the traditional methods,
one could never mate a tomato and a fish, or a canola plant with a human.
Yet genetic engineers have done this.
Biotechnology supporters say genetic engineering is precise and safe. It
is true that isolating a gene in a test tube can be precise. But when the
genetic material is inserted into a new host, there is always some
uncertainty. For instance, one technique involves using a "gene gun" to
shoot genes into the host. Once in the host, the gene could attach in the
middle of another gene and interfere with its functioning. Or it may
damage the host DNA in another unpredictable way. Because of the immense
complexity of living organisms and our very limited knowledge of gene
interactions, unexpected side-effects are inevitable. This
unpredictability is amplified since genetic engineers combine together
genes from widely divergent species.
Many crops on the market (e.g. soybeans, canola oil, corn) are genetically
engineered to be resistant to herbicides, allowing more herbicide use. The
herbicides involved are meant to break down more quickly, but the actual
rates are highly dependent on local conditions, and soil and water
pollution do occur. In addition, studies show that these herbicides are
more acutely toxic to humans. Also, herbicide-resistant crops in the
fields can cross-pollinate with wild species, producing herbicide-resistant
superweeds that create ecological havoc.
Genetically engineered insect-resistant crops create different
environmental problems. These crops include potatoes, cotton, maize, and
corn. They are already on the market and contain their own pesticide (Bt
toxin) genetically inserted into the plant to kill insects. Agronomists
and environmentalists are concerned that if even a few insects survive,
they can breed with each other and produce strains of superbugs resistant
to pesticides that destroy crops and also interfere with organic
Ideally, expression of the poison would be localized to the leaves or
roots. But because current techniques are not that selective, the toxin
becomes expressed in varying concentrations throughout the entire plant,
including in the parts we eat! Also, the actual concentration of the toxin
is not so important because only a tiny amount of a potent allergen is
needed to elicit a powerful response.
Our biggest consumer concern is that these foods are not fully tested for
safety and not labeled. Because industry is continually pressuring
regulatory agencies to allow these products through the system more
quickly, they are coming into the stores without adequate testing.
Extensive tests for long-term side-effects, possible allergenicities, and
other toxic reactions are simply not being done.
Biotech News will be a regular feature in Alive Magazine. Nest month we
will tell you how to shop to avoid genetically engineering foods. See also
articles on page 75 and page 77 in the November issue of Alive.
Richard Wolfson is Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food
Natural Law Party
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546
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