Genetically Engineered Food No. 341
Genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms are rapidly infiltrating food production in the United States and around the world and are thus significant causes for concern. Genetic engineering of our food is already showing the potential to cause catastrophic and irreversible harm to people's health and the environment.
Genetic engineering (GE) of food involves the insertion of genes from plants, bacteria, insects, fish, or humans into the DNA of plants. It is most often used in agricultural crops. The result of genetic engineering is a genetically modified organism (GMO). Some of the immediate and specific results of GE when used in agriculture are known, but most of the long-term and general effects on ecosystems and human health are not.
GE and GMOs pose potential serious threats to human health and the environment, along with raising a serious moral dilemma. The recall of food products found to contain StarLink corn illustrates this conflict. StarLink is a type of genetically modified corn, originally approved for use in animal feed in 1998. The product was not authorized for human consumption by the FDA, due to fears that it could cause serious allergic reactions. When StarLink was found in food for humans, more than 300 products were recalled. This happened despite the fact that StarLink is grown on less than 1% of U.S. cornfields, which suggests that the GM corn managed to mix with other varieties.
Risks to Human Health: Because genetically engineered foods are not labeled, people are unaware that they are consuming them. It is known that GMOs can create serious allergic reactions in some people and may increase a person's toxicity levels and resistance to antibiotics. Recent studies reinforce the possibility that the recombinant bovine growth hormone (called rBGH or rBST) widely used in milk causes prostate cancer and breast cancer. Many prominent scientists are voicing strong opposition to GE in food crops. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that genetic recombination may create highly virulent new viruses. Modified viruses could cause famine by destroying crops, along with triggering deadly human and animal diseases.
Threats to the Environment: GE has the potential to permanently disrupt delicate ecosystems, threaten plant, animal and human life, and undermine organic or non-GE agricultural methods.
Genetically engineered plants can spread by cross-pollination, contaminating nearby organic or non-GE crops, and transferring herbicide or insect resistance to weedy relatives. There are real concerns that GE will increase the amount of synthetic pesticides used on crops. Most genetically engineered crops rely on such a chemical approach. This chemical system of agriculture is already depleting our soil, reducing the nutritional value of food, and polluting our bio-system and our food.
Socioeconomic and ethical effects: Science is now being used to change nature with very little knowledge about the full impact on life on the planet. Large biotechnology companies, heavily invested in genetic engineering, are behind the push for genetically engineered foods. Genetically engineered foods are experimental foods. Many religions have specific dietary requirements that may be violated by GE. All people have the right to be informed of the presence of GMOs in products, as well as the right to avoid ingesting GMOs. Additionally, the patenting of living organisms, cell lines and genes increases corporate monopoly on food production and distribution, further marginalizing small farmers around the world and threatening food security in poorer countries.
The Bush Administration has now lodged a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against the European Union, in an attempt to overturn the EU's policy on the labeling of GM foods. The Administration has also opposed key international measures aimed at regulating GMOs, such as the United Nations Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the precautionary principle, which allows nations to regulate GMOs on the basis of risk assessment. The Administration's position shows a disturbing disregard for the health, environmental, ethical, and socio-economic effects of GMOs.
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