By Guest Contributor Jim
What is a genetically modified organism (GMO)? It is an organism that arises from the genetic material (DNA) of a host animal, plant or bacteria that has been altered by the insertion of a gene from another species. This process is referred to as “genetic engineering” (GE) or “genetic modification” (GM).
The biotech industry spin is that this process is safe and predictable and uses terms like “engineering” and “splicing” to create the impression of a highly controlled, precise process. It is not. It is unpredictable, imprecise, invasive and violates the host’s DNA and produces products that are unstable. This is due in part to the fact that genetic material is not static but fluid and dynamic.
Unlike biotech industry claims, GE is radically different from hybridization, cross-breeding, selective breeding or cross-fertilization which are all sexual processes which occur in nature all the time. They clearly know their claims are false, as does the FDA. The major biotech firms are Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Bayer Cropscience and Syngenta.
The two major GE technologies are 1) insect resistance (Bt) due to a gene from a soil bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis) and 2) herbicide tolerance to Roundup (glyphosate).
Only five GM crops are widely grown: Soybeans (94%), Canola (90%), Cotton (90%), Corn (88%) and sugar beets. About 50% of papaya is GM, all from Hawaii and small amounts of yellow summer squash, zucchini and alfalfa. About 70% of all processed foods contain GE ingredients.
In 1999, 671 scientists from 76 countries signed an open letter to all governments, which declared as follows. “We call for the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of genetically modified crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials for at least five years; for patents on living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned; and for a comprehensive public inquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all.
Internal documents of the FDA, (not available to the public until a lawsuit forced their release), revealed that their scientists warned that GM foods might produce toxins, allergies, nutritional problems and new diseases.
Rats fed GM potatoes suffered damaged immune systems; their white blood cells responded sluggishly; the thymus and spleen showed damage and they had smaller brains, livers and testicles. Some had enlarged intestines and pancreas, while others had partial atrophy of the liver. A proliferation of cells in the stomach and intestines indicated a potential for cancer. These serious health effects developed after only ten days and persisted for 110 days (equivalent to about ten years of human life).
In September,1999 the first recorded case of a serious reaction to GM corn occurred. It turned out to be Starlink corn. Hundreds of people got sick and over 50 people contacted the FDA and 28 people’s reactions fit the profile of anaphylactic shock. The EPA did not approve Starlink for human consumption but the FDA did.
In an unpublished study by Calgene, Inc., laboratory rats fed the GM Flavr-Savr tomato developed stomach lesions and 7 of the 40 died within two weeks. The study was sent to the FDA for review and the tomato was eventually approved without further study.
In 2003 as many as 100 villagers living near GE corn plots in southern Philippines became ill when the corn came to flower. Terjo Traavik of the Northern Institute of Gene Ecology found antibodies in the villagers to the CRY 1 Ab gene produced by the corn.
In 2001/2002 twelve dairy cows died after eating Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn. About 10 years later in India, a dozen cattle died three days after eating GE cotton plants.
A 1997 study revealed that rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), a genetically engineered hormone injected into cows greatly increases IGF-1 (insulin growth-like factor) levels by as much as 360% in their milk. In 1991 it had been established that IGF-1 was critically involved in the growth of human breast cancer cells. A 1998 paper in Science reported a study of 15,000 white men with elevated IGF-1 levels were four times more likely to contract prostate cancer. A 1998 Lancet study showed that pre-menopausal women with high levels of IGF-1 are seven times more likely to contract breast cancer.
A 2002 report by the Royal Society of the UK said that genetic modification could lead to unpredicted, harmful changes in the nutrition of food and recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly people, babies and those suffering from chronic disease.
A three year study by the UK government in which 1 million weeds and 2 million insects were counted, revealed a 2/3 reduction in butterflies and a 50% reduction in bees in GE canola fields.
A major environmental problem with GMOs is their potential to have a serious negative impact on biodiversity, the greatest strength of ecosystems. Pollen drift to other fields will contaminate them irreversibly. GE crops have an advantage in that their traits are dominant and they will take over. This may be the most dangerous threat posed by GMOs.
In 1989 the Dan Quayle led “Council on Competitiveness” ruled that GM foods were “substantially equivalent” to natural foods, thereby obviating the need for safety testing. The industry knew that GE foods were not substantially equivalent regarding their potential health effects. Partly because of this ruling, GE foods HAVE NEVER BEEN PROVEN SAFE. Abnormal and potentially dangerous proteins may be produced.
Patent laws allowing an “inserted gene” to give ownership of an entire organism are patently absurd, so to speak.
The world’s leading researcher of GMOs, scientist Arpad Pusztai, (fifty years research, nearly 300 articles and author or editor of 12 books), reported his shock at the missing data, poor research design and superficiality of data from the major producers of GMOs. He concluded that the GM tomatoes, soy and corn already in the marketplace could not be considered safe. To this day, GM foods have never been proven safe! The majority of scientists at EPA think that GMO products need to be tested for safety. Dr Pusztai also ran an extremely important experiment showing that it was not the nature or type of gene being introduced into the host’s DNA that causes harmful changes, but the invasion process itself which can produce abnormal proteins.
WISDOM OF THE ANIMALS
A farmer in Illinois had a field planted to soybeans for years and year after year geese landed in a nearby pond and fed on the soy. One year he planted GE soybeans in half of the 50 acre field. The geese always fed on the natural soybeans and never on the GE beans even though in previous years they had fed on the whole field.
H. Vlieger in Maurice, Iowa grew both Bt (GE) corn and natural corn. He decided to test them on his cows. He filled half of a 16 foot trough with Bt and half with natural. They would sniff and nibble the Bt corn and immediately move to the natural side until it was all gone and leave the Bt corn uneaten. He said his cows were smarter than the scientists who said there was no difference.
Calgene, Inc. wanted to test the effects of their Flavr-Savr tomatoes on lab rats but the rats would not eat them so they fed them through gastric tubes. Several developed stomach lesions and 7 of the 40 rats died in two weeks. (see study above).
In northwestern Iowa, cows were led into a feeding area in which the first trough had shelled Bt corn, which they sniffed and walked on to the second trough with natural shelled corn. This experiment was carried out on at least six farms over two years with the same result. It was then done with hogs with the same result.
For years a retired Iowa farmer put corn cobs on feeders in the winter. One year he decided to put Bt corn in another feeder twenty feet away. Squirrels ate all of the natural corn and none of the Bt. He withdrew the natural corn to see what would happen. It was the coldest part of the winter and the squirrels refused to eat the Bt corn.
At Susan and Mark Fitzgerald’s farm in Minnesota, elk would feed in fields of organic corn and soy but would not venture across the road into the GM corn and soy fields.
BIOCHEMISTRY, IMMUNOLOGY AND GENES
Cotton and canola are used for the oil squeezed from their seeds. Fats and oils, as well as sugars and carbohydrates do not usually elicit antibodies. Proteins or compounds containing proteins can do this, allowing them to act as toxins or allergens. Antigens (which elicit antibodies) and antibodies are proteins. Corn and soy contain proteins and therefore have the potential to elicit an immune response, i.e., antibodies. The vast majority of toxins are proteins which can be found in GE corn and soy.
What do genes do? They produce enzymes which are proteins that catalyze and control metabolic processes. When corn and soy are genetically engineered, their DNA is invaded by genes from foreign DNA. This process disrupts the host’s DNA and can produce “novel”, i.e., abnormal proteins (or enzymes) which the immune system may recognize as foreign and cause an allergic reaction. Though less likely, they might even act as a toxin.
Monsanto claims they want to feed a starving world by growing more nutritious crops with a higher yield. So far no GE crops have been shown to be nutritionally or productively superior to natural varieties. They also claim that their processes result in less herbicide use but because their Roundup Ready varieties are sprayed several times a season, the use of herbicides went up by 138 million pounds between 1996 and 2005_ as revealed by a nine year study by the USDA in 2005.
Monsanto also claims they want to protect the environment but their Bt insecticide is effective in killing butterflies, honeybees, moths and beetles. Monsanto is the greatest known corporate threat to biodiversity. They are also the company that brought us DDT, PCB’s, Agent Orange, Roundup and recombinant bovine growth hormone.
Monsanto provides the seed technology for 90% of the worlds GE crops and in 2004 invested over 85% of its research and development budget on seeds and have spent over $10 billion on buying up seed companies and have over 1,676 patents on seeds (as of 2005) as well as 647 biotech plant patents. They spend $10 million a year to investigate, intimidate and prosecute farmers. The first 90 farmers they sued for over $15 million. The brilliant Indian scientist, Vandana Shiva claims about 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, mostly as a result of being ruined by Monsanto.
MONSANTO’S REVOLVING DOOR
A “revolving door” means that a person moves back and forth between a private corporation and the government forming an inordinately close relationship between the two.
Marsha Hale : Assistant to U.S. President and Director for Intergovernmental Affairs —> Director of International Governmental Affairs for Monsanto.
Jack Watson : Chief of Staff of U.S. President —> Staff lawyer, Monsanto, Washington, DC.
Michael (Mickey) Cantor : Secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce —> Trade Representative for the U.S.—> Member, Board of Directors for Monsanto.
Linda J. Fisher : Asst Administrator of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention, Pesticide and Toxic Substances —> VP of Government and Public Affairs for Monsanto —> Deputy Director of EPA.
William Ruckelshaus : Chief Administrator of EPA —> Member, Board of Directors for Monsanto since 1989.
Michael Taylor : Legal Advisor to FDA’s Bureau of Medical Devices and Bureau of Foods —> Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of FDA —> Law firm of King and Spaulding heading a nine-attorney group whose clients included Monsanto —> Deputy Commissioner for Policy at FDA —> King and Spaulding law firm —> Head of Monsanto’s Washington, DC Office.
Lydia Watrud : Microbial biotech researcher at Monsanto —> EPA Environmental Effects Lab, Western Ecology Division.
Ann Veneman : Board of Directors at Calgene subsidiary of Monsanto —> a law firm representing biotech firms —>U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Donald Rumsfeld : President of G.D. Searle, a subsidiary of Monsanto —> U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Clarence Thomas : Lawyer for Monsanto —> U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Compiled by James Stoops : B.S. in Biology, M.S. in Medical Technology, 10 years in medical field and 12 years in Chemistry research.