Tuesday, June 2, 2009

10 reasons why we don’t need genetically engineered foods

With the cost of food on the rise — hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world — genetically engineered (GE) foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GE foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

1. GE foods won’t solve the food crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. GE giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GE foods!

“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GE industry.”

Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent

“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GE crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GE crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bull****.”

— Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales

2. GE crops do not increase yield potential

Despite the promises, GE has not increased the yield potential of any commercialized crops. In fact, studies show the most widely grown GE crop, GE soya, has suffered reduced yields.

“Let's be clear. As of this year [2008], there are no commercialized GE crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GE crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.”

— Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman, former biotech specialist for the US Environmental Protection Agency and former advisor on GE to the US Food and Drug Administration

3. GE crops increase pesticide use

Official data shows that in the U.S., GE crops have produced an overall average increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.

“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” — Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition

4. There are better ways to feed the world

A major recent UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists, and endorsed by 58 countries, concluded that GE crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger and climate change, because better alternatives are available.

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Integrated pest management (IPM) and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker assisted selection (non-GE genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GE.

“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GE].”

— Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre

6. GE foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

Genetic engineering is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GE foods have undergone little rigorous and no long term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrying health effects. Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GE food. It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.

“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist

7. Stealth GE’s in animal feed — without consumers’ consent

Products from animals raised on millions of tons of GE feed do not have to be labeled. (Add that to the fact that in North America, no GE foods require GE labeling.) Studies have shown that if GE crops are fed to animals, GE material can appear in the resulting products. As GE foods have been shown to affect animals’ health, eating such “stealth GEs” may affect the health of consumers.

8. No one is monitoring the impact of GE foods on health

It is claimed that North Americans have eaten GE foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the U.S. and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they caused millions of premature deaths. Additionally, scientists say that GE may produce new toxins, with potentially devastating results for humans. In at least one case this has already happened. In 1989, a genetically engineered form of tryptophan, a dietary supplement, produced toxic contaminants. Before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration, the mutated tryptophan wreaked havoc. Thirty-seven North Americans died, 1,500 were permanently disabled, and 5,000 became ill with a blood disorder, eosinophila myalgia syndrome.

9. GE and non-GE cannot co-exist

GE contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GE rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the U.S. rice supply and seed stocks. In Spain, a study found that GE maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.

“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GE foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GE. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.”

— Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development

10. We can’t trust GE companies

The big biotech firms pushing their GE foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GE is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.

“Farmers are being sued for having GE organisms on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” — Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer

Scientific references and sources for the information presented here can be found at www.banGMfood.org