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Guest Opinion: The BAD Science of GE Food

The BAD Science of Genetically Engineered Food – Part One

The science of GE is immature and the creation of new organisms is at best a lottery.

Genetic “engineering” uses relatively simple techniques to produce a raft of “clones” and suitable successful candidates are chosen using trial and error, with field tests being the last stage of this process. It is basically a “suck it and see” approach rather than analytical deduction.

Genetic engineers rely on very crude ideas of how genes often give rise to recognisably similar properties in similar organisms. The relationship between genotype and phenotype is now known to be very complex, and that is one of the reasons why the results of genetic engineering are unpredictable. The effect of a gene is variable, because of influences from other genes or because of influences from the conditions in the cell and the environment. Insertion of a gene to a different species may therefore give unexpected effects.

GE Techniques are crude, destructive and potentially dangerous.

GE causes irreversible changes that cannot be ultimately controlled or contained. GE bypasses mechanisms of control and rejection of extraneous genetic material that have developed naturally over many millions of years of evolution. GE uses bacteria, viruses and other genetic parasites, many of which usually cause disease in their target organism, as the basic tools or “vectors” for the artificial insertion of genes into organisms’ chromosomes. Practically all genetically engineered crops contain genetic material from viruses. The possibility of these virus genes recombining with genes from normal infecting viruses is poorly understood and the consequences of this potential mixing are also poorly understood.

In GE the "desired property" gene is never inserted alone. In many GE crops, additional genetic material from the Cauliflower Mosiac Virus ( CaMV ) is used to “promote” expression of the new gene in the target species. The possibility of the CaMV promoter sequence recombining with infecting viruses, thereby generating new viruses, is not adequately investigated.

GE companies corrupt science, suppress knowledge, and attack dissenters and critics.

Modern molecular biology kicked off with the virtual theft of the results of the research of Rosalind Franklin by Crick and Watson for their deduction of a base-paired structure of DNA. This set the tone for the future of the discipline as serious, respected scientists and businesses lined up to determine a complete map of the human chromosomes – or genome - engaging in a feeding frenzy over who owned what. In the 1980’s, many academics found themselves in commercially focused departments that had to make a profit. GE companies helped displace scientific teams built up over generations in departments that faced downsizing or total dissolution. Biologists have had to “get GE or get out”. This partly explains the support for GE. For similar reasons, organic farming and consumption of organic food are portrayed as eccentric and unscientific. The smear of “unscientific luddite” is inevitably bestowed on anyone opposing GE.

A feature of GE culture has been a refusal to accept dissent and unfavourable research. A massive campaign managed the prestigious scientific journal Nature to disavow in a novel ( and somewhat vague way,) a paper on Mexican corn that it had published – the first time in the
133 year history of the journal. This campaign has also vigorously attacked the professionalism of the University of California at Berkeley scientists who conducted the original study. Scientists who express divergent opinions or publish research results that differ from the GE programs are routinely subject to attack on their professional reputation.

Genetically modified organisms cannot be contained.

The initial claims of the GE industry of natural containment of artificial genetic inserts are wrong, contradicted by the apparent contamination of native corn in Mexico and contamination of commercial canola and corn crops in America.

Initial testing of native corn in Mexico suggested that genetically manipulated components of GE corn had infected the wild strains from which modern corn is derived. The diversity of Mexican corn is a source of great national pride, and anger is growing within Mexico as knowledge of this apparent contamination spreads.

A preliminary release of results from the senior civil servant in charge of a more detailed study by the Mexican Government confirms the main point of apparent contamination and has also found the contamination more widespread than the original study.

The issue of contamination of natural strains is even more marked with canola where farmers have had their crops and seed stock contaminated by GE strains. The GE industry has gone on the offensive, cynically suing farmers for using their unwanted genetic strains, calling the infestation a case of theft. Starlink® corn, genetically engineered for animal feed, has contaminated the corn grown for human consumption and has had to be recalled as it is has not been adequately tested for possible human allergens.

The GE industry has moved the goalposts, saying that the environmental proliferation of artificially-inserted genes doesn’t matter anyway, and suggesting, without proof, that the gene pool could benefit from the efforts of the GE.

GE is not the same as conventional breeding methods and restricts future variation.

In conventional breeding through sexual reproduction, only individuals from the same species or related species can be mated to produce offspring. The offspring will have genes from both parents, but the genes are just different variants of the same genes coding for the same functions.

For the creation of GE plants however, normal reproduction is bypassed altogether, so completely new genes with new functions, as well as new combinations of genes, can be introduced. These interact with the target organism’s own genes in unpredictable ways.

A GE product results from gene insertion events in a single original cell, out of which the entire crop is produced. It is genetically very impoverished and more likely to be harmed by disease and pests.

GE is part of an industry that impoverishes soils and reduces bio-diversity.

100 years ago practically all our food was organic. Now probably every crop and animal is chemically affected by pesticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals. The Green revolution had initial success in boosting production but the long-term effect has been the degradation of soils that have been growing crops for centuries and a reduction in the varieties available for breeding. GE is a technology investment in search of a return.

Further information : www.psrast.org , www.sierraclub.org/biotech, www.ucsusa.org/food/0biotechnology.html, www.psrg.org.nz/links.htm, www.i-sis.org, www.greenpeace.org

Adrian Picot B.Sc. Email adrianpicot@hotmail.com

I welcome all true scientific debate and correspondence on this issue

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