Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog

GENETICALLY MODIFIED

GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM):

 

Prologue:

A year 2006 study of the global impact of GM crops, published by the UK consultancy PG Economics and funded by Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance concluded that globally, the technology reduced pesticide spraying by 286,000 tons in 2006, decreasing the environmental impact of herbicides and pesticides by 15%. On the other hand, a year 2009 study published by the Organic Center stated that the use of genetically engineered corn, soybean, and cotton increased the use of herbicides by 383 million pounds, and pesticide use by 318.4 million pounds. Whom to trust?  This is the paradox about GM food. There are thousands of studies and research works on GM whose conclusions contradict each other. People are caught in the cross-fire between pro-GM lobby and anti-GM lobby. I do not know the truth but I will try to educate people on the most controversial issue of 21’st century.

 

Abbreviations & synonyms:

Genetically modified = GM = genetically engineered

Genetically modified organism = GMO

Modern biotechnology = gene technology = recombinant DNA technology = genetic engineering.

 

The term genetically modified food is a misnomer and the correct terminology is that the food-crops are genetically modified. An herbicide (weed killer) is a substance used to kill unwanted plants growing near food-crops. Pest means an insect which feeds on plants/crops useful for humans. Organic foods are devoid of any genetically modified (GM) ingredients and derived from organic farming. Organic farming means you work with nature to manage your soil, insects, plant resistance and so on through natural processes, rather than through genetic engineering or chemical treatment and only pure fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides are used and in the case of cattle, only natural feed is given to them, so that you will be assured that you get only natural meat/milk.  

 

Introduction:

Man has been “genetically modifying” everything from food to dogs for many centuries; but in the past, the only tool has been selective breeding. For example, if you wanted to create a breed of corn with resistance to a certain fungus, you would plant a plot of corn and see how individual plants did with the fungus. Then you would take seeds from the plants that did well, plant them, look at their performance against the fungus… and so on over the years until you had created a strain of corn plant that had very high resistance to the fungus in question. Using selective breeding techniques, people have created everything from variegated roses to giant pumpkins to strains of wheat with twice the yield and very high disease tolerance. For centuries, humans have altered plants and animals by selective reproduction (breeding, hybridizing). As a result, we have a wide range of domestic animals and plants grown for food and for a variety of non-food use (such as for fibers and decorative purposes and as a source of fuel). These efforts involve human actions working with existing natural processes for selection of traits. These traits are in the genes, so there are some differences in the genes of the original and modified versions of the plants and animals. Since the late 19th century, knowledge of the principles of heredity gave farmers new tools for breeding crops and animals. They selected individual organisms with beneficial characteristics and developed hybrid crops.

 

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism (plant/ animal/ microorganism etc) whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered using genetic engineering techniques by either adding a gene from a different species or over-expressing/ silencing a preexisting native gene. Genetic material can be artificially inserted either by physically inserting the extra DNA into the nucleus of the intended host with a very small syringe/a gene gun, by using the ability of Agrobacterium (bacteria) to transfer genetic material to plants, and the ability of lentiviruses (viruses) to transfer genes to animal cells. Such bacteria/ viruses are then called vectors. Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO). These GM foods could be derived from either plant kingdom (e.g. tomatoes) or animal kingdom (e.g. salmon fish).

 

Genetic material in an organism can be altered without genetic engineering techniques which include mutation breeding where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change, selective breeding (plant breeding and animal breeding), hybridizing and somaclonal variation. However, these organisms are not labeled as GMO.

 

Barring few RNA viruses, every living organism has DNA in the nucleus of its cell. This DNA is derived from biological parents in the case of sexual reproduction or from precursor cell in case of asexual reproduction. A section of DNA coding for one particular protein is called a gene. Genes are the pieces of DNA code which regulate all biological processes in living organisms. The entire set of genetic information of an organism is present in the nucleus every cell and is called the genome. Every gene codes for a specific protein which gives a specific trait to the organism like how we appear and what characteristics we have. In the same way, animals & plants have genes too. Genes decide the colour of flowers, and how tall a plant can grow. Like humans, the characteristics of a plant will be transferred to its children through the plant seeds, which grow into new plants. In conventional breeding half of an individual’s genes come from each parent, whereas in genetic engineering one, several specially selected genes are added to the genetic material. Moreover, conventional plant breeding can only combine closely related plants. The genetic modification will do one of two things: either add new sections of DNA to the genes of a particular plant/animal to code for new proteins, or remove stretches of DNA so that a particular protein is not produced. People believe that there is a fundamental difference between genetic modification via selective breeding and genetic engineering techniques. However in fact, given two strands of DNA, created from the same original strand, one by selective breeding and another by modern genetic engineering techniques, it is impossible to tell which is which. The changes caused by selective breeding have been just as radical as genetic modifications. Wheat for example, was cultivated through selective breeding, from an almost no-yield rice-type crop into the super-crop as it is today. We must remember that all DNA is made up of the same four fundamental molecules regardless of which organism the DNA came from originally. It is also worth noting that DNA from all organisms are very similar. Human DNA is 99% the same as chimpanzee DNA and about 50% the same as grass DNA. Consequently, the addition of DNA from one organism into the DNA of another is like adding ‘Lego Bricks’ to one another to create a desired final structure. Indeed such processes occur all the time in nature in sexual reproduction. When a scientist genetically modifies a plant, they insert a foreign gene in the plant’s own genes. This might be a gene from a bacterium resistant to pesticide, for example. The result is that the plant receives the characteristics trait held within the genetic code. Consequently, the genetically modified plant also becomes able to withstand pesticides. Spontaneous changes, radiation, chemicals and traditional processing can also alter the characteristics of a plant or animal. Spontaneous alteration of genes takes place naturally and sometimes with no effect. A spontaneous alteration can lead to the development of both positive and negative characteristics. The method is not particularly good if the intention is to create specific changes. Radiation and chemicals can be used in order to effect gene alteration. Both elements are sometimes used in plant processing. With genetic engineering it is possible to transfer genes from one species to another. This is because all genes, be they human, plant, animal or bacterial are created from the same material (DNA). Genetic scientists therefore have a huge amount of genetic characteristics to choose from. One of the main differences between conventional and genetically modified crops is that the former involves crosses either within species or between very closely related species. GM crops can have genes either from closely related species or from distant species, even bacteria and viruses.

 

Genes are the blueprints for every part of an organism. Genetic engineering is the process of artificially modifying these blueprints. By cutting and splicing DNA, genetic engineers can transfer genes specific to one type of organism into any other organism on earth. Genetic engineering means selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. Direct genetic modification is a relatively new process based on a set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of living organisms, including animals, plants, bacteria, or fungi by inserting genes rather than using cross-breeding and selection techniques. The purpose of the modification of the genes is to derive certain benefits. A specific DNA from a different source is inserted into the genome of an organism giving it a new gene or trait which then becomes GMO. The general principle of producing a GMO is to add new genetic material into an organism’s genome. This genetic engineering was made possible through the discovery of DNA and the creation of the first recombinant bacteria in 1973 and in 1978 a company announced creation of an E.coli. strain producing the human protein insulin. GMOs are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice). The end product we use may be part of the genetically modified organism itself (e.g., the beans of the soy plant) or something produced by the modified organism (for example, a drug produced by fermentation using modified bacteria or fungi).   The term GM foods is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using genetic engineering in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are often not very accurate. Genetic engineering, on the other hand can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy. For example, plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. The new genetically-modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well. Not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from non-plant organisms also can be used. The best known example of this is the use of Bt. genes in corn and other crops (e.g. brinjal). Bt. Stands for Bacillus Thurigniensis, a soil bacterium which synthesizes a crystal (Cry) protein. In the insect gut, the protein breaks down to release toxin, which kills the insect. These Cry genes are known as Bt. genes which are inserted into a plant through genetic engineering. This allows the plant to produce its own toxin which it not normally produces. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) is a natural soil bacterium that destroys the digestive tracts of certain very pesky insects, like the Colorado Potato Beetle and the European Corn Borer. It is one of the safest insecticides known and has been used in spray form by organic farmers for years. Biotech companies have engineered crops–corn, cotton, canola, and potatoes–with a Bt. gene so that Bt crops express the toxin in every cell of the plant.

 

Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species. Just like we have transgenic plants (crops), we also have transgenic animals. For example, transgenic cattle were created to produce milk containing particular human proteins, which may help in the treatment of human emphysema. Transgenic animals in agriculture are larger sheep that grow more wool, in medicine are cows that produce insulin in their milk and in industry are goats that produce spider silk for materials production. Transgenic chickens are now able to synthesize human proteins in the “white” of the eggs. Transgenic science is working for development of organs for xeno-transplantation. Transgenic pigs have been developed which lack surface glycoprotein which are antigenic for humans.

 

The GM salmon-fish is created by inserting a growth gene from the Chinook salmon and a gene “promoter” from the ocean pout, another type of fish. The resulting GM salmon grow to market weight about twice as fast as ordinary non-GM Atlantic salmon, though they don’t get larger overall. To safeguard the environment, the eggs will be treated in such way that all fish that grow from them will be sterile females. That means they will not be able to reproduce, nor will they come into contact with males to reproduce and the treated eggs will be sold in market. FDA panel says not enough evidence to verify safety of genetically modified salmon. The outcry over FDA even considering genetically modified salmon for human consumption has almost overshadowed another GM animal that’s up for approval i.e. the Enviropig. Researchers have genetically engineered a pig that creates fewer pollutants in its waste by combining the pig’s genes with those from mouse and E. coli DNA. Pig manure is loaded with toxins like phosphorus, because pigs have trouble digesting the stuff. The Enviropig can digest dietary phosphorus around 50% more efficiently than the average pig, which means less phosphorus in its waste which was injuring and killing fish & other marine life.

 

GM foods have caused a great political divide, especially between the United States and Europe. The FDA bases its position on the philosophy of “substantial equivalence.” For the purposes of regulation, if a GM food product has the same composition, nutritive value, functional characteristics, and organoleptic properties (taste, smell, and mouthfeel) as a conventional product, then that GM food is considered to have substantial equivalence. The argument for substantial equivalence is that genetic alterations (to date) have been minor and tightly targeted – genetic insertions involve only one or a few genes, and the plant is substantially equivalent to the original in all other characteristics. The counter argument is that while GM foods are equivalent in many ways to their non-GM counterparts, they differ in the most fundamentally important way: their DNA and when a plant is inserted with a gene, its important natural genes can be inadvertently turned off, permanently tuned on, deleted, reversed, scrambled, moved, fragmented or changed. Also, the FDA subscribes to a definition for genetically modified food that is broadly outside the scope of everyone else’s understanding: “‘Genetic modification’ means the alteration of the genotype of a plant using any technique, new or traditional.” While the public uses the terms ‘genetically modified’ and ‘genetically engineered’ interchangeably to mean the DNA was directly manipulated, the FDA does not.   

 

The first commercially grown genetically modified food crop was a tomato submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for testing in 1992. Following the FDA’s determination that the FlavrSavr (GM tomato) was in fact a tomato, did not constitute a health hazard, and did not need to be labeled to indicate it was genetically modified; was released it into the market in 1994, where it met with little public comment. The FDA provides a list GM foods which include GM corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, canola, and sugar beets, most of which are fed to animals or used as ingredients in processed foods. The FDA has approved production of GM varieties of plums, cantaloupe, papaya, squash, radicchio, tomatoes, and potatoes. The 3 most common genetically modified foods are soybeans, rapeseed and corn. Of all the soybeans grown in the world 46% are genetically modified. 11% of the rapeseed and 7% of the corn is genetically modified. Examples of these GM plants include tomatoes & cantalopes that have modified ripening characteristics, soybeans & sugarbeets that are resistant to herbicides, and corn & cotton plants with increased resistance to insect pests. Genetically modified (virus resistant) papayas are approved for consumption both in the US and in Canada. The ubiquity of soybean derivatives as food additives in the modern American diet virtually ensures that all U.S. consumers have been exposed to GM food products. Also, half of the refined sugar in the US is genetically modified, coming from GM sugar beets. GM corn is used as a fodder and it is also incorporated in bread, corn chips and breakfast cereals. Animal products have also been developed and GM salmon fish is waiting FDA approval. In addition, various genetically engineered micro-organisms are routinely used as sources of enzymes for the manufacture of a variety of processed foods. These include alpha-amylase from bacteria, which converts starch to simple sugars, chymosin from bacteria or fungi that clots milk protein for cheese making, and pectinesterase from fungi which improves fruit juice clarity. Genetically modified bacteria are used to produce the protein insulin to treat diabetes. Similar bacteria have been used to produce clotting factors to treat hemophilia, and human growth hormone to treat various forms of dwarfism. Gene therapy uses genetically modified viruses to deliver genes that are used to treat genetic disorders such as severe combined immunodeficiency, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and muscular dystrophy. GMO can be scientifically detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique.

 

 

 

Food Properties of the genetically modified variety Modification Percent Modified in US Percent Modified in world
Soybeans Resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate herbicides Herbicide resistant gene taken from bacteria inserted into soybean 93% 77%
Corn Resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate herbicides. Insect resistance via producing Bt proteins, same previously used as pesticides in organic crop production. New genes, some from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, added/transferred into plant genome. 86% 26%
Cotton (cottonseed oil) Pest-resistant cotton Bt crystal protein gene added/transferred into plant genome 93% 49%
         
Hawaiian papaya Variety is resistant to the papaya ringspot virus. New gene added/transferred into plant genome 80%  
Tomatoes Variety in which the production of the enzyme polygalacturonase (PG) is suppressed, retarding fruit softening after harvesting. A reverse copy (an antisense gene) of the gene responsible for the production of PG enzyme added into plant genome Taken off the market due to commercial failure. Small quantities grown in China
Rapeseed (Canola) Resistance to herbicides (glyphosate or glufosinate), high laurate canola New genes added/transferred into plant genome 93% 21%
         
Sugar beet Resistance to glyphosate, glufosinate herbicides New genes added/transferred into plant genome 95% (2010) 9%
Rice Genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A (beta-carotene) “Golden rice” Three new genes implanted: two from daffodils and the third from a bacterium Forecast to be on the market in 2012  

  

Growing of GM crops:

 Listing the GM crop acreage in million hectares in year 2003 

Between 1997 and 2009, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 80, from 17,000 km2 (4.2 million acres) to 1,340,000 km2 (331 million acres). In 2009, countries that grew 95% of the global transgenic crops were the United States (46%), Brazil (16%), Argentina (15%), India (6%), Canada (6%), China (3%), Paraguay (2%) and South Africa (2%). The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that 75% of all processed foods in the US contain a GM ingredient. In the US by 2009/2010, 93% of the planted area of soybeans, 93% of cotton, 86% of corn and 95% of the sugar beet were genetically modified varieties. Genetically modified soybeans carried herbicide-tolerant traits only, but maize and cotton carried both herbicide tolerance and insect protection traits. In 2009, 84,000 km2 of land was used to harvest GM cotton in India (87 percent of cotton produced in India was based on GM cotton). Governments around the world are hard at work to establish a regulatory process to monitor the effects of and approve new varieties of GM plants. Yet depending on the political, social and economic climate within a region or country, different governments are responding in different ways.

 

 

Future applications of GMO:

These include drugs in food, bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, cows that are resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), fruit & nut trees that yield years earlier, foods no longer containing properties associated with common intolerances, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.

 

Why GM food anyway?

On our planet, 18% of the land mass is used for agricultural production. This fraction cannot be increased substantially. It is absolutely essential that the yield per unit of land increases beyond current levels given that the human population is still growing, and will reach about nine billion by 2050; 70,000 km² of agricultural land is lost annually to growth of cities and other non-agricultural uses. Consumer diets in developing countries are increasingly changing from plant-based proteins to animal protein, a trend that requires a greater amount of crop-based animal feeds. Population growth and diet upgrading will require the world food supply to increase at least 250 percent from its current quantity. Although forests could be cleared to obtain needed land, a better approach is to find ways of getting greater crop yield from existing land. Biotechnology can increase the quantity of the harvest by addressing the factors that traditionally deplete crops such as pests, weeds, drought and wind. Plants from biotechnology can deal with these hardships and dramatically increase the percentage of crops that survive and are harvested each year.

 

Roughly 95% of the world’s farmers live in developing countries. Most of these people engage in small-scale, community-based agriculture. Looking back at history, at the time of the first green revolution when increased irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and hybrid seeds began to be used in a big way in the 60s, the dangers that could be posed were known then too. But again there was no alternative. Poor nations were literally surviving from “ship to mouth” as it was called then with food imports literally being rushed to ration shops to ward off impending starvation. The dangers that fertilizers, chemical pesticides and such were not and could not be avoided but systemic famine and mass starvation became history. It is not that fertilizers and pesticides were good; it is just that the alternative is worse. Nonetheless the area with the greatest need for increased agricultural production was Africa, where the green revolution was largely a failure. Today again, agricultural production had stagnated and the spectacular yield growth recorded in the post-Green Revolution years has receded into history and we are facing population explosion, and more & more agriculture land is converted into housing land for humans. Under such circumstances do we really have the choice to avoid genetically modified foods on our dining table?

 

Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger in the world. One out of six persons goes hungry everyday worldwide. The question is whether GM can solve world hunger problems, or even if that would be the best way to address the issue. Several scientists argue that in order to meet the demand for food in the developing world, a second green revolution with increased use of GM crops is needed. Others argue that there is more than enough food in the world and that the hunger crisis is caused by problems in food distribution and politics, not production and then there are those who consider over-population the real issue here, and that food production is adequate for any reasonable population size. Some scientists believe that GM offers both faster crop adaptation and a biological, rather than chemical, approach to yield increases. On the other hand, many scientists believe that in a nearly 20 year record, genetically engineered crops have not increased yields substantially of food and livestock feed crops in the United States. Hunger is fundamentally a social, political, and economic problem, which GM technology cannot address. The fact is that hunger has grown in India in absolute terms where some 320 million people go to bed hungry every night. Two years back, India had a record food grain surplus of 65 million tons. If 65 million tons surplus could not feed the 320 million hungry, how will GM food remove hunger? Indian Supreme Court recently observed that instead of decaying food grains due to improper storage, it may be distributed to the poor freely. In reality, GM food diverts precious financial resources to an irrelevant research, comes with stronger intellectual property rights, and is aimed at strengthening corporate control over agriculture. Had more attention being given to sustainable farming systems, India would have created a unique model of agriculture where farmers are not forced to commit suicide, where the land is not polluted, and where water is not poisoned. According to the United Nations World Food Program, there is currently more than enough food produced to feed everyone on the planet an adequate and healthy diet. The reason that approximately 800 million people go hungry everyday worldwide is that they don’t have access to food by either being able to afford it or grow their own. 3 billion people in the world today struggle to survive on less than 2 dollars per day. 70 % Indian people survive on less than rupees 20 (half dollar) per day. It is interesting to note that population explosion exists due to political negligence and the same politicians are opposed to GM crops. There is no logic. On one hand you do not want to control population and on the other hand you do not want to find alternate way to satisfy hunger no matter whether it is through better food distribution system or alleviating poverty or GM food.

 

Better dead than GM fed?

In the year 2002, there was food crisis in Southern Africa affecting Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as large numbers of people in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. It was estimated that across the entire region, 9.4 million people required immediate food assistance. However when Americans sent food aid through the World Food Program (WFP) a United Nations body; it was rejected by  south African nations on the ground that it contained GM food and African people are not guinea pigs for American experiment, notwithstanding the fact that American people also eat GM food. Americans reacted by saying that African leaders who refuse to accept food aid due to fears of genetically modified products are committing crimes against humanity by starving people to death and should be put on trial. The US said that it cannot provide guaranteed GM-free maize because there is no requirement in place to separate GM and non-GM grains in the US. Africans said that allowing GM food aid would pollute the core of Africa’s crop diversity. Every story has two sides but here on one side there is death due to starvation and on other side alleged health risk and crop contamination.   

 

GM crop yield:

The big criticism leveled against organic farming is that it leads to lower yield than other practices and requires more agricultural land to be viable which in turn could lead to deforestation and habitat loss. It is generally perceived that GM crops increased net yield in all cases. GM crops grow quickly, but production costs are low. For instance, corn with modified genes can be pest-resistant, produce twice as much corn and reduce production expenses by half. However many studies contradict this basic assumption. At best, GM crops have performed no better than their non-GM counterparts, with GM Soybeans giving consistently lower yields for over a decade. Controlled comparative field trials of GM/non-GM Soya suggest that 50% of the drop in yield is due to the genetic disruptive effect of the GM transformation process. Similarly, field tests of Bt. insecticide-producing maize hybrids showed that they took longer to reach maturity and produced up to 12% lower yields than their non-GM counterpart. A recent study by the Soil Association shows that GM crops do not increase yield. A more recent review of 40 soybean varietal trials in the north central region of the US found a mean 4% yield drag in GM soybeans. Even comparing the top 5 varieties from each, GM still yielded 5% less than conventional soybeans.  8,200 university research trials comparing the performance of different varieties of soybeans show that yields of genetically engineered herbicide resistant soybeans are lower than comparable conventional varieties. The Union of Concerned Scientists summarized numerous peer-reviewed studies on the yield contribution of genetic engineering in the United States. This report examined the two most widely grown engineered crops–soybeans and maize. Unlike many other studies, this work separated the yield contribution of the GM gene from that of the many naturally occurring yield genes in crops. The report found that GM herbicide tolerant soy and maize did not increase yield at the national aggregate level.

 

Labeling of GM food:

The United States and Canada do not require labeling of genetically modified foods. However in the European Union, Japan, Malaysia and Australia governments have required labeling so consumers can exercise choice between foods that have genetically modified or organic origins. In January 2000, an international trade agreement for labeling GM foods was established. More than 130 countries, including the US, the world’s largest producer of GM foods, signed the agreement. The policy states that exporters must be required to label all GM foods and that importing countries have the right to judge for themselves the potential risks and reject GM foods. Labeling of GM foods and food products is also a contentious issue. On the whole, agribusiness industries believe that labeling should be voluntary and influenced by the demands of the free market. If consumers show preference for labeled foods over non-labeled foods, then industry will have the incentive to regulate itself or risk alienating the customer. Consumer interest groups, on the other hand, are demanding mandatory labeling. People have the right to know what they are eating- argue the interest groups, and historically industry has proven itself to be unreliable at self-compliance with existing safety regulations. However, labeling GM food would be extremely challenging because non-GM food would be sold at a premium in high-income retail outlets, while virtually all others would be labeled GM. There are many questions that must be answered if labeling of GM foods becomes mandatory. First, are consumers willing to absorb the cost of such an initiative? Secondly, what are the acceptable limits of GM contamination in non-GM products? The EC has determined that 1% is an acceptable limit of cross-contamination, yet many consumer interest groups argue that only 0% is acceptable. Thirdly, what is the level of detectability of GM food cross-contamination? Scientists agree that current technology is unable to detect minute quantities of contamination, so ensuring 0% contamination using existing methodologies is not guaranteed. Finally who is to be responsible for educating the public about GM food labels and how costly will that education be? Food labels must be designed to clearly convey accurate information about the product in simple language that everyone can understand. This may be the greatest challenge faced be a new food labeling policy: how to educate and inform the public without damaging the public trust and causing alarm or fear of GM food products.

 

Safety of GM food:

Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods. Experts estimate more than 1 trillion meals containing ingredients from GM crops have been consumed over the last decade with no reliable documentation of any food safety issues for people or animals. In the United States all GM food must be tested for nine years before its release onto the market. In fact, testing has been so successful that in the 30 year history of GM food that not one single person has died due to genetic modification. A 2008 review published by the Royal Society of Medicine noted that GM foods have been eaten by millions of people worldwide for over 15 years, with no reports of ill effects. Another a 2004 report from the US National Academies of Sciences stated: ‘To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.’ The question of the safety of genetically modified foods has been reviewed by the International Council of Science (ICSU), which based its opinion on 50 authoritative independent scientific assessments from around the world. Currently available genetically modified crops – and foods derived from them – have been judged safe to eat, and the methods used to test them have been deemed appropriate. Millions of people worldwide have consumed foods derived from genetically modified plants (mainly maize, soybean, and  rapeseed) and to date no adverse effects have been observed. The lack of evidence of negative effects, however, does not mean that new genetically modified foods are without risk. The possibility of long-term effects from genetically modified plants cannot be excluded and must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Animal feeds frequently contain genetically modified crops and enzymes derived from genetically modified micro-organisms. There is general agreement that both modified DNA and proteins are rapidly broken down in the digestive system. Two studies on the possible effects of feeding genetically modified feeds to animals found that no residues of recombinant DNA or novel proteins have been found in any organ or tissue samples obtained from animals fed with GM plants.

 

Advantages of GMO:

1) Pest resistance: Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards. Also run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides & fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. An example of genetic modification for pest (insect) resistance is the introduction of a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thurigiensis into the genes of a crop plant; the selected gene codes for a protein that is toxic to certain insects. The genetically modified plants then produce the protein; making them resistant to pests like the European corn borer or Cotton Boll Worm (the genes also protect potatoes and rice from destructive insects). By using this technology, the yield of plants is higher (since fewer are damaged by insects) and the use of insecticides against these pests can be reduced. Growing GM foods such as Bt. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market. Other example- Scientists have transferred a gene to the rapeseed plant which enables the plant to resist a certain pesticide. When the farmer sprays his genetically modified rapeseed crop with pesticides, he can destroy most of the pests without killing the rapeseed plants. GM technology has also resulted in 172,000 tons less pesticide use by growers and 14 per cent reduction in the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use.

 

2) Herbicide tolerance: For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process that requires care so that the herbicide doesn’t harm the crop plant or the environment. Herbicide tolerance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from a bacterium conveying resistance to some herbicides. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed. One of the best known herbicide tolerant GM food crops is the “roundup ready” soybean, introduced into commerce in 1997.  The herbicide (weed killer) is called “Roundup,” a form of glyphosphate. This genetic modification allows soybean farmers to get rid of weeds with Roundup while the soybeans are not adversely affected by it. A farmer can control weeds by spraying Roundup right over the GM crop. The GM crop completely ignores the herbicide, but the weeds are eliminated. Otherwise, soybean crop yields would be lowered by the growth of weeds, or less desirable chemicals would need to be used to control competition by weeds (glyphosphate is not carcinogenic, does not affect reproduction and development of animals, does not accumulate in the body, and is not acutely toxic in its dilute form). A farmer grows GM soybeans with herbicide tolerance which then only requires one application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off. Herbicide tolerance is available for all of the major GM crops, including soybean, maize, rapeseed, and cotton. Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance (Bt) often are introduced simultaneously to a crop in one transformation event. This is called trait stacking (e.g. insect resistant/herbicide tolerant maize).

 

3) Disease resistance: There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases. Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants. Virus resistance makes plants less susceptible to diseases caused by such viruses, resulting in higher crop yields (e.g. Hawaiian papaya resistant to papaya-ringspot-virus).  

 

4) Environment friendly: GM crops lead to development of “Friendly” bioherbicides and bioinsecticides; conservation of soil, water, and energy; bioprocessing for forestry products and better natural waste management. A major UK study looked at varieties of sugar beet and winter rapeseed which had been engineered to make them tolerant of specific herbicides. The novel crops were compared with non-GM cereals grown in rotation. It was found that GM crops are no more harmful to the environment than conventional plant varieties. A study found that GM crops have also made significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 million tons. This is equivalent to removing five million cars from the road every year. Less deforestation needed to feed the world’s growing population. This decreases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn slows global warming. Also, GM bacteria have been used to clean up oil spills and there are ideas of using them to help the environment by neutralizing harmful chemicals. Scientists said it could be possible to genetically alter plants and trees to enhance the processes by which plants sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon that can be stored inside the plants – and, ultimately, in the soil. Such genetically modified trees and plants could capture billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually and reduce the impacts of global warming.    

 

5) Nutrition: Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers have created a strain of “golden” rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives carrots their orange colour and is the reason why genetically modified rice is golden. For the golden rice to make beta-carotene three new genes are implanted: two from daffodils and the third from a bacterium. The rice can be considered a particular advantage to poor people in underdeveloped countries who survive on rice from morning to evening. Also, genetically-engineered rice could help improve the shelf-life of a cholera vaccine without need for refrigeration. A new genetically-modified potato has 1.6 times the protein of normal potatoes and way more amino acids. The potatoes are modified by enhancing the expression of the seed protein Amaranth Albumin 1, which boosts the overall protein and amino acid contents of the crop. If genetically modified salmon is marketed in US, it will lower salmon prices and increase consumption of salmon, an exceptionally good source of omega-3 fatty acids linked to lower risk of heart disease. It is estimated that the resulting increase in omega-3 intake will prevent between 600 and 2,600 deaths per year in the United States.      

 

6) Desirable quality: GM technology allows greater precision in selecting characteristics and reduces risk of random occurrence of undesirable traits. GM crops have enhanced taste & quality and reduced maturation time. The genetically modified tomato produces less of the substance that causes tomatoes to rot, so remains firm and fresh for a long time. GM animals have increased resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency and better yields of meat, eggs, and milk.  

 

7) Cold tolerance: Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings.

 

8) Drought/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.

 

9) Pharmaceuticals: Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes. These are even diseases that we have found vaccines for, but the vaccines cannot easily be administered because of things like lack of refrigeration and high cost. One of the ways scientists are trying to get around this problem is by creating genetically modified plants that contain vaccines. The recombinant human insulin produced by GM bacteria E.coli. is used by millions of diabetic patients daily for 30 years without any side-effects of GM technology. By placing human genes for insulin into the bacteria, a process known as transfection, these bacteria & all its progeny can be induced to produce human insulin.     

 

10) Phytoremediation:  Not all GM plants are grown as crops. Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in all parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees have been genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil.

 

11) Saving species: Prevention of loss of species to endemic disease. For example- the Cavendish dessert banana which is subject to two fungal diseases that has struck Africa, South America and Asia, but could be reprieved by GM development of a disease resistant version.

 

12) Bio-fuels: With rising oil prices, ever-increasing demands for fuel, and (paradoxically) growing concern about carbon emissions, the bio-fuel industry is set to boom. GM crops designed for this purpose can help to keep up with demand.

 

13) Landmine detection: Scientists have developed a GM tobacco plant that turns red/brown when it is exposed to TNT (explosive) content in soil. This plant is used to detect unexploded landmines, and is set to help with land clearing for agriculture in mine-ridden countries such as Angola.

 

14) Halo effect: New study shows genetically modified plants provide halo effect to non-modified plants, helping prevent infestation. Bt. corn that’s been genetically engineered to resist attacking borers produces a “halo effect” that provides huge benefits to other (non-GM) corn planted nearby, a new study finds. Since the borers that attack the genetically modified crops die, there are fewer of them to go after the non-GM version resulting in increased crop yield of non-GM corn.      

 

Criticism of GM:

Environmental activists, religious organizations, consumer activists, public interest groups, professional associations & scientists and government officials have all raised concerns about GM foods and criticized agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards and the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about GM food. Most concerns about GM foods fall into three categories: environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns.

Environmental hazards:

1) Unintended harm to other organisms: Last year a laboratory study was published in nature showing that pollen from Bt. corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars consume milkweed plants, not corn, but the fear is that if pollen from Bt. corn is blown by the wind onto milkweed plants in neighboring fields, the caterpillars could eat the pollen and perish. Although the Nature study was not conducted under natural field conditions, the results seemed to support this viewpoint. Unfortunately, Bt. toxins kill many species of insect larvae indiscriminately; it is not possible to design a Bt. toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects. Although some researchers have said that this study is flawed, the potential risk of harm to non-target organisms will need to be evaluated further. Inserting a gene from a snowdrop into a potato made the potato resistant to greenfly, but also killed the ladybirds feeding on the greenfly. And lacewings, a natural predator of the corn borer and food for farmland birds, died when fed on pest insects raised on GM maize.

 

2) Reduced effectiveness of pesticides/herbicide: Many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to Bt. or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides. In China and India, Bt. cotton was initially effective in suppressing the boll weevil. But secondary pests, especially mirids and mealy bugs, that are highly resistant to Bt. toxin, soon took its place. The farmers suffered massive crop losses and had to apply costly pesticides wiping out their profit margins. Also, genes from the genetically modified rapeseed crop could be transferred to the pests. The pests then become resistant to the crop spray and the crop spraying becomes useless. GM crops do not decrease herbicide use. The most commonly grown herbicide-resistant GM crops are engineered to be resistant to Roundup (common herbicide). But wide spread use of Roundup has led to the appearance of numerous weeds resistant to this herbicide. Roundup resistant weeds are now common and include pigweed, ryegrass, and marestail. As a result in the US, an initial drop in average herbicide use after GM crops were introduced has been followed by a large increase as farmers changed their farming practices and weeds developed resistance to herbicide. The appearance of resistant weeds has led to farmers being advised to use increasingly powerful mixtures of herbicides and not Roundup alone. The uses of herbicide-resistant crops lead to a threefold increase in the use of herbicides, resulting in even greater pollution of our food and water with toxic agrochemicals. An analysis of 8,200 university research trials revealed that farmers planting GM (Roundup Ready) soybeans are using two to five times as much of the herbicide as farmers growing conventional varieties.  

 

3) Gene transfer to non-target species: Another concern is that crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance will cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds. These “superweeds” would then be herbicide tolerant as well. Other introduced genes may cross over into non-modified crops planted next to GM crops. How to solve this problem? Genes are exchanged between plants via pollen. Two ways to ensure that non-target species will not receive introduced genes from GM plants are to create GM plants that are male sterile (do not produce pollen) or to modify the GM plant so that the pollen does not contain the introduced gene. Another possible solution is to create buffer zones around fields of GM crops. Gene transfer to weeds and other crops would not occur because the wind-blown pollen would not travel beyond the buffer zone. Estimates of the necessary width of buffer zones range from 6 meters to 30 meters.

 

4) Irreversible propagation: GM plants cannot be recalled and as living organisms, they will multiply passing any damaging traits from generation to generation. Artificially induced characteristics and inevitable side-effects will be passed on to all subsequent generations and to other related organisms. Once released, they can never be recalled or contained. The consequences of this are incalculable.

 

5) Co-existence: GM and non-GM crops cannot co-exist in agriculture. Experience in North America has shown that “coexistence” of GM and non-GM crops rapidly results in widespread contamination of non-GM crops. Contamination occurs through cross-pollination, spread of GM seed by farm machinery, and inadvertent mixing during storage. For example, GM rice grown for only one year in field trials was found to have widely contaminated the US rice supply & seed stocks and contaminated rice was found as far away as Africa, Europe, and Central America. Also, cross pollination can occur at quite large distances. New genes may also be included in the offspring of the traditional organic crops miles away. This makes it difficult to distinguish which crop field is organic and which is not; posing a problem to the proper labeling of non-GMO food products. Also, GM crops could damage vulnerable wild plant & animal populations and harm biodiversity.      

 

6) Creation of New or Worse Viruses: One of the most common applications of genetic engineering is the production of virus-tolerant crops. Such crops are produced by engineering components of viruses into the plant genomes. Such plants however pose other risks of creating new or worse viruses through two mechanisms: recombination and transcapsidation.

 

Human health risk:

Many previous technologies have proved to possess adverse effects unexpected by their developers. DDT for example, turned out to accumulate in fish and thin the shells of fish-eating birds like eagles and ospreys. And chlorofluorocarbons turned out to float into the upper atmosphere and destroy ozone, a gas that shields the earth from dangerous radiation. What harmful effects might turn out to be associated with the use or release of genetically engineered organisms? An article in Science magazine said it all: “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods: Many Opinions but Few Data”.  In fact, no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food exist. Even animal studies are few and far between. Currently, toxicity in food is tested by chemical analysis of macro/micro nutrients and known toxins. To rely solely on this method is at best inadequate and at worst dangerous. Better diagnostic methods are needed, such as mRNA fingerprinting, proteomics and secondary metabolite profiling.

 

1) Allergenicity: Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. A proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions. Already, one genetically engineered soybean was found to cause serious allergic reactions. An example is transferring the gene for one of the many allergenic proteins found in milk into vegetables like carrots. Mothers who know to avoid giving their sensitive children milk would not know to avoid giving them transgenic carrots containing milk proteins. The problem is unique to genetic engineering because it alone can transfer proteins across species boundaries into completely unrelated organisms.

 

2) Unknown toxicity: In 1989, a disastrous epidemic broke out in the US that caused 37 deaths and disabled 1.500 permanently in a disease called the “Eosinophilia-Myalgia-Syndrome” (EMS). It was caused by a highly poisonous substance in the food supplement tryptophan, which had been produced by genetically engineered bacteria. The FDA allowed to sell this genetically engineered product without testing because the company had been selling tryptophan produced by non-genetically engineered bacteria for quite some time without ill effects. It was later shown that the genetically engineered tryptophan contained a highly toxic contaminant. It comprised less than 0.1% of the total weight of the product, yet that was enough to kill people. This contaminant was identified as a dimerization product of tryptophan-two molecules of tryptophan chemically linked together. Based on fundamental chemical and biochemical principles, scientists have deduced that this compound was generated when the concentration of tryptophan within the bacteria reached such high levels that tryptophan molecules or their precursors began to react with each other. Thus, it appears that genetic manipulations led to increased tryptophan biosynthesis, which led to increased cellular levels of tryptophan and precursors. At these high levels, these compounds reacted with themselves, generating a deadly toxin. Being chemically quite similar to tryptophan, this toxin was not easily separated from tryptophan, and contaminated the final commercial product at levels that were highly toxic to consumers. However, the biotech industry maintained that the disaster was not caused by genetic engineering but by an “impurity” in the process. Also, large amounts of tryptophan, whether or not it was made using genetic engineering, can cause EMS.

 

3) Unknown effect on human health: There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health. Studies on animals are disturbing. A Russian study found that when hamsters were fed on GM soybeans, the second-generation GM soy-fed hamsters had a five-fold higher infant mortality rate, compared to the 5 percent normal death rate that was happening in the controls and nearly all of the third generation hamsters were sterile. However, the critic of the study said that the scientist did not conduct a biochemical analysis of the feed. Without it, we don’t know if some rogue toxin had contaminated the soy flour. Stability of the transferred gene is questionable. Unintentional hidden effect of the inserted gene is to be assessed. When genetic engineers insert a new gene into any organism there are “position effects” which can lead to unpredictable changes in the pattern of gene expression and genetic function. The protein product of the inserted gene may carry out unexpected reactions and produce potentially toxic products. There is also serious concern about the dangers of using genetically engineered viruses as delivery vehicles (vectors) in the generation of transgenic plants and animals. This could destabilize the genome, and also possibly create new viruses, and thus dangerous new diseases.  Some experts believe that genetic modification may enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways. When a gene is switched on, besides having the desired effect, it may also set off the production of natural toxins.

 

4) Gene transfer: Genetically Modified DNA does jump species. Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the human body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. Many genetically modified crops were created using antibiotic-resistance genes as markers. Therefore, in addition to having the desired characteristics, these genetically modified crops contain antibiotic-resistance genes. If these genes were to transfer in the digestive tract from a food product into human cells or to bacteria, this could lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. DNA does not always fully break down in the alimentary tract. Gut bacteria can take up genes & GM plasmids and this opens up the possibility of the spread of antibiotic resistance.  Human volunteers fed a single GM Soya bean meal showed that GM DNA can survive processing and is detectable in the digestive tract. There was evidence of horizontal gene transfer to gut bacteria. Horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance and Bt. insecticide genes from GM foods into gut bacteria is an extremely serious issue. This is because the modified gut bacteria could then become resistant to antibiotics or become factories for Bt. insecticide. While Bt. in its natural form has been safely used for years as an insecticide in farming, Bt. toxin genetically engineered into plant crops has been found to have potential ill health effects on laboratory animals. Most genetically engineered plant foods carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistance genes. The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have two harmful effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. Antibiotic-resistance genes produce enzymes that can degrade antibiotics. If a tomato with an antibiotic-resistance gene is eaten at the same time with an antibiotic, it could destroy the antibiotic in the stomach. Second, the resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal pathogens, making them impervious to antibiotics. If transfer were to occur, it could aggravate the already serious health problem of antibiotic-resistant disease organisms. Now scientists advise that genes which determine resistance to antibiotics that are critical for treating humans should not be used in genetically modified plants.

 

5) Outcrossing: The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as “outcrossing”), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for animal-feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America. Several countries have adopted strategies to reduce mixing, including a clear separation of the fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown.

 

6) Nutrition: GM foods are not more nutritious than non-GM foods. GM Soya had 12—14% lower amounts of cancer-fighting isoflavones than non-GM Soya. Rapeseed engineered to have vitamin A in its oil had highly reduced vitamin E and altered oil-fat composition. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton had declared, “If we could get more of this golden rice which is a genetically modified strain of rice especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 40,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying. It was declared that there was no time to lose. One month delay = 50,000 blind children per month. The fact is that the figures showed Golden Rice produced only small amounts of this vitamin A precursor. Worse still, after the rice was cooked, the amount of beta-carotene was reduced by another 50 per cent. According to WHO giving out Vitamin A supplements, fortifying existing foods with vitamin A, and teaching people to grow carrots or certain leafy vegetables are, as things stand, more promising ways to prevent blindness than Golden Rice. However a new strain of golden rice developed in the year 2005 produces a higher amount of beta-carotene.

 

7) Toxic metal: Some of the new genes being added to crops can remove heavy metals like mercury from the soil and concentrate them in the plant tissue. Such products pose risks of contaminating foods with high levels of toxic metals if the on/off switches are not completely turned off in edible tissues. There are also environmental risks associated with the handling and disposal of the metal-contaminated parts of plants after harvesting.

 

8) Cancer risk: A genetically-altered growth hormone that could be injected into dairy cows to enhance milk production resulted in an increase of IGF-1 from 70 % to 1000 %. This IGF-1 is linked to colorectal, breast and prostate cancer in humans.

 

9) Various diseases potential: A large number of studies and incidents have implicated GM foods in a wide variety of health problems including accelerated aging, immune dysfunction, insulin disorders, organ damage and reproductive disruption. Animals consuming crops that have been genetically modified to produce the pesticide Bt. (approved for human consumption in the United States) have died by the thousands, while animals grazing on a non-GM version of the same crops remained unharmed. Upon autopsies, researchers have found black patches in the animals’ livers and intestines, internal bleeding and other signs of Bt. poisoning. Farm workers in India have begun developing allergic reactions upon handling Bt. corn, similar to the effects experienced by people exposed to Bt. spraying.

 

10) Stealth GMO in animal feeds: Even though European Union (EU) regulations on GM crops and foods are the strictest in the world, scientific studies have found that “stealth GMOs” in the form of animal feed that not only affect the health of animals but also health of  humans who eat the milk, eggs, and meat of these animals. Also, milk and meat from GM-fed animals may be less wholesome. Laboratory studies show that GM feed can disturb animals’ body functions and make them sick. GM DNA in feed is taken up by the animal’s organs. Small amounts of GM DNA appear in the milk and meat that people eat. The effects on the health of the animals and the people who eat them have not been researched. Also, the use of GM animal feed is hidden from consumers. As products are not labeled, consumers have no way of knowing that they are eating milk, eggs and meat from GM-fed animals and that they are probably eating GM material in these products.   

 

Economic concerns:

Traditionally, farmers in all nations saved their own seed from year to year. However, allowing to follow this practice with genetically modified seed would result in seed developers losing the ability to profit from their breeding work. Therefore, genetically-modified seed are subject to licensing by their developers in contracts that are written to prevent farmers from following this traditional practice. Genetic engineering turns the seeds themselves into “intellectual property,” so that the farmers using the seeds don’t legally own them. Agri-biotech companies make profit in selling GM seeds and hence the need for making patents. Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process, and of course agri-biotech companies wish to ensure a profitable return on their investment. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies & GM plants have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern of agribusiness.  Consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Access and Intellectual Property would include domination of world food production by few companies and increasing dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries. The use of genetically modified beets (and other crops) took away the organic farmer’s choice to grow only organic food. How so? Because when the farmer across the road or on the next plot of land from the organic farmer chose to grow genetically engineered beets, the crop would then flower and cross pollinate with the organic beets. If you’re marketing your product as organic (non-GMO), and it’s contaminated, you can lose your markets. You can lose your certification.

 

Discussion:

Let me put forward views of lead scientists on the subject of GM food who are far more competent than me.

 

An international scientific report, GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?  was compiled by nine senior international scientists with wide-ranging expertise including molecular genetics, molecular embryology, biosciences, agriculture, biology and ecology. This important report presents the findings of more than 100 peer-reviewed studies on GM soy and the herbicide glyphosphate, often sold as “Round Up”. More than 95 per cent of GM soy is engineered to tolerate Round Up. The report says that the cultivation of GM soy endangers human and animal health, increases herbicide use, damages the environment, reduces biodiversity, and has negative impacts on rural populations. The monopolistic control by agribusiness companies over GM soy technology and production endangers markets, compromises the economic viability of farming, and threatens food security. The report says that herbicide Roundup used on genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops is linked to human cell death, birth defects, cancer and miscarriages.

 

Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology at Guy’s Hospital says, “The generation of genetically engineered plants and animals involves the random integration of artificial combinations of genetic material from unrelated species into the DNA of the host organism. This procedure results in disruption of the genetic blueprint of the organism with totally unpredictable consequences. The unexpected production of toxic substances has now been observed in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals with the problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen. Moreover, genetically engineered food or enzymatic food processing agents may produce an immediate effect or it could take years for full toxicity to come to light. We should not lull ourselves into a false sense of security; we should not think that by regulating something which is inherently unpredictable and uncontainable it automatically becomes safe!”

 

Professor Gordon McVie, head of the Cancer Research Campaign:” We don’t know what genetic abnormalities might be incorporated into the genome (the individual’s DNA). I’m more worried about humans than about the environment, to be honest. One of the problems is that because it’s a long-term thing, you need to do long-term experiments.”

 

Professor James (the main architect of the UK Food Standards Agency) has commented on genetically engineered food:  “There is… a need to develop more effective and appropriate screening methods to alert companies and government agencies to the unexpected consequences of the often random insertion of genetic traits into plants.” Professor James has also remarked that the current regulatory system is open to challenge simply because “we are making all sorts of judgments with so little evidence at hand.” 

 

Professor Arpad Pusztai, world-leading nutritional science expert, formerly of the Food, Gut, and Microbial Interactions Group, Rowett Research Institute says that we are putting new things into food which have not been eaten before. The effects on the immune system are not easily predictable and I challenge anyone who will say that the effects are predictable. 

 

Dr Ian Gibson MP, former Dean of Biology at the University of East Anglia, has called for a ban on GM foods until longer term safety testing has taken place. He has also expressed concern about the inclusion of GM ingredients in school meals: “There is an awful lot unknown about hazards of new (GM food) crops and until it is fully tested we should not be subjecting people to risks, least of all young children.”

 

Professor Richard Lewontin, professor of genetics, Harvard University, ‘we have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don’t get one rude shock after another.’

 

Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist, “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.”  

 

Now let me put up areas of scientific convergence & divergence on human health effects of GM foods.

Issue    

Scientific Convergence Scientific Divergence Gaps in Knowledge
Safety of currently available GM foods for human consumption Currently available GM foods are considered safe to eat.

No evidence of any adverse effects from consumption to date. 
 
 
 

 

Post-market surveillance is difficult due to confounding effects of diversity of diets and genetic variability in populations. Long-term effects unknown, both for GM and for most other foods.How to conduct post-market surveillance?
Future products (e.g. foods with modified nutritional content) Need to be assessed on case-by-case basis to ensure pre-market safety, before new foods are brought to market. Extent of safety analysis should be proportionate to risk. Product and/or process may be assessed.
 
Unintended effects possible, either through conventional plant breeding or gene technology.
Methods of food safety assessment Case by case analysis required, using scientifically robust techniques. Current safety assessment methods, largely based on comparison of a limited number of compounds, may not be adequate to assess more complex products, which are not substantially equivalent to present foods.  Whole food analysis is possible, but requires further R&D to validate new techniques and interpretation of data. Need to know how much change in food content is nutritionally significant. 
Health benefits Many GM crops are now grown with less pesticide, thereby reducing exposure to chemical pesticides.In the future, crops may be used to produce new pharmaceutical/medicinal compounds (e.g. vaccines). Future GM crops may have improved nutritional content (e.g. vitamin A rice).Need to ensure quality control of new products and keep pharmaceutical products out of the food chain. This may be difficult. Availability of nutritionally significant levels of vitamins and minerals in GM foods needs to be demonstrated. Need to demonstrate new crop management practices for novel products, to ensure they can be kept out of the food chain and adequately regulated.

 

   Examples of the potential ecological benefits and risks of selected GM crops.

GM modification Benefits Risks
Herbicide resistance in maize, cotton, other crops. Reduce herbicide use. Increase opportunities for reduced tillage systems. Increase herbicide use. Reduce in-field biodiversity that may reduce the ecological services provided by agricultural ecosystems.
Maize with Bt toxin. Reduce pesticide use. Kill fewer nontarget organisms than alternatives such as broad-spectrum pesticides. Promote development of Bt resistance, which will eliminate Bt as a relatively safe pesticide. Kill nontarget caterpillars and butterflies, such as monarchs (Pimentel 2000).
Virus resistance in small grains due to coat proteins. Reduce insecticide use to control insect dispersers of pathogens Facilitate the creation of new viruses Move genes into nonagricultural ecosystems where the subsequent increase in fitness of weedy species could eliminate endangered species.
Terminator or other sterilizing traits in crops and ornamentals. Prevent the movement of traits to non-target species. Prevent the movement of introduced species to other ecosystems Prevent farmers from developing their own seed supplies adapted to local conditions
Synthesis of vitamin A or other nutrients. Improve nutrition of people who depend heavily on rice. Disrupt local ecosystems if an ecologically limiting nutrient or protein is produced.
Nitrogen fixation by non-legumes. Reduce energy used in fertilizer production and application Add to excess N leaching from agriculture, degrading human health and reducing biodiversity.

   

What was expected from GM food?

1) Benefit the environment by reducing use of herbicides and insecticides.

2)  Help farmers.

3) Solve the food crisis & feed the hungry by increasing crop yield.

4) Produce more nutritious food.

5) Above all, it is claimed that they were safe to eat.

Till today from whatever I have discussed so far, none of the above mentioned expectations have been met unequivocally by any set of standards or data. This is a fact. An accumulating body of scientific evidence and on-the-ground experience with GM crops over the last ten years shows that this technology has failed to live up to any of these promises. On the contrary, GM crops have been scientifically proven to increase chemical inputs over the long term. They have been shown to deliver yields that are no better, and in some cases even worse than conventional varieties.

 

The international bestseller ‘Seeds of Deception’: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods you’re eating by Jeffrey M. Smith is a frightening exposé of how unscrupulous bio-tech companies will stop at nothing to dominate the global food market. ‘Seeds of Deception’ includes narrative of scientists offered bribes to support pro-GMO studies or threatened if they oppose any research, how government employees are harassed or fired and how the European Union successfully opposed having unlabeled genetically modified products in the food stream.

 

Let me discuss Bt. Brinjal controversy in India. The Bt. brinjal is a transgenic brinjal created by inserting a crystal gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the brinjal’s genome. The Bt. brinjal has been developed to give resistance against pests. Bt. brinjal is expected to reduce the pesticide usage in cultivation by 80% and increase crop yield substantially. However, Bt. cotton has already been declared a farce with crop failures and mass suicides of farmers in India. The government of India has put on hold, cultivation of Bt. Brinjal in India. The proponents of Bt. Brinjal say that “this Brinjal is necessary not because there is a crisis in Brinjal production but this will reduce the use of chemicals which kill the insects attacking Brinjal. These chemicals are more poisonous than what you can imagine. So minimizing the use of these chemicals is both nature and man friendly. GM soybeans have been eaten for over a decade now and no one has suffered any adverse effect. The Bt. gene of Bt. brinjal is perfectly safe for higher mammals and humans, and is only toxic to a specific group of insect larvae known as Lepidopterans. Bt. spray has been use for over 60 years without any deleterious effects, and anyone who is suggesting today that it might affect humans is willfully ignorant of scientific facts. Bt. brinjal is a necessity and an environmentally alternative. Let farmers decide if they want to grow it.” Six Indian scientists have found no evidence that the protein (toxin) synthesized by Bt. brinjal (Cry1Ac) is unsafe. The same Bt. protein present in another food crop has been consumed elsewhere in the world with no evidence of any scientifically established negative effect. However, studies found that animals consuming GM crops producing the pesticide Bt. toxin have died by thousands, while animals grazing on a non-GM version of the same crops remained unharmed. Upon autopsies, researchers have found black patches in the animals’ livers and intestines, internal bleeding and other signs of Bt. poisoning. So where do we draw a line?  We live in a world full of contradictory scientific studies where science has become a hostage to bias either in favour of GM food or against GM foods. Moreover, the scientific quality of what has been published is, in most instances, not up to expected standards. Finally, the scientific evidence available to date, while encouraging, does not support the conclusion that genetically modified crops are intrinsically safe for health or the environment.

 

Let’s also not pretend that everything we eat or wear is “natural” as it was from time immemorial or pristine pure. Everything we eat or drink or do has undergone modifications. Why don’t we all grow beards without even trimming them if we are so hung on not changing what nature has given us. All our food is the result of the efforts of breeders over the centuries. Millions of Americans are eating GM food directly or indirectly for many years without any health hazard. The GM-worries is not entirely based on biology, ethics, or true fear of the crops; sometimes this is a mechanism to control trade. For example, if France wanted to reduce its import of soybeans from the U.S. and rely more on its own farmers, its government can restrict the use of GM soybeans, in which case it is difficult for the U.S. (where 85% of the soy crop is GM) to ship any to them. So, when fears about GM products are expressed, one should examine some of the motivations behind them. Also, even a cultivated crop variety created by conventional cross breeding can contain excessive levels of naturally occurring toxins. If a tomato containing fish genes is dangerous to fish-allergic people and that is why we must restrict selling it, then absolutely all products containing natural fish must be taken out of market just to make sure that those people don’t get allergic reactions. Not to mention we must withdraw dairy products, peanuts and so on. Also, if allergy is the reason to ban GM food, then, ban all pharmaceutical drugs right from penicillin to aspirin because all of them can cause allergic reaction in a susceptible individual. Both GMO and traditional crops must correspond to the same health & environmental quality standards and legislation must give no privilege to one or another. Also, the media have created a story about nothing due to headlines such as ‘Frankenfood’. The world has massive stockpile of nuclear weapons but not a single TV channel talks about the danger posed by it because it does not increase their TRP. However, when it comes to GM foods, all TV channels portray it as ‘frankenfood’ or monstrous food. Simply because people are scared they assert that there is not enough testing whereas the opposition have shown that there is. It is often claimed, for example, that those allergic to nut protein died upon eating soybeans beans to which nut DNA had been added. This is simply not true – this possible problem was picked up in testing and the product was never released on the market. All deaths from those eating GM foods were shown to have resulted from poisons accidentally introduced in food production, which were nothing to do with genetic modification. Adding or removing genes from natural varieties does not make the rest of their DNA identical. Also, the terminator gene prevents cross breeding between GM and non-GM plants. This allows foods to be properly labeled and so the consumer can choose whichever type of food they want. By banning GM food, that choice is taken away from the consumer. The question of whether GM crop varieties should be allowed to be patented or not is separate from the debate on whether GM food is itself a good or a bad thing. We do not want to control population and there is water plus land shortage for crop cultivation, then, we must find alternate way to survive even if GM crops may be risky. Yes, it is true that our present data base is woefully inadequate but it can improve. The American experience with genetically modified food crops while encouraging, does not justify complacency about potential risks and we must not be complacent. Yes, it is also true that we need more and better testing methods before making GM foods available for human consumption. We need more science and not less. Also, science cannot declare any technology completely risk free but the society will have to decide when and where genetic engineering is safe enough. Genetically modified crops promise to increase the productivity of poor farmers in the developing world, but so do other agricultural technologies. Besides investing in GM crops, one must also invest in organic farming, integrated pest management, water management, or crop breeding. The widest study ever conducted on the subject found that agroecological (non-GM) approaches resulted in an average crop yield gain of 79 per cent. The study covered 286 projects in 57 developing countries, representing a total surface of 37 million hectares.  

 

DNA as Biological Internet:

A Russian scientist has managed to intercept communication from a DNA molecule in the form of ultraviolet photons – in other words, light. It is well known that if you use UV light to destroy 99 percent of a cell including its DNA, you can almost entirely repair the damage in a single day just by illuminating the cell with the same wavelength at a much weaker intensity. This phenomenon is known as photorepair. It’s well known that plants use energy from sunlight to make food, but plants are not the only living beings that have a complex relationship with, and need for light. When we eat plant foods, the light waves or photons, in the plants are taken in and stored by your body. Biophotons are the smallest physical units of light, which are stored in, and used by all biological organisms – including your body. The purpose of these biophotons is much more important than many have realized. It turns out they may very well be in control of virtually every biochemical reaction that occurs in your body – including supporting your body’s ability to heal. Every human body emits biophotons (light) on a daily basis, in concentrations that rise and fall with your body clock and the rhythmic fluctuations of your metabolism over the course of the day. It is known in biology that every cell in your body has over 100,000 biochemical reactions per second, all of which must be carefully timed and sequenced with each other. For a long time it was proposed that this occurred through a “mechanical” concept whereby molecules bumped into each other by chance but now researchers believe this cellular dance is not random at all, but rather controlled by biophotons. The molecules of these 100,000 biochemical reactions per second, send out specific frequencies of electromagnetic waves (biophotons) which not only enable them to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ each other, as both photon and phonon modes exist for electromagnetic waves, but also to influence each other at a distance and become ineluctably drawn to each other. Researchers proved that biophotons (light) in your body is stored by, and emitted from your DNA. The DNA inside each cell vibrates at a frequency of several billion hertz (which is unfortunately the same range at which modern cell phone communication systems also work). The vibration is created through the coil-like contraction and extension of your DNA -which occurs several billion times per second – and every time it contracts, it squeezes out one single biophoton; a light particle. That photon contains all the information on everything going on in your DNA at that moment. One single biophoton can carry more than four megabytes of information, and relays this information to other biophotons it crosses in the biophoton field outside your body. All the photons that are emitted from your body communicate with each other in this highly structured light field that surrounds your body, and which is the actual carrier of your long-term memory. This light field also regulates the activity of your metabolic enzymes. The information transfer on biophotons is bidirectional, which means your DNA sends information out on a photon, and on the same photon the information of all the biophotons from your body is broadcast back to your cells, and to your tubulin, which are light conductive molecules in your connective tissue. The tubulin in turn, receives the information-carrying light impulse and conducts it at the speed of light throughout your body, where it is translated inside each cell into activating or inactivating certain metabolic enzymes. Researchers found that the light emissions from cancer patients had no such rhythms and appeared scrambled, which suggests their cells were no longer communicating properly. Likewise researchers found that multiple sclerosis patients were taking in too much light, leading to a similar confusion on a cellular level. So various diseases occur when biophoton emissions are out of synchrony. The human DNA is a Biological Internet (emitting/receiving information in the form of biophotons) and superior in many aspects to the artificial one used by us. The latest scientific research directly or indirectly tries to explain phenomena such as clairvoyance, intuition, spontaneous and remote acts of healing, self healing, affirmation techniques, unusual light-auras around people (namely spiritual masters), mind’s influence on weather-patterns and much more. In addition, there is evidence for a whole new type of medicine in which DNA can be influenced and reprogrammed by words and frequencies without cutting out and replacing single genes. Only 10% of our DNA is being used for building proteins. The other 90% are considered “junk DNA.”  Researchers however are convinced that nature was not dumb and joined linguists & geneticists in a venture to explore these 90% of “junk DNA.” Their results, findings and conclusions are simply revolutionary! According to them, our DNA is not only responsible for the construction of our body, but also serves as data storage and in communication. I have already proved in my article on ‘Matchmaking’ that it is the DNA which wants to mate with a suitable DNA to procreate a better DNA. Suitable DNA means dissimilar DNA because if DNA mates with similar DNA, it would procreate similar DNA and not better DNA. This is a scientific evidence of consciousness of human DNA. The corollary to this logic would mean that every DNA in every living organism has consciousness albeit the degree of consciousness varies from bacteria to humans. The organisms of lower species have much lesser consciousness than organisms of higher species. Since it has been scientifically proved that human DNA is in fact a ‘biological internet’, the corollary would mean that DNA of other species must also be also functioning as ‘biological internet’ albeit with much lesser capacity/complexity than human DNA.

 

When genetic scientists are inserting a gene (DNA) from another species in a living organism and creating a GMO, what happens to Biological Internet? What happens to Biophotons? What happens to the vibration of DNA? What happens to the DNA consciousness? We have no answers because we are stupid. We run for short term goals without understanding the implications of long term effects. We believe that we know everything but in fact we are ignorant of our ignorance.

  

THE MORAL OF THE STORY:

1) There is insufficient data available to comment on safety of GM food.

2) GM controversy has become hostage to bad science. The world needs better & more science.  

3) World hunger is due to population explosion, poverty, bad economic policies, conflicts & mismanagement of food stock/supply and not due to reduced food production, and therefore GM food will not solve the problem of world hunger.

4) GM technology is as good or as bad as nuclear technology and if the world can live with massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, why not GM technology? Think over it.

5) Every DNA in every living organism has a consciousness & functions as a biological internet and therefore every GMO created by genetic engineering must have a different consciousness & different biological internet. Whether this different consciousness & different biological internet of GMO can live in harmony with innate consciousness & innate biological internet of a natural organism is a matter of debate.

Dr.Rajiv Desai. MD.

October 10, 2010 (10-10-10)

 

Postscript: Most people in the world would not know that October 2010 is the first ever non-GMO Month and October 10 is a special non-GMO Day (10-10-10). The intention is to raise awareness on genetically modified organisms in food supply.

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