Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.
The May issue of the authoritative science journal Nature (volume 399, 214, 1999) reports the research of John E Losey and his associates from Cornell University. Their research reported a laboratory experiment where half of the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly died four days after eating milkweed leaves that had been sprayed with pollen from genetically engineered B.t. corn; those that ate pollen from normal corn survived. Milkweed are weeds that grow in cornfields and is the only food source of these caterpillars. This research finding attracted much media attention, and made Americans realized the unexpected dangers of genetically engineered food. If caterpillars can die from eating pollen, what about animals and humans that eat the corn?
What is genetically engineered corn? Why are countries in Europe and Africa not welcoming this kind of food, and calling it Frankenstein food?
The process of genetic engineering involves combining the genes of different living things to obtain a superior gene. This process includes using genes of toxins or poisons to break the defense system and enter the genetic structure of living organisms. B.t. corn is formed by inserting the genes of bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) into genes of corn to create a toxin that kills insects that eat corn. From the research report discussed earlier, we now know that this not only kills corn-eating insects. This year, North America has cultivated about 22 million acres of land for such genetically engineered crop, which amounts to 27% of total production. Two-thirds of these genetically engineered agricultural products contains genes that are resistant to pesticides (so that farmers can use more of these pesticides).
From 1996, genetically engineered food has ostentatiously crept into the US market. Currently, 60% to 80% of all food has some genetically altered component. This year, 25% of corn, 45% of soybean (80% of cooking oil comes from soybean), 50% of cotton and canola oil are genetically engineered. Some beef, milk, and dairy products are derived from cows that have taken genetically engineered hormones. It is anticipated that more genetically engineered food products will come into the market next year. Nevertheless, these are currently still some agricultural products that are not genetically engineered.
Genetic engineering itself is fraught with many dangers, particularly in the area of food production. Many scientists, including Dr. George Wald, are convinced that the adverse effects of genetic engineering exceed those from exposure to radiation. This is because genetic engineering can harm nature and the food chain for countless generations.
The incident of the Monarch caterpillars discussed earlier is only the tip of the iceberg. Genetically engineered food can contain new kinds of allergens and toxins and even super toxins, spreading genes that are immune to antibiotics. These genes are not destroyed by heat or digestive juices and can lead other bacteria and toxins to be immune to antibodies. Farmers can increase the use of insecticides on these genetically engineered crops by three times. In time, the genes of humans, animals and plants will become mixed up.
The British Medical Association has openly asked for a ban on commercialized cultivation of genetically engineered agricultural products. The European Food Production Association has asked for genetically engineered food products to be classified separately from normal food products. African countries have rejected the import of genetically engineered food products. Yet, the US government has insisted that genetically engineered food is safe.
Presently, many insurance organizations in US have requested the US government to conduct tests on the safety of genetically engineered food and to separately label this kind of food. Some scientists and religious leaders in US have jointly sued the FDA for not protecting public interest by allowing food that has not undergone safety tests to enter the consumer market. Over 5 million people have responded to call for signatures by the public interest group “Mothers for Nature Law”.
What is genetic engineering? Why is it such a great threat to humankind and to nature? The words ‘genetic engineering’ provides an obvious clue to the answer. Engineering refers to the construction or modification by humans (e.g., civil engineering). Genes are blueprints of life, and to interfere with this process if analogous to changing a rose to perfume, human brains to computers, bees to honey, and cotton flowers to rubber. No matter how intelligent humans are, they cannot create life. The word ‘engineering’ belongs to the realm of mechanical theory. During this century, the natural sciences have progressively abandoned the notion of nature as mechanistic. After much research, these natural sciences have adopted a holistic perspective and realized that nature and mechanistic theories do not go together. Physics and chemistry first uncovered the theory of quantum mechanics. Biology, medicine, and genetic research subsequently adopted a holistic perspective and realized that nature is interdependent and multifaceted, not uni-dimensional.
Genetic engineering has its foundation in dated theories of mechanics and genetic research and is not based on the new genetic theories developed after the 1970’s. it is therefore doomed to fail and will lead to the demise of nature.
New genetic research has discovered that genes are not the primary driver of everything around us. Genes adapt according to signals received from the surroundings and are constantly changing. This is particularly true for lower life forms such as plants, bacteria, toxins, and insects. For example, antibiotics lead to bacteria that are immune to these antibiotics; insecticides lead to insects that are immune to these insecticides; cancer cells develop resistance against chemotherapy; and weeds have genes that are immune to herbicides. In the past ten to fifteen years, infection by the Staphylococcus bacteria has increased nearly 20 times. In 1990, it was discovered that the Staphylococcus bacteria, which is resistant to antibiotics, was the cause of the common cold. It is generally believed that these strong bacterial strains that are resistant to antibiotics arose from the common use of antibiotics in animal farming and in medicines. The dangers in the reckless use of antibiotics lie not only in the propagation of bacteria that are immune to antibiotics, but also in the increase in gene migration (by about ten- to fifteen- fold) across different animals. Some experts believe that the use of antibiotics may have led to sudden mutations of genes that are immune to antibiotics, which are in turn transferred to the those of the harmful bacteria. In addition, as genetic engineering becomes commercialized, the objective of these operations is to increase the rate of horizontal gene transfer across different living organisms. This leads to an inter-transfer between the genes of different toxins, creating strains of super toxins.
Because of the complexity of modern scientific technology, some people are unaware of its perils and put their lives at risk. Nuclear energy is one example. Originally, it was thought that nuclear energy was an invaluable and limitless source of energy. Later, it was discovered that its radiation could lead to changes in genetic structures that cause cancer, deformed infants and death. If the nuclear specialists do not develop a way of disposing the highly toxic nuclear waste, the earth and the living beings living on it will be harmed for millions of years. This was not a scenario that the layman was aware of when nuclear energy first developed.
Modern science has now moved into the arena of tampering with the core foundation of life – changing the structure of genes and merging the genes of plants and humans. The few scientists working in this area are changing the blueprint of life and threatening the very existence of living beings. These scientists have the backing of multinational corporations, which have profit maximization and market share as their sole objectives. The imminent perils this will bring are beyond imagination.
If we want our descendants to continue coexisting with nature, we have to wake up and assert our consumer rights by refusing to buy food that has been genetically engineered or subjected to pesticides and chemicals. Encourage farmers to employ organic farming and not fall into the trap of using chemicals. Do not buy meat as a large proportion of genetically engineered food goes into animal feed. Inquire if your stocks you invest in support these corporations involved with genetic engineering (please see the article “Who is changing the genetic structure of our food?”). If your excuses for not doing so are attributable to the need to conserve your time, effort and money, you should be prepared to continue ingesting poison and to have the notoriety of not helping our future generations. For the sake of our future generations, we need to take up this arduous responsibility. Let us strive together for the survival of everyone. Thank you.