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Genetically Engineered Food – A Serious Health Risk

Raw fooders, or any health-conscious individuals for that matter, cannot afford to entertain a blasé attitude towards the effects Genetically Engineered foods may have upon their bodies and health.

Given the huge complexity of the genetic code, no one can possibly predict the effects of adding new genes into any organisms or plant.

Genetically engineered foods with genes derived from animals, fish, insects and bacteria are appearing in Canadian stores. Many scientists feel these foods are not properly tested and pose serious health risks. Already one genetically engineered food supplement (genetically engineered tryptophan) killed at least 37 people in North America, and permanently disabled 1500 others.

The entire population is in a dangerous global experiment in the interests of short-term commercial gain by giant transnational biotech companies, which control large segments of the world’s food supply. Dangers identified to date include:

  • Unpredictable mutations of the genetic code, causing new diseases and weaknesses.
  • New toxins and allergens in foods.
  • Unnatural gene transfers between species, causing the spread of dangerous diseases across species barriers.
  • Increased use of chemicals on crops, resulting in increased contamination of our water supply and food.
  • Other unknown effects of genetic experimentation.

Genetic engineering poses the greatest danger of any technology yet introduced because genetic mistakes can never be recalled. Safety testing will never be adequate, because any genetic defects, once introduced, will be passed on to all subsequent generations, and their effects will spread without limit. The consequences of this are incalculable. We must act now, before it is too late.

What is Genetic Engineering?

Genes are the blueprints for every part of an organism. Every plant or animal is different because of the different genetic material or genes contained within the cells of the organism.

Genetic engineering is the process of modifying this information particularly by artificially transferring the genes of one organism into another.

While traditionally breeding techniques can exchange genes between similar species, genetic engineering allows the insertion of genes from any plant or animal into any other organism. For instance, the genes from a fish were inserted into a tomato to create a more durable tomato.

Side-effects of Genetic Engineering

It might seem quite appealing to transfer desirable properties from one food into another. Perhaps we could design super foods that last forever and contain all the nutrients we need.

However, given the huge complexity of the genetic code, no one can possibly predict the effects of introducing new genes into any plant or organism. Biotechnology companies claim their methods are precise. In fact, there is always some uncertainty where the inserted gene is going to land. Also, a gene may act differently when placed in a new host, and the functioning of the host organism could be unpredictably altered. The risks of genetic mistakes are unlimited.

Toxic Tryptophan: 37 People Killed

The tryptophan incident is an alarming example. (Ref.: Trends in Biotechnology, vol. 12, pp. 346-352, 1994). Tryptophan is a food supplement.

In the USA in 1989, there was an epidemic of a new and mysterious disease, termed eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. This disease was characterised by severe, often crippling muscle pain.

Eventually, the disease was traced to the consumption of genetically engineered tryptophan, produced by the company Showa Denko K.K. in Japan. The company had apparently altered its process of genetic engineering to speed up production and had not realized the toxic side effects. The result: 37 people died, and at least 1500 more were permanently disabled.

Herbicide Resistant Soybeans and Canola Oil

Soybeans and Canola Oil now in our stores are from plants genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides. This allows farmers to spray higher levels of herbicides without damaging crops.

The result: increased contamination of food, soil, and water, toxicity to animals and plants, and reduced soil fertility, in addition to the unknown effects of gene population.

Soybeans are used in approximately 60% of processed foods, including margarine, ice-cream, breads, cereals, pasta, soya sauce, tofu, vegetarian burgers, and meat substitutes. Since Canola Oil and soybeans are used in such a wide range of foods, it will be very hard to trace any health problems, allergies, or other toxic effects should they arise.

Spraying Scorpion Toxin on our Crops

Another alarming product now being tested in Southern Ontario is a genetically engineered insect virus. A gene for scorpion toxin has been inserted into an insect virus, which is sprayed onto vegetables to kill insects. This genetically engineered virus is highly potent in destroyed insects, both pests and their natural predators, as well as pollinators. For humans, the impact of the toxin on cuts and open sores is a concern. In addition, such a gene, if incorporated into the human chromosomes, could create a terrible nerve disease or a powerful auto-immune disease. The virus that acquires the scorpion toxin gene could also gain a genetic advantage and become a formidable parasite.

Potatoes with Pesticide Genes

Insect resistant potatoes now on the market have been genetically engineered to contain their own pesticide. The potato contains a bacterial gene (called bacillus thuringiensis, or B.t.), which creates a toxin in the potato to kill insects. Because the insecticide is in the potato, farmers don’t have to spray pesticide.

Biotechnology supporters claim that when these potatoes are eaten by people (or other mammals), the toxin becomes deactivated in the acidic environment of the stomach. The potatoes were fed to rats, mice, and quails, which showed no immediate toxic effects. However, the long-term effects of these foods are untested, and it could take years for any poisonous side-effects to be seen. By then it could be too late.

Corn with Pesticide Genes

B.t. toxin was also added to the genes of corn to kill insects. This genetically engineered corn that contains its own pesticide is used to make corn starch, corn syrup, and other products derived from corn, which are ingredients in an estimated 25% of processed foods in Canada. Since this corn is contained in many other foods, any damaging side effects could be disastrous. For both the corn and potatoes with B.t. toxin, scientists are concerned these foods may cause allergies in certain people or poisonous effects in those using ulcer medications or antacids that reduce stomach acidity.

Inserting Viruses into Crops

Genes from the rabies virus have been inserted into tomatoes to provide a low-cost mass vaccine. When wild animals such as raccoons eat the tomatoes, they become immunized against rabies.

The use of such viruses is very dangerous because viral genes introduced into chromosomes of plants or animals have the ability to join wild viruses by a process called genetic recombination.

Virus genes are also frequently added to the cells of crops to confer resistance to invading viruses. A virus resistant squash that is in the process of approval and is targeted to baby food production is of that type.

This addition of virus genes to every cell of a plant creates a massive load of virus genes in the environment and in the human body. This greatly raises the probability that a virus gene will combine with a wild relative to produce a super virus, which could lead to new and deadly disease.

Genetically engineered Enzymes and Food Additives

Many genetically engineered food additives and enzymes have also been approved, including amylase, catalase, and lactase, which are used to produce a wide range of products, including bread, baby foods, sugar, fruit juices, baking powder, soft drinks, corn syrup, and other processed foods.

Rennet, manufactured using genetically engineered bacteria, is used to make cheese. Whey residues are then utilised to produce chocolate and margarine.

Splicing Human Genes into Crops and Animals

Farm animals are being altered with human genes to provide replacement parts for human transplants or to provide human factors to treat diseases. A pig named Astrid was modified with human genes so the organs of her offspring could be transplanted into humans. Each organ will be marketed for about $16,000.

Rabbits engineered to produce human growth hormone were mainly sterile, but a few animals produced milk rich in the hormone. If these rabbits with humans genes escape and breed with wild rabbits, no one knows what the results might be.

The human gene “human metalotheinen” has been spliced into plants. This gene produces a product that ties up toxic metals such as mercury or cadmium in the body. The modified plants would remove pollution from the soil. Unfortunately, this gene also acts like a cancer gene and scientist are concerned about releasing cancer genes into the environment.

Other Genetically Engineered Foods

Other approved genetically engineered foods include yeast (used in bread, spreads, food supplements, pizza base, beer, and other processed foods.), NutraSweet (used widely in soft drinks), herbicide resistant maize, and transgenic tomatoes, carrying anti-ripening genes, antibiotic markers, and herbicide resistant genes, which can be used in canned tomato products. As over 4,000 field projects are in progress worldwide, the global market is about to be flooded with genetically modified products.

We are all guinea pigs in the global experiment on our food supply. Act now before it is too late.

You Can Help

Today we still may have a little time; but tomorrow…?

Write to your supermarkets, media, and consumer groups expressing your concern. Demand labelling of genetically engineered foods and a 50-year moratorium on these foods until their long-term effects are known.

Send copies of this material to friends, family influential people and other health-conscious individuals.