Excellent roundup + other news from Dr Richard Wolfson including article by pediatric neurologist: GENETICALLY ALTERED FOODS: WE ARE BEING EXPOSED TO ONE OF THE LARGEST UNCONTROLLED EXPERIMENTS IN HISTORY September 3, 2000 Chicago Tribune
by Richard Wolfson, PhD
Reprinted with permission from the September 2000 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition
Terminator is Back
According to reports from the Rural Advancement Foundation International, biotech companies are continuing to develop terminator technology, despite announcements in 1999 that the technology was on hold.
Genetically engineered (GE) terminator genes, when inserted into crops, makes the crops unable to produce seeds that sprout. This forces farmers to buy new seeds every season, and sabotages the age-old farming practice of saving seeds from one season to the next.
Biotech Genes on the Move
Genes from genetically modified crops can spread from biotech plants into other forms of wildlife, new research shows. Researchers in Germany studied honey bees fed pollen from GE canola. When they looked at bacteria and fungi from the gut of the bees, the researchers found that the biotech genes had jumped from the canola to these microorganisms.
The results indicate that gene crossovers are occurring on a greater scale than previously assumed. Such genetic transfers are likely taking place in the intestinal track of humans and animals as well, which could impact our health. For instance, doctors in Europe have repeatedly voiced concern that the antibiotic-resistance genes present in many biotech crops could be transferred to disease-causing pathogens, producing diseases that can't be controlled by antibiotics.
Beginning in Europe, GE foods are being driven off the world market. In the European Union, United States corn exports have fallen from $360 million a year to near zero. US soy exports fell from $2.6 billion annually to $1 billion, and should fall much further as GE soy is banned from animal feed. Canada's canola exports to Europe have fallen from $500 million a year to near zero. Meanwhile Brazil is doing a brisk business selling "GE-free" soybeans to Europe, while Australia has been cashing in selling "GE-free" canola
Consumer rejection of gene-foods is steadily spreading to Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, and a host of other nations. Japan and South Korea have the biotech industry extremely worried, since these two nations alone buy $11.3 billion of US agriculture exports every year. On May 18 the Tokyo Grain Exchange soy futures market began offering the choice of GE or non-GE soybeans. On the first day of trading, non-GE buyers committed to 914,000 tons, compared to only 364,000 tons for unsegregated (GE-tainted) US soybean futures.
"Stink Bugs" are infesting Bt cotton fields in North Carolina and Georgia, devouring the cotton crop. The "insect resistant" cotton is genetically engineered to contain Bt toxin to kill insect pests. However, the Bt cotton is failing miserably at repelling the Stink Bugs. In fact, the insects seem to love the mutant plants.
Farmers are being advised by industry to spray the Stink Bugs with toxic pesticides, including methyl parathion, one of the deadliest chemicals used in American agriculture. So much for the claims by biotech promoters that Bt crops are more environmentally friendly and will get farmers off the toxic treadmill.
Seed Firm Exodus
Large seed companies are moving to regions free of genetically modified production to reduce the risk of contamination. The move comes in the aftermath of the recent uproar in Europe caused by the contamination of "non-GE" canola from Canada with GE seeds.
Advanta, the company that imported the contaminated seeds from Canada, had to compensate European farmers who were sold the contaminated seeds. Now Advanta is moving its operation out of western Canada because of the high risk of contamination from cross-pollination with GE crops. Pioneer Hi-Bred, another major seed company, has moved to Romania, Hungary and Austria to avoid contamination.
Recent research released by Monsanto shows that its genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans contain unexpected, foreign fragments of DNA, whose effects on human health and the environment are unknown. Since it took almost a decade to map the biotech soy and locate the "rogue" fragments, scientists and environmentalists are concerned that other biotech crops could also harbor unknown fragments of DNA, whose effects are also unknown.
"These results demonstrate that genetic modification is a clumsy process, not precise as is often claimed," said Dr. Sue Mayer, director of Genewatch, an independent research group. "There is no control over how many genes, in what order, or where they are inserted."
Recent research by Iowa State University scientists confirms earlier reports that pollen from GE corn kills monarch butterflies. In the study, one group of monarch butterflies was fed on milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from Bt corn, while a second group was fed on milkweed leaves with pollen from non-Bt corn.
Within 48 hours, 19% of the monarchs who ate the Bt corn pollen died. None of the butterflies who ate pollen from the non-Bt corn died. As the milkweed leaves were taken from plants naturally growing at the edge of cornfields, the pollen levels were of a magnitude that the butterflies would be normally exposed to.
Two weeks ago, I spoke to a group of several hundred farmers about genetic engineering. The farmers were practising a unique form of agriculture, which I thought you might find interesting. So here is my summary of my experience there:
I just came back from Minnesota, where I spoke about genetic engineering to several hundred biological farmers at their annual national meeting. The farming group is called "Farm for Profit: Research and Development". "Farm for Profit" indicates they are very practical, providing guidiance to farmers on program they can easily implement and increase profits, while saving the environment.
These farmers spray natural bacteria solutions on the soil to eat up pesticide residues. They later test the soil for over 300 pesticides to show no pesticide traces left, before they market their product as free of pesticide. (The microbial bacteria is non-GE, and the farmers are committed to non-GE seeds.)
The farmers usually apply these microbial solutions to their soil for 3 or more years before testing the soil. Their products can be used to clean up the soil quicker, but they use a more gradual approach so that the farmers can continue to farm the land while it is being cleaned up.
I should mention that in their program, they still use some pesticides, but much less than conventional farmers, and less toxic varieties. However, they use the bacteria solution to remove the pesticide residues. They then test to show there are no remaining pesticide residues.
Their products can be used with organic agriculture as well. However, these farmers do not think that organic is feasible for them because of the large personnel used in organic. (Removing weeds by hand is labor intensive, etc.) These farmers use large equipment on large plots of land. There are about 10,000 farmers in North America on their program.
While they use some pesticides, these farmers explain that "Farm for Profit" can be "cleaner" than organic. For organic certification in N. America, it is usually only necessary that pesticides not be used for some period of time, such as 3 or 5 years. There is no general requirement for organic certification that there be any testing for pesticide residues. It is likely that some organic food in North America has pesticide residues, as it can take tens of years for pesticide residues to decay naturally. However, for the Farm for Profit program, the residues are removed.
On the second day of the conference, we went out to visit a large farm of one of the nearby farmers using their program. There were about 10 test sites, comparing the soil, plants, etc. from their program with conventional methods on adjoining plots. The difference was phenomenal.
On the conventional pesticide use sites, the soil was compactified and clogged up, so the roots could only go down a few inches. Also, there were fewer nitrogen fixing nodules, and the earth smelled little.
With the Farm For Profit program, the soil was loose and smelled rich. The roots went down a few feet, there were lots of nitrogen fixing bacteria nodules, and there was evidence of earthworms enriching the soil. Also, the roots were thicker and there were finer root hairs, which is important for drawing up nutrients from the soil. Above ground, with Farm for Profit the plants were healthier and bigger.
Also, for the conventional crop, there were secondary roots springing out from the stem a few inches above ground indicating that the main root system was all clogged up. This did not happen with the "Farm for Profit" approach.
It was a fabulous experience, and the people there were wonderful to meet. Their website is www.farmforprofit.com in case you want to check them out.
GENETICALLY ALTERED FOODS: WE ARE BEING EXPOSED TO ONE OF THE LARGEST UNCONTROLLED EXPERIMENTS IN HISTORY
September 3, 2000
Martha R. Herbert
BOSTON - Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent. Such conduct is illegal and unethical. Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history.
In less than five years these companies have flooded the marketplace with thousands of untested and unlabeled products containing foreign genetic material. These genetically modified foods pose several very real dangers because they have been engineered to create novel proteins that retard spoilage, produce their own pesticides against insects, or allow plants to tolerate larger and larger doses of weed killers. Despite claims that these food products are based on "sound science," in truth, neither manufacturers nor the government has studied the effects of these genetically altered organisms or their new proteins on people-especially babies, the elderly, and the sick. Can these products be toxic? Can they cause immune system problems? Can they damage an infant's developing nervous system? We need answers to these questions, and until then genetically altered ingredients should be removed from the food we eat.
As a pediatric neurologist, I especially worry about the safety of modified foods when it comes to children. We know that the human immune system, for example, is not fully developed in infants. Consequently, pediatricians have long been concerned about early introduction of new proteins into the immature gut and developing body of small children. Infants with colic are often switched to soy formula. Yet we have no information on how they might be affected by drinking genetically engineered soy, even though this product may be their sole or major source of nutrition for months. Because these foods are unlabeled, most parents feed their babies genetically altered formula whether they want to or not. Even proteins that are normally part of the human diet may, when introduced too early, lead to auto-immune and hypersensitivity or "allergic" reactions later.
Some studies suggest that the epidemic increase in asthma (it has doubled since 1980) may have links to early dietary exposures. The behavior problems of many children with autism and attention disorders get worse when they are exposed to certain foods.
Yet as more unlabeled and untested genetically engineered foods enter the market, there is no one monitoring how the millions of people with immune system vulnerability are reacting to them and the novel proteins and fragments of viruses they can contain. In fact, without labeling, there is no possible way to track such health effects. This is not sound science, and it is not sound public health.
The biotech industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say there is no reason to test genetically modified foods, because they are no different from the products of old-fashioned plant breeding. Never mind that chicken genes are being put in apples and genes from fish are being used in strawberries. Yet because of the way genes are inserted into unrelated organisms, they have the potential to disrupt other areas of essential genetic information.
We have no idea what these effects may be, or what form the disruptions may take. We don't know because no one has studied these questions in depth, and biotech corporations are not required to conduct thorough health analyses as a precondition for putting genetically engineered products on the market.
Finally, there is the question of antibiotic-resistance genes. Biotech corporations put these genes into genetically modified foods as "markers" to see if the alien genetic material has successfully penetrated the cell's defense system. If the sample resists an antibiotic, the gene has invaded the new organism.
Manufacturers use this technique purely for convenience, cavalierly ignoring the potential health risks from breeding more virulent antibiotic-resistance germs.
Scientists know that in nature antibiotic resistance genes can pass from one organism to another. If such genes take up residence in our bodies, many of the currently available drugs such as ampicillin, an often-used antibiotic, could become useless.
Before we produce and market untested genetically altered foods, we need to conduct a complete, thorough, long-term, and independent evaluation of all of these novel organisms. And we need to label foods containing altered genes. As pediatricians often advise parents, "better safe than sorry."
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