View Full Version : What's Wrong with Genetically Engineered Foods?

01-13-11, 11:20 PM
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Potential Negatives of GE Foods

Even some of those who are not opposed to the principle of genetic engineering are concerned that the science and economics of releasing GE products into the market is outpacing the safety issues of how these new species will effect health and the environment.

The following is a brief list of some of the negative effects of genetic engineering. Some of the examples are based on well-documented studies, some are preliminary results, and some are speculation of possible negative effects.

Health Impacts

Allergenicity. Pioneer Hi-Bred requested a study in 1995 of a new soybean developed by the company that spliced a Brazil nut gene into soybeans to create a soybean with a nutritious nut protein. The study showed that the transferred gene was enough to trigger reactions to the soybean in those allergic to Brazil nuts. The study has become a landmark example of the possible safety hazards of genetic engineering.

Health implications of Bt. Many environmental concerns surround genetically modifying products to contain Bt. A lesser explored concern is the health implication of ingesting Bt. As a spray-on pesticide, Bt easily degrades into the soil and can also be washed off produce. In Bt crops, however, the Bt does not have a chance to degrade and is at its full potency all of the time -- including when ingested. The long-term effects of ingesting Bt products are unknown.

Antibiotic resistance.

Genetic engineering often uses genes for antibiotic resistance as "selectable markers," and most genetically engineered foods carry fully functioning antibiotic resistance genes. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease.

Pusztai study.

Dr. Arpad Pusztai, formerly of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen Scotland, conducted a controversial, un-peer reviewed study where he fed genetically modified potatoes to rats. Dr. Pusztai's study documented that these rats experienced stunted organ and brain growth and breakdowns in their immune system. Dr. Pusztai was fired after he released the report results.

Medical Associations.

The British Medical Association (BMA) called for segregating GE and non-GE crops so that health effects of eating GE food can be tracked. The BMA does not contend that GE foodsare dangerous but recommends proceeding slowly since there is no proof of safety or knowledge of the long-term implications of eating GE foods.

On the heels of the BMA's announcement, the American Medical Association (AMA) is revisiting its stance on GE food. The AMA's 10-year old policy stating that biotechnology is beneficial to society pre-dates the growth of GE crops for commercial consumption. The AMA concedes that the issue needs to be reviewed in light of the new dietary applications of GE foods.


As with other genetically modified foods, the long-term effects of ingesting rBGH milk are unknown. Studies have shown that cows treated with rBGH produce more low-quality, decreased protein milk. Also, rBGH milk contains more bacteria and consequently can go sour faster. The FDA maintains that there is no significant difference between the content of regular and rBGH-induced milk.

Hormone injections can be detrimental to the cows, as well. Cows treated with rBGH have higher rates of udder infections, which lead to cystic ovaries and uterine and digestive disorders. These conditions reduce pregnancy rates and increase the need for antibiotics. Scientists are expressing concerns that the increasing use of antibiotics in food animals will reduce the effectiveness of human antibiotics.

EU Studies on Beef Hormones.

In May 1999, European preliminary studies submitted to the European Union found that estradiol could have cancerous effects. An EU press release reported that, "As a residue in meat it can both provoke cancer and make existing cases worse, even in small quantities. The five other hormones could also have carcinogenic effects, although there is insufficient proof at present to arrive at a quantitative estimate of the risk." Risks to women and children for immune, endocrinal, and neurobiological disorders were also cited.

Environmental Impacts

USDA study of impacts of adopting genetically engineered crops. The USDA's study had mixed results. Increased use of herbicide-tolerant cotton was associated with significant increases in yields and profits but were not associated with significant reductions in herbicide use. Increased use of herbicide-tolerant soybeans produced small increases in yields and profits but a significant decrease in herbicide use.

Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

The BIO reported that the use of Bt corn reduced insecticide use on only 2.5 percent of the total US corn acreage in 1998.

Monarch butterflies.

Cornell University recently conducted peer-reviewed lab studies where monarch butterflies were stunted and killed by eating pollen from genetically modified corn. Monarchs do not fed on corn but if the pollen from Bt corn lands on milkweed -- a primary food source for Monarchs -- the Bt pollen has a deadly effect.

These findings have implications for other beneficial insects who may be effected by Bt toxins (i.e. green lacewings who feed on the European corn borer -- the pest targeted by Bt corn). The study results were published in the journal Nature.

Transgenic pollution or "genetic drift."

Transgenic pollution occurs when pollen from genetically modified crops blows into other areas, including organic farms. It has environmental implications because of the possible effect on existing ecosystems of cross-pollinating genetically modified crops with native plants.

Such cross-pollination could result in new breeds of plants and, if cross-bred with crops genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant, could produce "superweeds" resistant to herbicides and act as an additional "selective pressure" to create insecticide-resistant bugs.

A 1996 study in Denmark using oilseed rape indicated that genes inserted into crops could move rapidly into their wild, weedy relatives. Other field tests using genetically engineered potatoes showed a high frequency of gene flow between GE and non-GE plants -- between 35 and 72 percent of the seeds of non-GE potatoes planted up to 1.1 kilometers away from GE potatoes contained a transgene.

Bt resistant insects.

Scientists at the University of Arizona conducted a peer-reviewed lab study indicating that insects might develop resistance to Bt cotton plants more quickly than expected making some genetically modified plants obsolete sooner than expected. The study focused on pink bollworms and raised the potential problem that the mating cycle of Bt-resistant bugs was out of synch with regular pink bollworms.

The fallout is that Bt-resistant bugs will only be able to mate with each other, which could lead to a dramatic growth in Bt-resistant bollworms. Results of the study were published in the September 1999 issue of Nature.

Economic Impacts

Seed patenting.

The development of the "terminator seed" -- seeds genetically engineered to work for only one growing season -- will force farmers to purchase seeds yearly instead of being able to save seeds from one growing season to another. The ability for companies to patent these seeds means that large multinationals gain more control over the agricultural market. Already 10 seed companies control over 40 percent of the market. The terminator technology also threatens the centuries-old farming tradition of seed-saving.

Transgenic pollution in organic.

Terra Prima, a certified organic producer, had to destroy 87,000 bags of their chips at a cost of $147,000, when the chips tested positive for GE and could not be sold as organic. The presence of GE ingredients was traced to contamination from pollen blown over from GE corn grown on a farm near the one producing organic corn for Terra Prima.

Potential Benefits of GE Foods

In a July 1999 speech before the National Press Club, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman urged the American public to focus on the potential benefits of biotechnology over any fears they might have. Echoing the proponents of genetically modified crops, Glickman claimed that genetically engineered foods will increase crop yields, reduce pesticide pollution, and help feed the hungry in developing nations.

However, according to the Institute for Food and Development Policy, lack of food supply is the number one misconception regarding world hunger. Current global food production levels are high enough to supply every human with 3000 calories a day * the average consumption of an individual American.

The institute blames poverty and accessibility for world hunger, not lack of production.

Additionally, figures released by the USDA in early July did not show increased yields or decreased pesticide use with GMO crops. The USDA studied the performance of modified cotton, maize, and soya beans from 1997 and 1998.

In seven of twelve regions, farmers using modified crops had to add the same quantities of pesticides as farmers using non-genetically modified crops. Also, in twelve of eighteen regions, genetically modified crops produced no greater yields than non-modified crops.

Even as he highlighted the potential benefits of GMO crops, Glickman admitted that little is known about associated risks to human health and the environment. His comments reflected the government’s ‘wait and see’ attitude toward GMO safety. "We don’t know what biotechnology has in store for us, good and bad," he said, "but if we stay on top of developments, we’re going to make sure that biotechnology serves society, not the other way around."


01-14-11, 12:35 AM
Excellent-thank you Islander. I had read bits and pieces of the various sections, but this article puts it all together in a logical point-by-point presentation I can refer others to.
Although even my non-organic processed food-eating friends don't like GMO foods.