GENETIC ENGINEERING (Genetic Modification, GM or GMO).
A primer written and illustrated by Elizabeth Fiend
DEFINITION: Genetic engineering is a biological science that involves modifying plants, animals or any living cell on a genetic level using gene splicing and gene modification. Complex technology allows scientists to isolate DNA from a plant or animal, and also from tinier organisms like bacteria. The DNA is then cut and spliced and either removed from the original source or implanted into another organism. This allows alterations and direct manipulation of hereditary traits of either the original organism, or whichever new host organism the DNA has been implanted into.
OLD SCHOOL: Hybridization, the old way of making new plants and animals, involves cross breeding (aka animal or plant sex) between species that are related. This is a natural process and is TOTALLY different than modification on a cellular or genetic level. Be wary of any source, article or argument that tries to tell you they’re similar processes, they are not.
FRANKENFOODS: Foods that have been genetically modified are here and have the catchy nickname Frankenfoods. Genetically engineered crops have only been planted since 1996 but already account for 60-70% of the food in the grocery store. And almost all food that comes in a box or a package. Genetically modified products that are already in the store include dairy products; beef, pork and chicken raised on genetically modified feed; peanut butter; salad dressing; muffins; bread; cake; candy; chocolate bars; protein bars; veggie burgers; corn chips; French fries; cereal; tomato sauce; soy sauce; canola oil; Bacos; soda; beer; fruit juice; non-dairy creamer; pasta; Nutrasweet; corn; squash; potatoes; soy; strawberries and lettuce; not to mention non-food items like detergent, soap, aspirin. . . .
THE PROBLEM: Genetic engineering has already allowed scientists to take DNA from a fish and transplant it into the cell of a tomato plant — the purpose, to make the plant hardier in cold weather. Proponents of GMO say that a tomato from the original tomato plant and one from the new plant, the one with the gene from the flounder, should be treated as indistinguishable. But are they? What happens if you have an allergy to fish? Substance equivalence has yet to be proven. And there is no law that requires the makers of GMO products to do so. To make matters worse, there is no required labeling of products that contain genetically altered components either.
In the little over a decade since GMO has been here, there have been many documented mistakes in the biotech industry. Genetic engineering of plants and animals has already caused allergic reactions and even death in humans, not to mention the suffering of animals. GMO food meant for animal feed has accidentally made its way into the human food supply.
Soy and peanuts are now very common allergens. They didn’t used to be. The reason why so many children have allergies to these foods now-a-days is unknown and very difficult to determine. But there is mounting speculation that the large amount of genetically altered foods on your kitchen table may be to blame. There is also great concern that the widespread use of GMO in today’s dairy business might be leading to a crisis in antibiotic resistance in humans.
THE ENVIRONMENT: A lot of the genetically engineered plants that are currently in mass use are modified to withstand more and heavier does of weed killer. The Monsanto Round-Up Ready Soy Bean is a prime example. This bean, created by biotech behemoth Monsanto, has been genetically modified to live through massive sprayings of the herbicide Round-Up. Round-Up is of course also a Monsanto product.
Herbicides when sprayed on fields also float off in the wind polluting the air and surrounding soil. The herbicides also land in bodies of water creating toxic environments for the fish that live there and later for the animals, insects and humans who will drink the water. Plus, it seems to me to be a no-brainer that redesigning food so that it can withstand heavy doses of chemicals (before it reaches a critical mass and is killed itself) is a terrible solution to the problem of weeds. Who came up with this scheme? (see Big Business below)
Genetic modified of plants is already suspected of creating super weeds, herbicide tolerant weeds and pesticide resistant insects. GMO plants are cross breeding (hybridizing) with native and surrounding plants creating new strains of plants with unknown qualities. Once a mistake is unleashed into the environment there is no certainty it can EVER be undone. GMO farm plants are killing beneficial insects. A most famous case is the danger GMO corn poses to monarch butterflies – it kills them. It’s not known how much further down the food chain these problems will go or what unbalances in the ecosystem they will cause.
BIG BUSINESS: Genetic engineering is driven by industry, the bio-tech industry. Farmers aren’t asking for genetically modified foods and products. And certainly consumers aren’t. Patents are being awarded to biotech companies for the new GMO plants, seeds even animals that these mega-corporations are creating. That means that a corporation actually owns a certain plant, seed or animal on the genetic level. This is dangerous to the future of world food security. Bad news for the farmers too. Farmers are no longer legally allowed to grow a plant, save the seed from that plant and plant it the next year as has been done for time eternity. From now on, each year the farmer must purchase more seeds from the biotech giant. The law suits against farmers are already here.
THE FUTURE: Splicing genes and dicing DNA may someday end world hunger, cure disease and protect the environment. But what offers promise in the lab is troubling in the open fields of the world’s farms. It’s time to slow down, evaluate the consequences of genetic engineering before it’s too late. Mandatory labeling of products which are genetically altered or contain GMO ingredients would be a good first step towards consumer safety.
The biotech industry says we must have genetic engineering to solve the food and environmental problems of the future. But I don’t think that is true.
Read on to GMWatch.org’s list of recent amazing non-genetically engineered scientific advances in farming and food production across the globe. This list proves that we do not need to genetically engineer plants to solve the world’s food problems.
Following this list is more information about GMO from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Human Genome Program.
Please enjoy some of my drawings too. Love, Elizabeth Fiend
RECENT NON-GMO BREAKTHROUGHS
[The GM Watch web site has been cyber-attacked and has lost it’s original web host. All information is not available at this time. Hopefully things will get sorted out. Check the link for more about this attack. BiG TeA PaRtY editors note 11-8]
INTRO – GM WATCH
Does mention of allergen-free peanuts, striga-resistant cowpeas, salt-resistant wheat, beta-carotine rich sweet potatoes, virus-resistant cassavas make you think of GM?
If so, you’ve missed a great unpublished story – these are all non-GM breakthroughs which solve precisely the kind of problems (drought-resistance, salt-resistance, biofortification etc.) that GM proponents claim only GM can provide the answer to.
While GM ”miracle” stories win vast amounts of column inches, the non-GM stories generally get minimal if any reporting in the popular media. Without GM’s often exaggerated crisis narratives and silver bullet solutions, it seems there is no story!
The biotech industry and its PR people are, of course, very keen to keep it that way, particularly because the non-GM solutions are often way ahead of the work on GM. They also bring with them none of the uncertainties that surround GM.
All of this makes keeping track of some of the many non-GM success stories especially important.
Another reason it’s important is because – thanks to the lack of success with GM ”solutions” – non-GM success stories can end up being claimed as GM breakthroughs!!
This happened again recently with the UK Government’s retiring Chief Scientist, David King, who claimed an important non-GM breakthrough in Africa as evidence of why we need to embrace GM.
The real lesson of the example King chose is that we need to do the exact opposite, ie stop being distracted by GM and get the funding and support behind the non-GM solutions to the problems we so badly need to address.
So here’s some of the good things we recently came across on the non-GM front:
+ ORGANIC FARMING CAN FEED THE WORLD – STUDY
Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land – according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population. ”My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” said Ivette Perfecto, professor at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one of the study’s principal investigators.
+ ORGANIC FARMING COMBATS GLOBAL WARMING…
Big time, according to data from the Rodale Institute’s long-running comparison of organic and conventional cropping systems. Converting the US’s corn and soybean acres to organic production would sequester enough carbon to satisfy 73 percent of the Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction in the US.
+ ORGANIC FARMING BEATS NO-TILL
Organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming, according to a long-term study by US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. Organic farming, despite its emphasis on building organic matter, was previously thought by some to endanger soil because it relies on tillage and cultivation – instead of herbicides – to kill weeds. But Teasdale’s study showed that organic farming’s addition of organic matter in manure and cover crops more than offset losses from tillage.
+ UN’s FOOD AND AG ORG SUPPORTS ORGANIC
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has come out in favour of organic agriculture. Its report, ”Organic Agriculture and Food Security” states that organic agriculture can address local and global food security challenges.
+ ORGANIC FOOD BETTER
Important new research has shown up to 40% more beneficial compounds in organic vegetable crops and up to 90% more in organic milk. It has also found high levels of minerals such as iron and zinc in organic produce.
+ IT’S OFFICIAL: ORGANIC REALLY IS BETTER FOR YOU
A 10-year study comparing organic and non-organic tomatoes has found that the organic ones have almost twice the quantity of antioxidants (called flavonoids) that help to prevent high blood pressure, thus reducing the likelihood of heart disease and strokes.
+ GROWERS CAN MAKE MORE MONEY BY GOING ORGANIC
Minnesota grain farmers could make more money by switching from conventional to organic grain crops, shows a four-year study announced at the American Agricultural Economics Association’s annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif. The study, by David W. Archer, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) economist, and Hillarius Kludze, an ARS soil scientist, analyzed both economic risks and transition effects of switching to organic farming.
+ NEW SALT-TOLERANT WHEAT SET TO BRING LIFE TO ”DEAD” FARMLAND
Scientists have developed a non-GM salt-tolerant wheat which could allow farmers to crop a third of the 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land lost to salinity across Australia’s wheat belt.
+ NON-PESTICIDE, NON-GM COTTON MANAGEMENT SUCCESS IN INDIA
+ ZAMBIA: BETTER NON-GM MAIZE HARVESTS
Although drought-prone Zambia is still facing many problems, huge improvements have been reported in its maize harvests – its main staple crop. A report from Inter Press Service notes, ”… production changed dramatically after President Levy Mwanawasa took over from Frederick Chiluba in 2001…. [He] promoted innovations like mixed farming and conservation farming. Mwanawasa rejected GM maize and encouraged the growing of non-GM maize, resulting in bumper harvests for the past three consecutive years.” When the Zambian government rejected GM maize in 2002, there were calls from the US Ambassador to the FAO for its leaders to be tried ”for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts of the world.”
+ UK: NON-GM CROP SCIENCE GETS GBP13m BOOST
UK crop scientists have been awarded a GBP13.3m boost in funding to carry out research aimed at delivering benefits for farmers and consumers. Researchers say they will not be producing GM crops. Prof David Pink, from Warwick HRI, University of Warwick, whose team has been awarded GBP500,000 to identify genes in broccoli that will extend its shelf life and maintain its nutritional value for longer, said, ”We are not going down that [GM] route because GM is not acceptable at the moment, and not acceptable to our plant breeding partner.”
+ NON-GM DROUGHT-RESISTANT RICE IN PIPELINE
Japanese researchers have made progress in breeding non-GM drought-resistant rice, intended for planting in Africa and other dry regions.
+ GM DROUGHT TOLERANT MAIZE WAY BEHIND NON-GM
During March 2007, the South African authorities gave Monsanto permission to conduct GM drought tolerant maize field trials in South Africa. The African Centre for Biosafety released a report on the issue, pointing out that drought tolerance is at least 8-10 years away from commercialisation. Nevertheless, GM drought tolerant crops are being used as PR tools by biotech lobbyists to promote acceptance of GM crops, expand existing markets and develop new markets. Finally, the report points out that traditional breeding, marker assisted selection, and building up organic content of the soil are proven methods of dealing with drought.
+ PHILIPPINES NEW NON-GM DROUGHT-RESISTANT CORN
A Philippines scientist has developed a new non-GM corn variety that was able to survive a drought for 29 days.
+ INDIGENOUS RICE BETTER THAN GM FOR DEALING WITH STRESS
A New Delhi-based NGO, together with farmers from nine Indian states, has developed a register documenting over 2,000 indigenous rice varieties. They say GM rice strains are not only costly to cultivate but also are a poor match to the native strains in fighting pests, diseases and environmental fluctuations.
+ BODY BLOW TO GRAIN BORER
The larger grain borer is taking a beating from CIMMYT (Internation Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) breeders in Kenya as a new non-GM African maize withstands the onslaught of one of the most damaging pests.
MORE NON-GM DEVELOPMENTS
(thanks to Genet for keeping track of these)
*Non-GM process for allergen-free peanuts
SOURCE: EurekAlert, USA
AUTHOR: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USA
*Non-GM approach to Striga-resistant cowpeas in Africa
SOURCE: University of Virginia, USA
*Non-GM salt-resistant wheat
SOURCE: Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, Australia
*Gates Foundation supports non-GM b-carotine rich sweet potato in Africa
SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru
*Non-GM virus-resistant cassava for East and Central Africa
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria, Press Release
*Non-GM technology reduces aflatoxins in maize in Nigeria
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: Story of the Month
*Iron-fortified non-GM maize cuts anaemia rates inchildren
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK
AUTHOR: Ochieng” Ogodo
*Austro-Indian non-GM research cuts 50% of cotton insecticides, adds 75% profitability
SOURCE: Inter Press Service News Agency, Italy
AUTHOR: Neena Bhandari
*Molecular Marker research could feed the world without GM
SOURCE: Kansas State University, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release, by Jianming Yu
*New non-GM drought-resistant corn
SOURCE: Minda News, Philippines
AUTHOR: Allen V. Estabillo
*Dutch researcher bred non-GM fungi-resistant tomato
SOURCE: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, The Netherlands
*Texas-sized sorghum: New non-GM solution for fuel?
SOURCE: Texas A&M University
*Non-GM tomatoes made to drink less water
SOURCE: ANSA, Italy
*Non-GM rice with bacterial leaf blight-resistance genes developed
SOURCE: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India
*Non-GM solution found for cassava root-rot devastation in Africa
SOURCE: New Scientist, UK
AUTHOR: Fred Pearce
*U.S. grape researcher breeds non-GM vines resistant to Pierce’s Disease
SOURCE: Wine Spectator, USA
AUTHOR: Lynn Alley
*Non-GM method to produce virus-resistant brassica crops
SOURCE: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK
*High-yielding, soybean cyst nematodes-resistant non-GM soybeans
SOURCE: Wallaces Farmer, USA
AUTHOR: Rod Swoboda
*Non-GM success in combating cassava mosaic virus in Africa
SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Italy
AUTHOR: Press Release
*Non-GM beans developed for harsh Mediterranean conditions
SOURCE: CropBiotech Update, Philipines
What are Genetically Modified (GM) Foods?
Although “biotechnology” and “genetic modification” commonly are used interchangeably, GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using organisms or their components, such as enzymes, to make products that include wine, cheese, beer, and yogurt.
Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified,” “genetically engineered,” or “transgenic.” GM products (current or those in development) include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.
Locating genes for important traits—such as those conferring insect resistance or desired nutrients—is one of the most limiting steps in the process. However, genome sequencing and discovery programs for hundreds of organisms are generating detailed maps along with data-analyzing technologies to understand and use them.
In 2006, 252 million acres of transgenic crops were planted in 22 countries by 10.3 million farmers. The majority of these crops were herbicide- and insect-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and alfalfa. Other crops grown commercially or field-tested are a sweet potato resistant to a virus that could decimate most of the African harvest, rice with increased iron and vitamins that may alleviate chronic malnutrition in Asian countries, and a variety of plants able to survive weather extremes.
On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as hepatitis B; fish that mature more quickly; cows that are resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease); fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.
In 2006, countries that grew 97% of the global transgenic crops were the United States (53%), Argentina (17%), Brazil (11%), Canada (6%), India (4%), China (3%), Paraguay (2%) and South Africa (1%). Although growth is expected to plateau in industrialized nations, it is increasing in developing countries. The next decade will see exponential progress in GM product development as researchers gain increasing and unprecedented access to genomic resources that are applicable to organisms beyond the scope of individual projects.
Technologies for genetically modifying foods offer dramatic promise for meeting some of the 21st Century’s greatest challenges. Like all new technologies, they also pose some risks, both known and unknown. Controversies surrounding GM foods and crops commonly focus on human and environmental safety, labeling and consumer choice, intellectual property rights, ethics, food security, poverty reduction, and environmental conservation (see GM Products: Benefits and Controversies, below).
GM Products: Benefits and Controversies
Enhanced taste and quality
Reduced maturation time
Increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance
Improved resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides
New products and growing techniques
Increased resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency
Better yields of meat, eggs, and milk
Improved animal health and diagnostic methods
“Friendly” bioherbicides and bioinsecticides
Conservation of soil, water, and energy
Bioprocessing for forestry products
Better natural waste management
More efficient processing
Increased food security for growing populations
Potential human health impacts, including allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers, unknown effects
Potential environmental impacts, including: unintended transfer of transgenes through cross-pollination, unknown effects on other organisms (e.g., soil microbes), and loss of flora and fauna biodiversity
* Access and Intellectual Property
Domination of world food production by a few companies
Increasing dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries
Biopiracy, or foreign exploitation of natural resources
Violation of natural organisms’ intrinsic values
Tampering with nature by mixing genes among species
Objections to consuming animal genes in plants and vice versa
Stress for animal
Not mandatory in some countries (e.g., United States)
Mixing GM crops with non-GM products confounds labeling attempts
New advances may be skewed to interests of rich countries
Categories: GMO, genetic engineering, Monsanto, agriculture, sustainable living, food, organic, farming, GM