By far, this article is the most comprehensive I have read in regards to the subject of genetically modified foods. I find it fascinating that as a society we donate millions of dollars to cancer research in hopes of finding a ‘cure’ yet it seems totally possible to PREVENT cases of cancer simply by not ingesting genetically modified substances. Essentially, big corporations are playing Russian roulette with your health to line their wallets. Why aren’t more people totally pissed off? The government has allowed these possible cancer causing agents to make their way into everything your child eats and even onto your dinner table, without your knowledge. GM ingredients are not required to be labeled as such and the industry is fighting hard to keep it that way. Yes, the deficit and economy are definitely bad but the slow poisoning of an entire nation, all in the name of profit, is worse.
I hope you will find this as informative and inspiring as I did.
This article originally appeared on and is copied from the Web site raw-wisdom.com.
Written by Nathan Batalion, ND
We are confronted with what is undoubtedly the single most potent technology the world has ever known – more powerful even than atomic energy. Yet it is being released throughout our environment and deployed with superficial or no risk assessments – as if no one needs to worry an iota about its unparalleled powers to harm life as we know it – and for all future generations.
What is called “biotechnology” is a vital issue that impacts all of us.
Largely between 1997 and 1999, genetically modified (GM) food ingredients suddenly appeared in 2/3rds of all US processed foods. This food alteration was fueled by a single Supreme Court ruling. It allowed, for the first time, the patenting of life forms for commercialization. Since then thousands of applications for experimental genetically-modified (GM) organisms, including quite bizarre GMOs, have been filed with the US Patent Office alone, and many more abroad. Furthermore an economic war broke out to own equity in firms that legally claimed such patent rights or the means to control not only genetically modified organisms but vast reaches of human food supplies. This has been the behind-the-scenes and key factor for some of the largest and rapid agri-chemical firm mergers in history. The merger of Pioneer Hi-Bed and Dupont (1997), Novartis AG and AstraZeneca PLC (2000), plus Dow’s merger with Rohm and Haas (2001) are three prominent examples, Few consumers are aware this has been going on and is ever continuing. Yet if you recently ate soya sauce in a Chinese restaurant, munched popcorn in a movie theatre, or indulged in an occasional candy bar – you’ve undoubtedly ingested this new type of food. You may have, at the time, known exactly how much salt, fat and carbohydrates were in each of these foods because regulations mandate their labeling for dietary purposes. But you would not know if the bulk of these foods, and literally every cell had been genetically altered!
In just those three years, as much as 1/4th of all American agricultural lands or 70-80 million acres were quickly converted to raise genetically-modified (GM) food and crops. And in the race to increase GM crop production verses organics, the former is winning.
Core Philosophical Issues
When Gandhi confronted British rule and Martin Luther King addressed those who disenfranchised Afro-Americans, each brought forth issues of morality and spirituality. They both challenged others to live up to the highest principles of humanity. With the issue of GM food technology, we should naturally do the same, and with great respect for both sides. It is not enough to list fifty or more harmful effects but we need to also address moral, spiritual and especially worldview issues. Here the stakes are incredibly huge.
Another challenging phenomenon to face in our modern world is that of hybridization. It seems to have worked so very successfully in some commercial realms, and as a major application of Gregor Mendel’s revolutionary Gene Theory. Mendel offered a logical extension of the larger mechanical worldview. Just as we create factory assembly lines for manufacturing inanimate products, why can’t we also manufacture living organisms, and using the same or similar principles? Why not take this assembly-line process to the next logical and progressive level?
What’s wrong then with the “advance” of genetic engineering? No doubt, with hybridizations conscious life is manipulated. But living organisms continue to make some primary genetic decisions amid limited selections. We can understand this with an analogy. There is an immense difference between being a matchmaker and inviting two people to a dinner party, to meet and see if they are compatible. This differs essentially from forcing their meeting and union or a violent date rape. The former act may be divine, and the latter considered criminal. The implication is that biotechnology involves vital moral issues in regard to the whole of life in nature.
With biotechnology, roses are no longer crossed with just roses. They are mated with pigs, tomatoes with oak trees, fish with asses, butterflies with worms, orchids with snakes. The technology that makes this all possible is called biolistics – a gunshot-like violence that pierces the nuclear membrane of cells. This essentially violates not just the core chambers of life (physically crossing nuclear membranes) but the conscious-choice principle that is part of living nature’s essence. Some also compare it to the violent crossing of territorial borders of countries, subduing inhabitants against their will.
What will happen if this technology is allowed to spread? Fifty years ago few predicted that chemical pollution would cause so much vast environmental harm. Now nearly 1/3rd of all species are threatened with extinction (and up to half of all plant species and half of all mammals). Few also knew that cancer rates would skyrocket during this same period. Nowadays approximately 41% on average of Americans can expect cancer in their lifetime.
No one has a crystal ball to see future consequences of the overall GMO technology.Nevertheless, there are silent alarm signals like the early death of canaries in a mine shaft. There is, for example, growing evidence that the wholesale disappearance of bees relates directly to the appearance of ever more GM pollen. If we understand certain philosophical issues about the 17th century’s worldview, the potential harm of GMOs actually can potentially far outweigh that of chemical pollution. This is because chemistry deals mostly with things altered by fire (and then no longer alive, isolated in laboratories – and not infecting living terrains in self-reproducible ways). Thus a farmer may use a chemical for many decades, and then let the land lie fallow to convert it back to organic farming. This is because the chemicals tend to break down into natural substances over time, Genetic pollution, however, can alter the oil’s life forever!
Farmers who view their land as their primary financial asset have reason to heed this warning. They need to be alarmed by evidence that genetically-modified soil bacteria contamination can arise. This is more than just possible, given the numerous (1600 or more) distinct microorganisms that can be found in a single teaspoon of soil. If that soil contamination remains permanently, the consequences can be catastrophic. Someday the public may blacklist precisely those farms that have once planted GM crops. No one has put up any warning signs on product packaging for farmers, including those who now own 1/4 of all agricultural tracks in the US. Furthermore, the spreading potential impact on all ecosystems is profound.
Writes Jeremy Rifkin, in The Biotech Century,
“Our way of life is likely to be more fundamentally transformed in the next several decades than in the previous one thousand years…Tens of thousands of novel transgenic bacteria, viruses, plants and animals could be released into the Earth’s ecosystems…Some of those releases, however, could wreak havoc with the planet’s biospheres.”
In short these processes involve unparalleled risks. Voices from many sides echo this view. Contradicting safety claims, no major insurance company has been willing to limit risks, or insure bio-engineered agricultural products. The reason given is the high level of unpredictable consequences. Over eight hundred scientists from 84 countries have signed The World Scientist open letter to all governments calling for a ban on the patenting of life-forms and emphasizing the very grave hazards of GMOs, genetically-modified seeds and GM foods. This was submitted to the UN, World Trade Organization and US Congress. The Union of Concerned Scientists (a 1000 plus member organization with many Nobel Laureates) has similarly expressed its scientific reservations. The prestigious medical journal, Lancet, published an article on the research of Arpad Pusztai showing potentially significant harms, and to instill debate. Britain’s Medical Association (the equivalent of the AMA and with over a 100,000 physicians) called for an outright banning of genetically-modified foods and labeling the same in countries where they still exist. In a gathering of political representatives from over 130 nations, drafting the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, approximately 95% insisted on new precautionary approaches. The National Academy of Science report on genetically-modified products urged greater scrutiny and assessments. Prominent FDA scientists have repeatedly expressed profound fears and reservations but their voices were muted not due to cogent scientific reasons but intense political pressure from the Bush administration in its efforts to buttress and promote the profit-potentials of a nascent biotech industry.
To counterbalance this, industry-employed scientists have signed a statement in favor of genetically-modified foods. But are any of these scientists impartial? Writes the New York Times (Feb 20, 2000) (about a similar crisis involving genetic engineering and medical applications).
“Academic scientists who lack industry ties have become as rare as giant pandas in the wild…lawmakers, bioethics experts and federal regulators are troubled that so many researchers have a financial stake [via stock options or patent participation] …The fear is that the lure of profit could color scientific integrity, promoting researchers to withhold information about potentially dangerous side-effects.”
Looked at from outside of commercial interests, perils of genetically modified foods and organisms are multi-dimensional. They include the creation of new “transgenic” life forms – organisms that cross unnatural gene lines (such as tomato seed genes crossed with fish genes) – and that have unpredictable behavior or replicate themselves out of control in the wild. This can happen, without warning, inside of our bodies creating an unpredictable chain reaction. A four-year study at the University of Jena in Germany conducted by Hans-Hinrich Kaatz revealed that bees ingesting pollen from transgenic rapeseed had bacteria in their gut with modified genes. This is called a “horizontal gene transfer.” Commonly found bacteria and microorganisms in the human gut help maintain a healthy intestinal flora. These, however, can be mutated.
Mutations may also be able to travel internally to other cells, tissue systems and organs throughout the human body. Not to be underestimated, the potential domino effect of internal and external genetic pollution can make the substance of science-fiction horror movies become terrible realities in the future. The same is true for the bacteria that maintain the health of our soil – and are vitally necessary for all forms of farming – in fact for human sustenance and survival.
Without factoring in biotechnology, milder forms of controlling nature have gravitated toward restrictive monocropping. In the past 50 years, this underlies the disappearance of approximately 95% of many native grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetable varieties in the United States, India, and Argentina among other nations (and on average 75% worldwide). Genetically-modified monoculture, however, can lead to yet greater harm. Monsanto, for example, had set a goal of converting 100% of all US soy crops to Roundup Ready strains by the year 2000. If this plan were effected, it would have threatened the biodiversity and resilience of all future soy farming practices. Monsanto laid out similar strategies for corn, cotton, wheat and rice. This represents a deepest misunderstanding of how seeds interact, adapt and change with the living world of nature.
One need only look at agricultural history – at the havoc created by the Irish potato blight, the Mediterranean fruit fly epidemic in California, the regional citrus canker attacks in the Southeast, and the 1970’s US corn leaf blight. In the latter case, 15% of US corn production was quickly destroyed. Had weather changes not quickly ensued, most all crops would have been laid waste because a fungus attached their cytoplasm universally. The deeper reason this happened was that approximately 80% of US corn had been standardized (devitalized/mechanized) to help farmers crossbreed – and by a method akin to those used in current genetic engineering. The uniformity of plants then allowed a single fungus to spread, and within four months to destroy crops in 581 counties and 28 states in the US. According to J. Browning of Iowa State University: “Such an extensive, homogeneous acreage of plants… is like a tinder-dry prairie waiting for a spark to ignite it.”
The homogeneity is unnatural, a byproduct again of deadening nature’s creativity in the attempt to mechanize, to grasp absolute control, and of what ultimately yields not control but wholesale disaster. Europeans seem more sensitive than Americans to such approaches, given the analogous metaphor of German eugenics.
Overall the “biotech revolution” that is presently trying to overturn 12,000 years of traditional and sustainable agriculture was launched in the summer of 1980 in the US. This was the result of a little-known US Supreme Court decision Diamond vs. Chakrabarty where the highest court decided that biological life could be legally patentable.
Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty, a microbiologist and employee of General Electric (GE), developed at the time a type of bacteria that could ingest oil. GE rushed to apply for a patent in 1971. After several years of review, the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) turned down the request under the traditional doctrine that life forms are not patentable. Jeremy Rifkin’s organization, the Peoples Business Commission, filed the only brief in support of the ruling. GE later sued and won an overturning of the PTO ruling. This gave the go ahead to further bacterial gmo research throughout the 1970’s.
Then in 1983 the first genetically-modified plant, an anti-biotic resistant tobacco was introduced. Field trials then began in 1985, and the EPA approved the very first release of a GMO crop in 1986. This was a herbicide-resistant tobacco. All of this went forward due to a regulatory green light as in 1985 the PTO also decided the Chakrabarty ruling could be further extended to all plants and seeds, or the entire plant kingdom.
It then took another decade before the first genetically-altered crop was commercially introduced. This was the famous delayed-ripening “Flavr-savr” tomato approved by the FDA on May 18, 1994. The tomato was fed in laboratory trials to mice who, normally relishing tomatoes, refused to eat these lab-creations and had to be force-fed by tubes. Several developed stomach lesions and seven of the forty mice died within two weeks. Without further safety testing the tomato was FDA approved for commercialization. Fortunately, it ended up as a production and commercial failure, and was ultimately abandoned in 1996. This was the same year Calgene, the producer, began to be bought out by Monsanto. During this period also, and scouring the world for valuable genetic materials, W.R. Grace applied for and was granted fifty US patents on the neem tree in India. It even patented the indigenous knowledge of how to medicinally use the tree f(what has since been called biopiracy). Also by the close of the 20th century, about a dozen of the major US crops – including corn, soy, potato, beets, papaya, squash, tomato and cotton – were approved for genetic modification.
Going a step further, on April 12, 1988, PTO issued its first patent on animal life forms (known as oncomice) to Harvard Professor Philip Leder and Timothy A. Stewart. This involved the creation of a transgenic mouse containing chicken and human genes. Since 1991 the PTO has controversially granted other patent rights involving human stem cells, and later human genes. A United States company, Biocyte was awarded a European patent on all umbilical cord cells from fetuses and newborn babies. The patent extended exclusive rights to use the cells without the permission of the donors. Finally the European Patent Office (EPO) received applications from Baylor University for the patenting of women who had been genetically altered to produce proteins in their mammary glands. Baylor essentially sought monopoly rights over the use of human mammary glands to manufacture pharmaceuticals. Other attempts have been made to patent cells of indigenous peoples in Panama, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea, among others.
Thus the groundbreaking Chakrabarty ruling evolved, and within little more than two decades from the patenting of tiny, almost invisible microbes, to allow the genetic modification of virtually all terrains of life on Earth.
Certain biotech companies then quickly, again with lightening speed, moved to utilize such patenting for the control of first and primarily seed stock, including buying up small seed companies and destroying their non-patented seeds. In the past few years, this has led to a near monopoly control of certain genetically modified commodities, especially soy, corn, and cotton (the latter used in processed foods when making cottonseed oil). As a result, between 70-75% of processed grocery products, as estimated by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, soon showed genetically-modified ingredients. Yet again without labeling, few consumers in the US were aware that any of this was pervasively occurring. Industry marketers found out that the more the public knew, the less they wanted to purchase GM foods. Thus a concerted effort was organized to convince regulators (or bribe them with revolving-door employment arrangements) not to require such labeling.