Giant transnational companies are carrying out a dangerous global experiment by introducing large numbers of genetically engineered foods into our diet. Genetic manipulations can result in unanticipated harmful effects, and because genetically engineered foods are not tested sufficiently, this experiment not only jeopardizes the health of individuals, but could also lead to global food shortages and extensive ecological hazards. Due to genetically modified food’s unique and unknown nature, there is potential for adverse health side effects.
It is impossible to predict the impact of genetic food, it is a matter of waiting for and observing future consequences. The cross-species transfers being made, such as between fish and tomatoes, would not happen in nature and may create new toxins, diseases, and weaknesses. An example of a possible health detrimental effect is resistance to widely used antibiotics. A new type of maize is currently being produced in the UK. Maize is attacked by the corn borer mite, that chews through the stalks.
Genetically modified maize has been produced to be repellent to the mite. The marker gene in the new maize is resistant to ampicllin, an antibiotic. Scientists are concerned that when this maize is eaten, the gene will come in contact and be passed to bacteria living in the human gut. These bacteria would then be resistant to the antibiotic. There is only a slight chance of this occurring, but there is always a first time. Transferring animal genes into plants also raises important ethical issues for vegetarians and religious groups.
It may also involve animal experiments that are unacceptable to many people. Once a genetically modified organism has been released into the environment it can reproduce, move and even mutate. After its release, it cannot be recalled. Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, genetic pollution is perpetual. It can never be reversed or cleaned up; genetic mistakes will be passed on to all future generations of a species. The huge areas of genetically identical crops will influence the evolution of local pests, plants, wildlife, and disrupt surrounding ecosystems.
There is no way of stoping genetically engineered plants from breeding with wild plants and contaminating them with foreign DNA strains. Pollen from genetically engineered crops can be transferred to cultivated and wild plants up to a mile away. What would happen if the genes for insect and weed killer resistance, that have been introduced to crop plants, found their way into weeds? The result could be ’super weeds’ which would force the development of more toxic herbicides.
If we allow the development of genetically modified food to continue we are consequently handing our lives over to the Biotech companies. Traditionally, farmers around the world would save some of their harvest to use as next year’s seed. This practice would be prevented with genetically engineered crops under the terms of a license. There is also a possibility of companies selling sterile seeds. The companies developing genetically modified plants and animals wish to legally own these new life forms in order to protect their investments.
Supporters of genetic engineering say the gene splicing process is accurate and precise. In fact, the process of inserting genes is quite fortuitous and can damage normal genes. Many weaknesses in plants, animals, and humans have their foundations in minute flaws in the genetic code. Consequently, the random damage resulting from gene insertion will inevitably result in irreversible damage. Genetically modified food activists, such as federal Agriculture Minister, Mr Mark Vaile, promise gene technology will supply plentiful amounts of food to starvation stricken areas in the Third World.
Genetic engineering is profit driven rather than science driven. Biotechnology research serves the desires of the rich rather than the needs of the poor. Biotechnology is primarily a commercial activity that determines what is investigated, how it is applied and who are to benefit. Biotechnology will concentrate power into the hands of a select few, which in turn will enhance farmers’ dependence and force them to pay inflated prices for seed-chemical packages.
Genetic engineering poses the greatest danger of any technology yet introduced. The damaging effects of genetic engineering are irreversible, but we have the capability to prevent a catastrophe before it occurs. We must take precautionary action if we are to protect ourselves, and all generations to come. We must refuse genetically modified food immediately, if we want to prevent an avalanche of deviant foods from permeating the market and placing the world at risk.