Genetically Modified Food

Genetically modified (GM) food is produced from animals or plants which have had their genes changed in the laboratory by scientists. By modifying one or more of the genes, scientists can alter one or several characteristics of the organism.

The first example of GM food sold in the USA was a slow-ripening tomato. Normally, when tomatoes ripen, a gene is triggered to produce a chemical that makes the tomato go soft. In the GM tomato, this gene is "switched off". Since the ripening chemical is not produced, the tomato can stay longer on the plant to develop a fuller taste and, according to scien­tists, the shelf-life of the tomato is also in­creased. Other examples of GM technology include strawberries with introduced fish genes (to make them frost resistant) and goats con­taining human insulin genes.

In general, genetic modification of foods allows scientists to:

  • Make changes in the flavour, texture, nutri­tional value and shelf-life of foods.
  • Build up insect, disease and herbicide re­sistance in plants to boost crop yields.
  • Make GM animals, e.g. to increase muscle bulk and build up resistance to disease.

Sixty to seventy five percent of all non-organic supermarket foods sold in the U.S. now contain genetically engineered ingre­dients.1 Companies like Kellogg’s, Campbell's Soup, Nestle, Heinz Foods, Kraft, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sell GM food.2

Your Health and Genetically Modified Food

The GM food industry claims that by modifying the foods they can make them better, more nutritious, longer-lasting and better-tasting. In reality, little benefit is seen – apart from the financial gains reaped by the firms produc­ing GMOs (genetically modified organ­isms).

A study in England showed that the content of protein, starch, sugar, and certain enzymes in GM potatoes significantly differed from the levels in normal potatoes. When they fed these potatoes to young rats for a time and exam­ined the development of their organs, they found that the intestine, pancreas, kidneys, liver, lungs and brain did not develop nor­mally.3 Another study found that the concen­tration of a beneficial hormone (phyto­estrogen), found in soybeans and thought to protect against heart disease and cancer, was lower in GM soybeans than in traditional strains.4 These examples imply that GM food is likely to be less nutritional and even dangerous.

Previous methods of pest control, such as the use of DDT and chlorofluorocarbons, have had adverse effects which were unexpected by their developers. Have we learnt our lesson? It is impossible to make safe predictions of what could go wrong with a technology based on an incomplete understanding of physiology, genetics, nutrition, biology and ecology.

It should be noted that no long-term studies on the effects of GM have been carried out yet. Therefore, nobody knows what the effects will be from consuming GM food for ten or even one-and-a-half years. But the following exam­ples should give us cause for concern:

  • rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hor­mone): When injected into cows, this genetically engineered hormone increases milk production. Milk from rBGH rated cows contains higher levels of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor, which has been associ­ated with breast and colon cancer.5 In addi­tion, rBGH has also been associated with udder infections, internal bleeding, stress-related weight loss and severe reproductive disorders in cows.6
  • To be able to pick out the successfully engi­neered cells from the cells which were un­successful, GM technology uses antibiotic resistance genes as genetic markers. In the long run, this will reduce the efficiency of antibiotics.
  • Genetic engineering can transfer allergies from foods to which people know they are allergic, to foods that they think are safe.7
  • In the late 1980s, the Showa Denko Com­pany of Japan began making tryptophan by a new process, using genetically engineered bacteria. Within months thousands of peo­ple who had taken the supplement began to suffer from neurological problems. At least 1500 people were permanently dis­abled and 37 died.8
  • GM-potatoes fed to lab rats caused damage to their vital organs and immune sys­tem.10

The Technology of Genetic Modification

How can foreign genes be manipulated into the DNA of a plant or an animal? One method uses a “gene shotgun” which “shoots” microscopic particles (such as gold) covered with DNA into the plant tissues. This mechanism is nicknamed “shotgun” because the DNA is being inserted “all over the place”. Only after thousands of attempts using this method, will the foreign DNA end up in the right place for the plant to express the desired traits - and express them in a useful fashion generation after generation, without having any undesired side effects. Assertions that genetic engineering is a highly precise process are quite misleading. Since the process is not precise, the scientists do not really have control over the results – which might be even dangerous (e.g. production of a toxin might be switched on).9

Another way of inserting foreign DNA is using “vectors” specifically designed to move and express genes across species - and ecological barriers. These vectors (viruses, plasmids) act like "genetic parasites" and are specifically designed to breach species barriers, i.e. to smuggle genes into cells that would otherwise exclude them.

In addition to the foreign gene coding for a desired characteristic, virtually all GM plants also contain a "promoter" from the Cauliflower mosaic virus. In nature this virus causes a disease in plants of the mustard family. The promoter regulates the activity of the inserted gene by "switching it on". When this strong promoter is smuggled into the host DNA, it can "turn on" other host genes as well. Again, as in the "shotgun" method, undesired effects might occur because of this.

Playing God

God said several times in the first chapter of His book (Genesis chapter 1) that everything He had made was good.

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit AFTER HIS KIND, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed AFTER HIS KIND, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that IT WAS GOOD.”  GENESIS 1:11-12

“And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, AFTER THEIR KIND, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that IT WAS GOOD.” GENESIS 1:21

The Technology of Genetic Modification
How can foreign genes be manipulated into the DNA of a plant or an animal? One method uses a “gene shotgun” which “shoots” microscopic particles (such as gold) covered with DNA into the plant tissues. This mechanism is nicknamed “shotgun” because the DNA is being inserted “all over the place”. Only after thousands of attempts using this method, will the foreign DNA end up in the right place for the plant to express the desired traits - and express them in a useful fashion generation after generation, without having any undesired side effects. Assertions that genetic engineering is a highly precise process are quite misleading. Since the process is not precise, the scientists do not really have control over the results – which might be even dangerous (e.g. production of a toxin might be switched on).9
Another way of inserting foreign DNA is using “vectors” specifically designed to move and express genes across species - and ecological barriers. These vectors (viruses, plasmids) act like "genetic parasites" and are specifically designed to breach species barriers, i.e. to smuggle genes into cells that would otherwise exclude them.
In addition to the foreign gene coding for a desired characteristic, virtually all GM plants also contain a "promoter" from the Cauliflower mosaic virus. In nature this virus causes a disease in plants of the mustard family. The promoter regulates the activity of the inserted gene by "switching it on". When this strong promoter is smuggled into the host DNA, it can "turn on" other host genes as well. Again, as in the "shotgun" method, undesired effects might occur because of this. 

 

Biotechnology reduces all life to bits of infor­mation that can be arranged and rearranged at whim. However, scientists cannot “improve” on God’s creation - they can only make it worse by cloning “new life forms”. They play God, but what will be the end result?

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God…” ROMANS 1:22,23

Contrary to evolutionists’ belief that everything evolved from one cell by chance and that nature therefore can be “helped” to evolve by mixing different genes, the Bible says that God created all animals and plants “after their kind” (GENESIS 1:11,21,24). This means that a sheep is different from a pig, and a strawberry has nothing to do with a fish – they should not be mixed!

To make this perfectly clear, God expressly forbids the mixing of genes:

“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed.” LEVITICUS 19:19

“Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.” DEUTERONOMY 22:9

The word "divers" (in Hebrew: kil'ahim) means "separation", "two heterogeneities". The root word actually means "to shut up, forbid, restrain", from which the Hebrew word for "prison" is derived. Clearly God did not intend genes to be taken out and added to another. However, if people want to “play God” and go against the laws of nature they have to face the consequences:

“Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.” DEUTERONOMY 28:17,18

God did not give us the earth to own, but to be stewards over it (GENESIS 2:15). Many GM scien­tists who actually think they are doing some­thing good would be better off keeping God's laws, since:

“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” PROVERBS 16:25

 

Ecological Concerns About Genetically Modified Organisms

Once genetic modifications have been made, they are permanent. The altered organisms will give birth to modified offspring for all future generations.

Genetic pollution: Wind, rain, birds, bees, and insect pollinators have begun carrying GM pollen into adjoining fields, polluting the DNA of crops of organic and non-GM farmers. GM pollen does not only kill off bugs, but also harms beneficial insects. For example, Monarch butterfly caterpillars in the USA have been killed, and Boll weevils have developed resistance to GM cotton. A "super-weed" has been created in France due to gene transfer from a transgenic sugar beet crop.11

GM potatoes have been engineered to express an inserted lecithin gene to reduce aphid attacks. Ladybirds eating the aphids did not live as long as expected and their reproduction rate was reduced.

Diversity of gene pool: Once researchers develop what is considered to be the “perfect tomato” or “perfect chicken”, these will be the ones reproduced in large numbers; “less desirable” species will fall by the wayside, reducing even further the pool of available genes on the planet.

 

What We Can Do to Avoid GM Foods

Following is a list of common GM foods that the average consumer will most likely come across. This list is not exhaustive, but gives a guideline of how this technology is being used around the world.

  • Tomatoes - In the USA, MacGregor’s toma­toes have been GM to “switch off” the gene that makes tomatoes go soft and bruise.
  • Bt-Corn – This crop is resistant to Euro­pean corn borer.
  • Rape seed (Canola) for vegetable oil – Has been GM to produce oils high in un­saturated fatty acids. Crops in the UK have been contaminated with GM rapeseed from Canada.
  • Soybeans - “Roundup” soybeans have been GM to be resistant to Monsanto’s top weed killer, Roundup. One worry is that weeds will grow resistant and make this herbicide useless.
  • Golden rice - Vitamin D enhanced rice has recently been developed but has not yet been released into the market. The genes for making Vitamin D come from daffodils. One criticism for this is that in developing countries, for which it was originally devel­oped, nutrients and drugs/vitamins can also be taken separately, since there is no money to pay for expensive GM products.
  • rBGH – In the USA the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH; by Mon­santo) in cows, produces milk which in­creases the risk of breast and colon cancer.
  • Papaya – In 1998, the Hawaiian papaya industry switched to transgenic ringspot virus resistant seeds, to fight a ringspot virus epidemic that threatened the industry.
  • Aspartame – A sweetener manufactured from GM bacteria by Monsanto.

 

In some countries, such as the UK, all fresh fruit,vegetables, pulses and meats are non-GM foods. However, this cannot be safely said of processed foods and ingredients made from:

Corn/Maizecorn

corn, corn starch, corn oil, modified starch, starch, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrose, “vegetable oil”

Soya

hydrolysedvegetableprotein, soya, soya beans, soya flour, soya oil, soya sauce, lecithin E322), tofu, “vegetable oil”Tomatoes

Tomatoes tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, tomato sauce
Rapeseed

“vegetable oil”

Aspartame

Aspartame, Equal, Nutrasweet

Potatoes

Potato chips, French fries, etc.

The USA is the major producer and exporter of GM foods, followed by Canada and Argen­tina. However, it is mostly in the European countries that there is growing concern about the safety aspects of this technology: at the time this file was written (October 2000), the food market was about to change consider­ably. Through much pressure from consumer groups and politicians, several companies have decided to take GM foods off their shelves. For example, McDonald’s turned away from suppliers selling genetically modi­fied potatoes. Bestfoods, a company that makes Skippy peanut butter and Knorr soups, has removed GMOs from food products it sells in much of Europe.

WASHINGTON -- Greenpeace today revealed that products made by food giant Quaker Oats contain ingredients from genetically modified (GMO) crops, while most Americans believe that the company would not use these altered foods. Independent laboratory analysis released today shows that two Quaker products, Yellow Corn Meal and White Cheddar Corn Cakes, tested positive for GMO corn. Greenpeace also today released a Caravan Opinion Research poll showing that the vast majority of those surveyed trust Quaker not to use GMO ingredients in its products.12

But to go GMO-free is not easy. Genetically altered corn and soybeans - the USA’s two biggest crops - were planted on more than 60 million acres of US-farmland last year. Those crops, in turn, are used in countless food prod­ucts: the syrup for Coke, McDonald's ham­burger buns, Heinz ketchup and General Mills' Betty Crocker cake mixes, to name but a few. As a result, the Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that about 70 percent of grocery-store food in the USA may have been made with biotechnology crops.

In response to overwhelming customer con­cern, the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury has eliminated GM ingredients from all its own brand food products. This was a considerable task, involving over 10,000 products and was achieved by replacing soya and maize ingredi­ents with alternatives or using validated non-GM sources.

The fact is, even the food producers them­selves are sometimes not sure whether their products are made with unmodified ingredi­ents. And it’s different from country to country: for example, Nestle, Europe's largest food manufacturer, may supply food made from GMO-free crops in some countries, but not in others.

"There is no system in the U.S. to segregate G.M. from non-G.M.," said Mark Dollins, a spokesman at Quaker Oats in Chicago, referring to genetically modified foods. "Any company that says it can segregate, we'd like to know how they do it. Do they have separate silos? Separate train tracks? There's literally not a system in place to do that."13

Companies that said they currently source all their ingredients from GMO-free crops for the food and drink they sell in Europe, include Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, Heinz, Mars, Danone, Kellogg’s, Campbell Foods, Cadbury Sch­weppes and Kraft/Jacobs/Suchard. Almost all of these indicated that they also source GMO-free derivatives (that is, DNA-free ingredients such as frying oil, emulsifiers, etc.). However, these companies admit that there can be no guarantee that their products are GM-free but they are only trying to keep GM ingredients out of their products “as far as practically possi­ble.”

Europe is introducing a labelling scheme for GM foods, and this has also been proposed at an international level. However, whether this will guarantee that products contain no GM derivatives, or that mixing of GM and non-GM foods does not occur cannot be said at this stage.

To avoid GM foods, one can observe the developments with regard to company prac­tices in a given country. This can be done over national Internet sites such as the UK’s Genetic Food Alert (www.geneticfood­alert.org.uk); often, consumer organisations or environmental organisations such as Green peace or Friends of the Earth will have infor­mation about genetically engineered foods on their web sites.

Another strategy is to buy local foods, i.e. farm, dairy and meat products the origin of which can be traced easily. Especially organic foods can be presumed to be GMO-free. Such products may be slightly more expensive than conventional products, but when taking into account other food safety issues such as pes­ticides, hormones, Mad Cow Disease, etc. they are definitely the best buy. Often, the quality of these products will also be higher than that of conventional goods (e.g. in the case of free range eggs vs. eggs coming from hens in laying batteries).

To sum up, without going overboard, it is wise to avoid GM products in our diet as much as possible. Even though it is not as yet proven, scientists may discover over the coming years that GM foods are indeed causing health problems and that there are reasons why God has forbidden to “mingle the seed.”

References

Michael Pollan, "Playing God in the Garden", The New York Times Sunday Magazine, October 25, 1998

Kenneth Klee, “Frankenstein Foods”, Newsweek, Sept. 13, 1999

Martha Herbert, "Genetically Altered Foods: We Are Being Exposed to One of the Largest Uncontrolled Experiments in History" , Chicago Tribune, September 3, 2000

Jaan Suurküla et al, “The Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods”, 1999, www.psrast.org, (Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Applica­tion of Science and Technology)

1   BioDemocracy and Organic Consumers Associa­tion, 6114 Hwy 61, Little Marais, MN 55614 (www.purefood.org)

2   Ibid.

3      Jill Davies, 1999, “So why all the fuss over GE Foods?”, in: BioDemocracy and Organic Consum­ers Association, 6114 Hwy 61, Little Marais, MN 55614 (www.purefood.org)

4   Mark Lappe, Journal of Medicinal Food, 1999

5    Samuel Epstein. Unlabeled Milk from Cows Treated with Biosynthetic Growth Hormones: A Case of Regulatory Abdication. International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1996

6    Mark Kastel, "Down on the Farm: The Real BGH Story," Montpelier, VT: Rural Vermont, 1995; D.S. Kronfeld, "Health Management of Dairy Herds Treated with Bovine Somatotropin, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 204, No. 1, 1994

7    Wuthrich B., 1999, Schweiz Rundsch. Med. Prax. 88 (609-614) “Food additives and genetically modified food – a risk for allergic patients”

8   Mayeno and Gleich GJ, 1994, Trends in Biotech­nology, 12 (346-52)

9      Bergelson et al, 1998 Nature Sep 3; 395 (25)

10    Ewen SW and Pusztai A, 1999, Lancet 354 (1353-54) “Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine”

11  Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon "Perils Amidst the Promise: Ecological Risks of Transgenic Crops in a Global Market." Washington, D.C.: Union of Concerned Scientists, 1993

     James Kling, "Could Transgenic Supercrops One Day Breed Superweeds?" Science Vol. 274, Octo­ber 1996

12  "Quaker Betrays Public Trust with Gene-Altered Corn", Greenpeace Press Release, October 7, 1999

13  "Modified Foods Put US Companies in a Quandary", New York Times article by DAVID BARBOZA, June 3, 2000

* * *

 

APPENDIX - A Comparison of Different Methods of Growing Potatoes

 

“Conventional” Farming

Typically, the following has to be applied to a field of potatoes:

  • Soil fumigation in early spring: to control nematodes. Many potato farmers douse their fields with enough chemical toxic to kill every trace of microbial life in the soil.
  • At planting, a systemic insecticide is applied to the soil; this will be absorbed by the young seedlings and, for several weeks, will kill any insect that eats their leaves.
  • After planting, a herbicide is put down to "clean" the field of all weeds.
  • When the potato seedlings are six inches tall, a herbicide may be sprayed a second time to control weeds.
  • The potatoes may receive 10 applications of chemical fertiliser during the growing season.
  • Just before the rows close - when the leaves of one row of plants meet those of the next – Bravo, a fungicide, is sprayed to control late blight, one of the biggest threats to the potato crop. (Late blight caused the Irish potato famine and is an airborne fungus that rots stored potatoes.)
  • Twice each summer, a crop duster is hired to spray for aphids. Aphids are harmless in them­selves, but they transmit the leaf roll virus, which in Russet Burbank potatoes causes net necrosis, a brown spotting that will cause a processor (e.g. McDonalds) to reject a whole crop. These brown spots are harmless but not nice to look at, therefore the farmers must spray their fields with some of the most toxic chemicals in use.

As the “conventional” farmer is growing a mono-culture year after year, his field of identical plants will become very vulnerable to insects, weeds and disease. In order to control these, vast amounts of herbicides, etc., have to be applied – which are very costly and which makes the farmer dependent on the big pesticide manufacturing companies. Mono-culture is at the root of virtually every problem that bedevils the modern farmer.

 

GM Farming

With GM farming, a couple of sprayings can be skipped. The new GM crops will probably, as advertised, increase yields.

But: Pests such as weeds and bugs will sooner or later become resistant.

And the GM potatoes don't come cheaply. The farmer must pay an extra “technology fee” of $20 to $30 per acre. The farmers have to buy the seeds every year, as they are not allowed to use the seeds from their own crop. This makes the farmers even more dependent on the big companies.

Will GM farming reduce the use of toxic sprayings? No! US farmers growing GM crops are using just as many toxic pesticides and herbicides as conventional farmers, and in some cases even more. The so-called “benefits” of these herbicide-resistant crops are that farmers can spray as much of a particular herbicide on their crops as they want – killing the weeds without damaging their crop. What else could be expected from companies that both sell GM seeds AND herbicides?

Biotechnology is the new silver bullet that will save mono-culture. But this is also speeding up the process by which agriculture is being concentrated in a shrinking number of corporate hands.

Chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies such as DuPont, Upjohn, Bayer, Dow, Mon­santo, Ciba-Geigy, and Rhone-Poulenc, are urgently trying to identify and patent plant, animal, and human genes in order to complete their take-over of agriculture, animal husbandry, and food proc­essing. These are some of the same companies that once promised a carefree life through pesti­cides and plastics. Would you trust them with the blueprints of life?

 

Organic Farming

Organic farming relies on long and complex crop rotations to prevent a build-up of crop-specific pests - for example, planting wheat after spuds "confuses" the potato beetles.

Strips of flowering crops are planted on the margins of the potato fields - peas or alfalfa, usually - to attract the beneficial insects that eat beetle larvae and aphids. If there aren't enough beneficials to do the job, the farmer will introduce ladybugs.

Not only one, but eight varieties of potatoes are grown, on the theory that biodiversity in a field, as in the wild, is the best defense against any imbalances in the system. A bad year with one variety will be offset by a good year with the others.

The very complexity of these fields - the sheer diversity of species, both in space and time makes them productive year after year without many inputs.

The annual inputs consist of natural fertilisers (compost and fish powder), ladybugs and a copper spray (for blight) - a few hundred dollars an acre.

The disadvantage is the extra labour (lots of smaller crops means more work; organic fields must also be cultivated for weeds) and time - the typical organic rotation calls for potatoes every fifth year, in contrast to every third on a conventional farm.

But the yield is about the same as for “conventional” and GM farmers: between 300 and 400 bags per acre.