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tdc's FarmGate

         Genetically Engineered Crops

     "the deliberate release of  specific genes into a species to
               genetically modified organisms"


 What is it all about, who are the players, what is at stake,
  Should they be labeled ~~~ 
Are these crops safe for consumers?

                                                                                 

Is the new technology the next big decrease in the cost of food production?

Some people don’t even want to think about it. Others think it’s a disaster. The truth lies somewhere in-between. Science does not have all the answers yet.

Supporters of biotechnology  argue that the new biological and genetic approaches to boost agricultural yields, will end world hunger and solve problems created by chemically intensive farming. They purport that because of the rising world population,  the only way we will be able to feed the world is through the utilization of this technology.

The same people say genetically engineered crops are being touted as the successor to chemicals as a miracle technology , a quick fix, rather than an integral part of a shift to sustainable agriculture.

The advocates for sustainable agriculture argue for using a variety of cultural, biological, and mechanical methods to avoid or reduce pest problems. Crop rotations, intercropping, cover crops, altered planting and tilling schedules, new tillage systems, and natural biocontrol agents are some of the many options available to growers adopting sustainable strategies.

Specifically genetically engineering crops are touted to make plants resistant to attack from insects, bacteria, virus and to certain chemical herbicides.  And when certain genes are injected, it can make certain fruits and vegetables rot and disease resistant ensuring to have a longer shelf life, bigger, more tasty crops and  ultimately more attractive and less costly for consumers to buy.

So what's the rub? 

Horizontal gene transfer seems to be the present fly in the ointment.  Putting this in language that we all know ~~~ it  means the transfer of genes of one species to different species.

Traditional science used to teach that this could not happen, but scientists are now discussing that it can happen under certain conditions.

For a long time, it was supposed that horizontal gene transfers did not involve higher organisms, and certainly not organisms like ourselves, because there are genetic barriers between species and genetic parasites are species-specific.

In humans, 233 of our 30,000 or more genes came from bacteria. The crucial point is that they have come though "horizontal transfer," where a bacterium entered some animal's cells and transferred its DNA straight into the creature in such a way that it passed bacterial genes down to its offspring. Science - February 2001

Within the past two to three years, however, the full scope of horizontal gene transfer is slowly coming to light. A search of the isi database conducted under "horizontal gene transfer" came up with 75 references published in mainstream journals between 1993 and 1996. All but 2 gave direct or indirect evidence of horizontal gene transfers. Transfers occur between very different bacteria, between fungi, between bacteria and protozoa, between bacteria and higher plants and animals, between fungi and plants, between insects ... in short, as Stephenson and Warnes (1996) remark, "The threat of horizontal gene transfer from recombinant organisms to indigenous ones is ... very real and mechanisms exist whereby, at least theoretically, any genetically engineered trait can be transferred to any prokaryotic organism and many eukaryotic ones."

The answer lies in the fact that we do not know the long term effects of the use of this technology and are just beginning to find out what some are the short term effects.

An example of the sort dilemma we are in can be better explained  by the following example.

If we genetically inject a plant to be herbicide resistant to certain herbicides what happens to weeds that are pollinated from herbicide resistant plants.   Well, recent studies have shown that the weeds soon have the same herbicide resistant genes and  become resistant.  Not all of them but only half of them according to generally accepted laws of Mendelsonian genetics.

When a farmer sprays his fields with a herbicide  in the first generation of weeds only half are killed.  The other half are herbicide resistant.  Eventually, the gene is passed on and the whole field becomes resistant to the herbicide and the farmer has to find another herbicide to kill these weeds. 

In the short term, the crop is herbicide resistant ~~~ in the long term, the weeds that come back cannot be killed with the same herbicide.  Weeds that are not resistant to any herbicide would be rampant and yields of crops would deteriorate thus causing rising food costs.

Countering this argument is in the long term, science will find ways to make sure that anti herbicide genes  would  be specific to one species and non transferable to other species. In other words the development of selective horizontal gene transfer mechanisms.

GE rice does not address the underlying causes of vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which is mainly poverty and lack of access to a more diverse diet. For the short-term, measures such as supplementation (such as pills) and food fortification are cheap and effective.

A simple calculation based on the product developers' (Syngenta) own figures show an adult would have to eat at least 12 times the normal intake of 300 grams of  "golden rice"  to get the daily recommended amount of provitamin A.   -
Greenpeace 

Another way to prevent weeds to not have the resistant genes could be to genetically engineer plants to be limited to only one life cycle. Doing this would not pass on the genetic information to the next generation of plants. 

These are some of the scientific challenges for the future acceptance of this technology.

A new found gene could yield a novel class of genetically modified crops

        
What in it for the Consumer?

First and foremost there will be an assurance that crops grown using this technology will not have been subject to chemical herbicides and pesticides. Secondly, the shelf life of crops grown in this manner will be extended.  Third, more choice - some crops will be engineered to satisfy the needs of specific target markets. For instance - low fat, low cholesterol, high carbohydrate, low sodium, low glutamate -- all specific traits that today's consumer want but cannot be satisfied with traditional crops.

As for price of these new products being less than traditionally grown crops using pesticides and herbicides.... It is believed that these will be the same or more expensive in order to pay for the cost of the need for continued research and development of these products.

Are these crops safe to eat?

Present thinking is that they are safe.  In fact many crops sold on the shelf are genetically engineered and are sold as safe.  These include some tomato types, apples, potatoes and canola oil products.

The problem lies not with the products themselves but with the possibility that they contain organisms like viruses and bacteria that can carry genetic traits to the consumer that might adversely effect them in the short and long term.

There has been many dollars spent on the research development of these products by some of the biggest companies that supply the agricultural industry.  The monetary returns are just starting and it be very surprising if they stopped knowing where the gold is at the end of the rainbow.

  J.S. Lor - Welcomes and Values Your Comments

On thing that I noticed that your article does not touch on is the biggest problem with genetically alter seed.  Self seeding. Farmer from time immortal have depended on the fact that when times were bad they had seed stock from the harvest to plant to sustain them until the next year. We are rapidly losing that ability to plant our own seed when crop failure strikes. When a non-diverse crop is stuck by disease a portion then according to generally accepted laws of Mendelsonian genetics will be resistant to the problem and one will be able to adapt to the crises.

Now producers of seed are mainly cloning the seed stock so it has no ability to develop resistance to environmental and biological factors. And also the seed companies are selling “dead end seed”, In other words you cannot plant the seed from you harvest because it will not grow , it has been made genetically sterile. This could easily result in a plague of failed crops if the right circumstances arose. Perhaps you could post this information as well

Jeff

I was going through your site and saw the comment by Sandi Bristow about being horrified about buying geneticaly modified foods at Loblaws. She goes on to say about the consumer has to have the rights etc to know what they are buying. I agree, however in her comments she didn't say that the reason she was buying these products was probably because they were the least expensive. As a farmer who does not grow gen-mod crops I have a problem with that.

Most farmers do not grow gen-mod crops to get rich they are doing it just to stay afloat as the consumer is always buying the cheapest goods they can find. In most cases in Canada this is not paying the cost if production on most farms. Most farmers in Canada are earning below poverty level income from their farm. A vast majority of them and their spouses also work off the farm to subsidize the farm and have enough income to live.

In many cases it is a lifestyle choice but in many it is because there is no way to get out except to give every thing to the bank and walk away. It all comes back to the mighty consumer who even with all the hot air about what should be done or not done, still will not pay the cost of production then will spout more hot air about how farmers are ruining the land the environment and their food.

I am sorry about venting but when people start complaining about things and don't know what they are talking about, well she was the proverbial straw. However she did have something right it is the large Agri-food companies that are making lots of money off of these foods.

It all comes back to if the farmers were getting a fair return for their labour and investment then they would not be looking at different ways to do things. So if the consumer was willing to go to the lowest common denominator then all I have to say is they are getting what they asked for. So let your stores know what you want and tell them you are willing to pay for it and maybe you might get it.

Although I raise cattle and I remember for the last 3 yrs when I would sell a 1400 lb. cow for the same price as what the consumer would pay for 10 good steaks in the store, so I won't hold my breath. The food industry are the ones mking the money not the farmers. So much for my venting I am sure you won't post this but it felt good getting some stuff off my chest.

David B. Patrick - Piney, Manitoba, Canada

Dear Sir:
I have just learned that food I am buying from Loblaws through the President's Choice brand name has been genetically modified. I was horrified. I do not fully understand the technology but scientist have always considered the "could we" before the "should we". I do understand that as a consumer I am being deceived and I do not like it one bit.

The average person would, in all good conscience, avoid genetically modified foods because they instinctively know "you don't fool with Mother Nature". We are being kept in the dark about these foods so they can be sold to us, the unsuspecting consumer, for the almighty dollar and not for any other good reason on the face of this earth. Check the bank balances of all those involved and you'll see what I mean.

Now I'll step off my soap box and just say thank you for the information on your website as it does give a person the idea of what the "intent" of genetic engineering is about and the concerns that should be raised. No testing, no labelling, it is just too "egar allan poe-ish" for my tastes. 

I do have a suggestion that would greatly help the consumer and that is to advise them exactly which products (name brands, farms, etc) which have been altered. This would allow the PAYING consumer to show the BIG BOYS where their hearts and souls really lie.

Thank you again for the information.

Respectfully - Sandy Bristow

###

Do you favor adding GMO labelling information to food products sold in Canada?

            "Consumers have the right to choose whether to eat
                               genetically modified foods or not"

    Rockefeller Foundation Statement (cited in Kilman, 1999)

Genetically Modified organisms involves the transfer of genetic material from one organism to a different one to achieve traits such as insect, herbicide resistance, improving the storage life, appearance of the food product, addition of nutrients...        

Links to more information and news about genetically engineered crops

Genetically Modified Food - GM Foods List and Information

Non GMO Shopping List

The Botany of Desire

Dangerous Toxins From Genetically Modified Corn Found in Blood of Women and Fetuses new3.gif (116 bytes)

Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds

Store Wars

National Survey Shows Americans are in the Dark Regarding Genetically Modified Foods

EU lifts six-year ban on GM corn - The Guardian  

Monsanto drops plans for genetically modified wheat

GM Crops To Get Go-Ahead In Britain

Monsanto Accused Of Price-Fixing

PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS:
A National Study of American Knowledge and Opinion 36 page .pdf file

Guardian Unlimited - Special Reports on Genetically Modified Food

Genetically modified crops in India produced greater yields, reduced pesticide use, new study finds

EU fails to agree on rules to let biotech crops into farming and food industries

Genetically modified crops may pass helpful traits to weeds, study finds

The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering

Modified Crops Could Lead to "Superweeds," Study Suggests

Transgenic Corn Poses Little Threat to Monarchs, Study Concludes
Canadian Press September 10, 2001

"Harvest of Fear," FRONTLINE and NOVA explore the intensifying debate over genetically-modified (gm) food crops. Interviewing scientists, farmers, biotech and food industry representatives, government regulators, and critics of biotechnology, this two-hour report presents both sides of the debate, exploring the risks and benefits, the hopes and fears, of this new technology. 

Bt corn variety found to be safe to Illinois butterfly

Monsanto sues Canadian farmer 

Final News Release - The OECD Edinburgh Conference on the Scientific and
Health Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods - March 1, 2000

Ten Reasons Farmers Should Think Twice Before Growing GE Crops

Biotechnology Knowledge Centre - collection of news items, technical reports, fact sheets, and speeches geared towards food biotechnology sponsored by Monsanto Company.

Montreal Convention on Biological Diversity - January 2000
Bio Seek - Bio Diversity Search Engine

This is a list of prominent food and beverage manufacturing and retail companies in New Zealand, their policies on genetically modified ingredients and ingredients made with the aid of genetically modified organisms

Biotechnology Labeling
The purpose of this article is to assess the current controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and its potential implications for the international trading system. More importantly, it offers a solution for the serious potential for injury to this system.

Office of Biotechnology Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Two leading Cornell researchers take issue with three recent studies on the effects of genetically engineered crops.  Article

Toxic pollen from widely planted, genetically modified corn can kill monarch butterflies, Cornell study shows  
BIOSIS -- Commercial Plant Biotech Products
Calgene Fresh Produce

Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Foods
Council for Responsible Genetics
Food Biotechnology - International Food Information Council backgrounder.
Food Biotechnology Press Release
Food biotechnology: Useful addresses
Genetic Engineering in the Agriculture Industry
Genetic Engineering and Its Dangers
Genetically Altered Foods - Should we be tampering with Mother Nature?
Greenpeace Our question: GE or not GE?- 
Genetically Engineered Foods: Safety Problems - Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and   Technology (PSRAST)
Monsanto Agriculture
Mothers for Natural Law - Campaign to ban genetically engineered foods.
Natural Food Campaign: The Dangers of Genetic Engineering
Public Perceptions of Genetic Engineering: Australia, 1994
What is Genetic Engineering? - Church of Scotland's Society, Religion, and Technology Project.
Questions and answers  -   A very comprehensive look at genetics and crops
Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering

More information about horizontal gene transfer
Transgenic Transgression of Species Integrity and Species Boundaries
Transgressing species barriers

Companies who are presently reducing crop loss caused by insects is also a major focus of agricultural biotechnology research. Monsanto, Rohm and Haas, Ciba-Geigy AG , Agracetus, Agrigenetics Advanced Sciences, Calgene, the USDA, and the University of California have developed and field tested tomato(Flavr SavrTM tomato) , tobacco, cotton, walnut, and potato plants genetically engineered to contain an insect-killing toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). Sandoz Crop Protection and Crop Genetics International are genetically engineering microorganisms containing B.t. toxin to act as biocontrol agents.

The Food Biotechnology Communications Network is an information centre and that provides information about GE crops in Canada

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