Genetically Engineered Crops
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 dont even want to think about it. Others think
its 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Links to more information and news about
Botany of Desire
Dangerous Toxins From Genetically Modified Corn Found in Blood of Women
Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds
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
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
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
Reasons Farmers Should Think Twice Before Growing GE Crops
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
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
BIOSIS -- Commercial
Plant Biotech Products
Calgene Fresh Produce
- Campaign to Ban Genetically
- Council for Responsible Genetics
- Food Biotechnology -
International Food Information Council backgrounder.
- Food Biotechnology
biotechnology: Useful addresses
- Genetic Engineering in
the Agriculture Industry
- Genetic Engineering
and Its Dangers
Altered Foods - Should we be tampering with Mother Nature?
Our question: GE or not GE?-
- Genetically Engineered Foods:
Safety Problems - Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and
- Monsanto Agriculture
- Mothers for Natural
Law - Campaign to ban genetically engineered foods.
- Natural Food
Campaign: The Dangers of Genetic Engineering
Perceptions of Genetic Engineering: Australia, 1994
- What is Genetic
Engineering? - Church of Scotland's Society, Religion, and Technology Project.
answers - A very comprehensive look at genetics and crops
Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about
More information about horizontal gene transfer
Transgenic Transgression of Species Integrity
and Species Boundaries
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