Busting the Myths About GM Foods

24 October, 2011 at 18:35 | Posted in Environmental issues, Nature, sustainable development | Leave a comment
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By Janet Cotter

Genetic engineering or genetic modification inserts DNA or genes into the genome of a plant. The genomes of plants and animals are controlled by a complex regulatory network that controls gene expression the production of proteins. Genetic engineering does not take account of this.

The inserted GM genes operate outside this regulatory network. Because the exact nature of this network is poorly understood, it is not possible to predict the interaction of the inserted genes with the plant’s own genome when the genes are being expressed.

Unexpected and unknown fragments of genetic material have been found in commercial GM crops (P. Windels, et al. European Food Research Technology, 2001). Examples include: Roundup Ready soya (A. Rang, et al. European Food Research Technology, 2004) and insect resistant maize, MON810 (M. Hernandez, et al. Transgenic Research, 2003).

As a consequence, GM crops could produce unintended novel proteins, or altered plant proteins. Because most allergens are proteins, this raises concerns about these crops’ potential to cause allergies.

As Richard Richards points out, genetic engineering is not a good way to develop plant varieties with complex traits (such as drought resistance).

This doesn’t mean we can’t develop these types of varieties. Other biotechnologies, such as marker assisted selection (an advanced form of breeding) can be used to develop new varieties, such as drought-resistant rice and wheat.

These technologies use our knowledge of how plant genomes function, but do not result in the deliberate release of a GM plant. Plants developed using this method are already in farmer’s fields.

 No Solution for Hunger

The United Nations/World Bank assessment of agriculture (IAASTD, “Agriculture at a Crossroads,” 2009) was performed by 400 scientists from over 100 countries. They carefully examined whether GM crops increased yields and could not come to a firm conclusion:

“The pool of evidence of the sustainability and productivity of GMOs in different settings is relatively anecdotal, and the findings from different contexts are variable, allowing proponents and critics to hold entrenched positions about their present and potential value.

“Some regions report increases in some crops and positive financial returns have been reported for GM cotton in studies including South Africa, Argentina, China, India and Mexico.

“In contrast, the US and Argentina may have slight yield declines in soybeans, and also for maize in the US” (IAASTD, “Agriculture at a Crossroads,” 2009).

The evidence is clear that GM plants are unlikely to play any effective role in increasing food security. In fact, the expense and risk of GM crops could actually decrease food security. GM seeds are subject to patent claims which will indirectly increase the price of food; this will not alleviate poverty or hunger and will pose a threat to food sovereignty.

As the UN Agriculture Assessment states: “In developing countries especially, instruments such as patents may drive up costs, restrict experimentation by the individual farmer or public researcher while also potentially undermining local practices that enhance food security and economic sustainability” (IAASTD, “Agriculture at a Crossroads, 2009).

Food insecurity is related to industrial farming, bad harvests related to climate change, unjust distribution of food, changes in consumption patterns, financial speculation on agricultural commodities and the rush for agrofuels.

This problem is not restricted to the Global South. In 2005, one in 20 Victorians [residents of Victoria, Australia] experienced food insecurity.

Solutions to hunger and malnutrition are not easy. But supporting farmers and farm workers in eco-agriculture systems that minimize dependency on external inputs, such as artificial fertilizers and pesticides, is a major option to fight hunger and improve food security worldwide (C. Nellemann, et al. “The Environmental Food Crisis,” 2009).

Risks to the Environment

Most GM crops are either insect-resistant (that is, produce their own pesticide), herbicide-tolerant or sometimes both.

The environmental risks of GM insect-resistant crops have been documented in a review of the scientific literature (J. Cotter, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, 2009) and are summarized briefly here. Many GM insect-resistant crops produce the same or a similar toxin to GM maize so many of the concerns can, in general, be extrapolated to other GM insect-resistant crops.

GM insect resistant crops are designed to kill specific pests, by exuding a toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt).

Read more: Busting the Myths About GM Foods | Opinion | Epoch Times

See also: Push for GMO Labeling on Food

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