In the February issue of Harper?s Magazine, Dr. Barry Commoner writes about a study that reveals a critical, long-overlooked flaw in the science behind the multi-billion dollar genetic food industry, raising serious questions about the safety of GM foods.
The GM food industry, which now accounts for 25-50% of the U.S. corn and soybean crop, relies on the 40-year-old theory that DNA genes are in total control of inheritance in all forms of life. According to this theory, the outcome of transferring a gene from one organism to another is always ?specific, precise and predictable? and therefore safe.
Commoner describes a series of scientific reports that directly contradict this established theory. For example, last year the $3 billion Human Genome Project found that there are too few human genes to account for the vast number of inherited differences between people and lower animals or plants, indicating that agents other than DNA must contribute to genetic complexity.
The old theory says there is a one-to-one correspondence between a gene?s chemical composition and the structure of the particular protein that produces an inherited trait. But Dr. Commoner says that under the influence of specialized proteins that carry out ?alternative splicing,? a single gene can give rise to a variety of different proteins, resulting in more than a single inherited trait per gene. As a result, the gene?s effect on inheritance cannot be predicted simply from its chemical composition. This means you can?t necessarily add fish genes to tomatoes and produce longer-lasting tomatoes.
Scientists now assume that the genes they insert into plants?whether they are from animals or other plants?always produce only the desired effect with no other impact on the plant?s genetics. However, recent studies show that the plant?s own genes can be disrupted, with unpredictable outcomes.
?Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable,? says Commoner. ?The results could be catastrophic??especially if GM foods drive out natural, native varieties. We may eventually discover that the GM version of some essential food is fatally flawed, and no longer be able to return to the original.
Commoner warns that ?experimental data, shorn of dogmatic theories, point to the irreducible complexity of the living cell, which suggests that any artificially altered genetic system must sooner or later give rise to unintended, potentially disastrous consequences? and says the old genetic theory is ?too good to be true.?
?Dr. Commoner’s work challenges the legitimacy of the agricultural biotechnology industry,? says Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center on Food Safety. ?For years, multibillion dollar biotech companies have been selling the American people and our government on the safety of their products. We now see their claims of safety are based on faulty assumptions that don?t hold up to rigorous scientific review.?
Meanwhile, the war in Brazil against GM foods continues. The government burned 21 tons of illegal genetically modified soy as part of the Brazilian battle over GM foods. Brazil is one of the world?s largest agricultural producers to have banned the planting of genetically modified seed. Another batch of genetically modified soy was burned last October. The discovery of the GM soy has led to the arrest of at least 15 farmers in two southern states.
?I have recommended to the court that the charges against eight farmers in Rio Grande do Sul be suspended. All have agreed to turned over their GM seeds and cooperate,? says public prosecutor Paulo Mazzotti Girelli. He says officials will test the farmers? crops after harvest to determine if they also should be confiscated.
Brazil’s Seed Producers Association (Abrasem) says that more than half of the soy crop in Rio Grande do Sul, the country?s 3rd largest soy growing area, may be illegal Monsanto GM Roundup Ready beans smuggled across the border from Argentina. In the state?s municipality of Julio de Castilhos, Girelli has charged seven farmers for possession of more than 55 tons of contraband genetically modified soy. Most of these are large farms.
The government recently stepped up operations against the biotech black market by sending agents into the soy-rich southern states to test for illicit soy, but it also has suggested legalizing genetically modified crops.
The congressional Committee on Genetically Modified Foods was about to vote on a bill that would permit genetically modified foods and crops in Brazil when angry protests in the assembly led to a shoving match among committee members that delayed the vote.
To learn more about GM Foods, read ?Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston,click here.
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