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Research Essay

Jeanice Banttari
 
Professor Jill Holslin / GS450
 
June 28, 2003

           Genetic Engineering - The Wrong Answer to any Problem

      In the matter of only a few years, genetically engineered crops have been

planted on millions of acres of land here in the United States and in other places

around the world. The process of genetic engineering involves the removing of

a gene from the nucleus of a cell and introducing it into that of an entirely

different species, sometimes even from an animal to a plant. The procedure is

so new that there is no possibility at the present time, of estimating the effect

especially over the long term, on the health of the people who eat the food that

has been tampered with in this way. There is also no way of telling how the

genetically modified crops will have an effect on the wildlife and on the

environment. Genetically modified foods threaten to create even greater

problems that cannot be corrected such as a detrimental impact upon wildlife,

further degradation of our environment, and less opportunities and choices for

farmers and consumers world wide.

The Process of Genetic Engineering

      Genetic engineering is a type of genetic modification, which calls for the

addition of a foreign gene(s) into the genome of an organism. The gene that is

introduced is what gives the organism its trait. This process allows scientists to

move genetic material between different organisms with the goal of changing

their characteristics. The traits from any type of living organism can be used in

this process and transferred into a plant. There are five different steps that are

used in this process. "DNA extraction is the first step in the genetic engineering

process. In order to work with DNA, scientists must extract it from the desired

organism. A sample of an organism containing the gene of interest is taken

through a series of steps to remove the DNA" (Overview of the Process of

Plant Genetic Engineering). The second step in this process is the cloning of the

gene. "During the DNA extraction, all of the DNA from the organism is

extracted at once. Scientists use gene cloning to separate a single gene of

interest...and make thousands of copies of it" (Overview of the Process of

Plant Genetic Engineering). The third step in the genetic engineering process is

the designing of the gene to work inside of another organism. "This is done in a

test tube by cutting the gene apart with enzymes and replacing the gene regions

that have been separated" (Overview of the Process of Plant Genetic

Engineering). The fourth step is the transformation process or the process of

inserting the gene. Fifth and last, is the step of backcross breeding. "Transgenic

plants are crossed with elite breeding lines using traditional plant breeding

methods to combine the desired traits of elite parents and transgene into a

single line" (Overview of the Process of Plant Genetic Engineering). This whole

process takes a considerable amount of time, which ranges anywhere from six

to fifteen or more years to complete before the new transgenic hybrid can

actually be grown in fields.

Argument for the use of Genetically Modified Foods

      The use of genetically modified foods could conceivably produce higher

yields of crops, which would essentially revolutionize food production. If a gene

was used that could withstand the cold by only a few degrees this would allow

for earlier planting and more crops. According to Norman Borlaug Ph.D and

distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A & M University:

"Stop to think what would happen to corn production if you could put a gene

into it that would withstand 3 or 4 degrees of frost. Corn is one of the most

sensitive - it and beans - to light frost. Then you could plant earlier in the spring,

when moisture is more plentiful...it will increase the yield. It will shift corn

production to earlier planting".

Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Foods

      One of the main concerns with the implementation of genetic engineering is

that it will have a significant impact on wildlife. One example of this type of

impact upon wildlife can be seen with the results of a study that was done by

researchers from Cornell University. The researchers - John E. Losey, Cornell

assistant professor of entomology, Linda S. Raynor, Cornell instructor in

entomology, and Maureen E. Carter, research aid concluded that "Monarchs

fed milkweed leaves dusted with the so-called transformed pollen from a Bt-

corn hybrid, ate less grew more slowly, and suffered a higher mortality

rate...nearly half of these larvae died, while all of the Monarch caterpillars fed

leaves dusted with nontransformed corn pollen or fed leaves without corn

pollen survived the study" (Cornell News article). This is significant to the

United States because half of all the Monarch butterflies here spend their

summers dining on milkweed in corn growing regions.

      The risks associated with genetically engineered organisms being

introduced into the environment can be compared in a way to the risks that

have been encountered by introducing exotic organisms into the North

American habitat area. Over the past several hundred years, thousands of non

native organisms have been brought here to the United States from other parts

of the world. While many of these creatures have adapted to the ecosystems

here in the United States without severe dislocations, there is still a small

percentage of them that have ended up running wild. The Mediterranean fruit

flies are only one example of many of the consequences of this. Cows that have

been injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone - also known as rBGH

- have shorter lives as well as an increased incidence of disease and pus in their

milk:

"Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is like "crack" for cows. Bi- weekly shots "rev" up their system and forces them to produce more milk for perhaps a few years, and then their milk production declines dramatically. rBGH also makes them sick. Their udders swell and develop painful, bloody lesions - an infection known as "mastitis", which is treated by giving cows huge doses of antibiotics. The cows suffer through shortened lifespans and increased birth defects, rates of metabolic disease, infertility, and stress" (Michael Cohen,Got Pus?: Bovine Growth Hormone, Genetic Engineering, & the New World Order).

      Another main concern is for the environment and the ways that genetic

engineering will contribute to the further degradation of our earth. One of the

ways that genetic engineering will further deteriorate our environment can be

seen with the use, and implementation of genetically modified tree trials.

Currently, these genetically modified trees are increasing rapidly around the

world without any type of control or adequate research in place. "The trials

pose a serious risk to the global environment...commercial production of GM

trees is likely to happen in Latin America and Asia - despite inadequate

research into their environmental impacts" (GM Trees Threaten the Global

Environment). Many of these tree crops are located in remote areas and near

the locations of natural forests which makes them even more difficult to

monitor.

      Pine pollution is an excellent example of the real threat of genetic pollution.

This type of pollen can travel as far as six hundred kilometers. The greatest fear

with the pine pollen is that the sterility trait that has been made as a result of

genetic engineering can spread via the pollen to the neighboring crops or wild

relatives that are growing nearby - rendering them sterile as well. "Trees

engineered for sterility would support far less biodiversity" (GM Trees Threaten

the Global Environment). The natural process of cross pollination would wind

up carrying genetically engineered organisms into the neighboring fields and

beyond, creating new, unknown and potentially harmful species. Given that the

technology is new and untested on a large scale, biosafety issues remain an

important concern. On an equally serious note, unlike chemical or nuclear

contamination, gene pollution cannot be contained or cleaned up at all.

Therefore if and when gene pollution becomes a problem - there is no way to

correct it. "Once the GM genie is out of the bottle there is no going back"

warns Frances Sullivan WWF's Director of Programs. "This technology must

only be used if we are confident that it will not have a negative impact on

forests and the wildlife and people they support" (GM Trees Threaten the

Global Environment).

      Other risks that are associated with genetically modified trees are the

potential for release of other instable genes, such as those which could pose

such threats upon the whole forest ecosystem as well with the creation of

"super-weeds". Pest resistance along with herbicide intolerance could quite

probably have unintended impacts upon other non-intended species.

"Herbicide tolerant tree species could eventually pose a threat to other forms of

land use and thus people's livelihoods. If the seed of non-sterile, herbicide-

tolerant trees is easily dispersed, the control of woody invasives in some

tropical pastureland could become a serious problem" (GM Technology in the

Forest Sector).

GM Foods - Extra Costs and Concern for Farmers

      Farmers are concerned that genetically modified seeds will make them

dependent upon big firms that are now rushing to patent this new technology.

"Monsanto, one of the biggest players in the field, is currently suing dozens of

North American farmers whom it claims have raised its patented GM crops

without paying for the privilege"(Harvest of Fear). Farmers are also having to

bear the burden of extra costs because of concerns from consumers regarding

the genetically engineered foods. "Farmers in Mexico, Brazil, and France are

facing extra costs to satisfy the demand for non-genetically engineered food.

Demand for clean certification has created new testing, labeling, and transport

costs for farmers to guarantee no genetic contamination of their crop" (Farmers

Say No to Genetic Engineering). This could have a significant impact on the

livelihood of the farmers. "Increasingly, farmers around the world are viewing

genetic engineering as a threat to their livelihood" (Farmers Say No to Genetic

Engineering). In addition to worrying about the extra costs, one farmer along

with many others in Mexico is also worried about the genetic contamination of

the traditional varieties of corn crop that they have. Porfirio Encino a farmer in

Mexico says: "There are about 5,000 traditional varieties of maize in Mexico

and we could lose them all" (Farmers Say No to Genetic Engineering).

Allergic Reactions to Genetically Modified Foods

      Millions of Americans and others around the world who are sensitive to

allergens will have no way of identifying or protecting themselves from

offending foods that have been genetically modified. Allergic reactions can

cause more than simple discomfort - they can result in life-threatening

anaphylactic shock. While consumers rely on physical characteristics such as

color and firmness of fruits and vegetables to indicate freshness, nutritional

quality, as well as flavor, a luscious looking bright red tomato from your local

grocery store could actually be several weeks old with little nutritional value

and one would never be able to tell. We won't know, because the DNA of the

tomato will have been restructured and altered for the purpose of giving the

consumer a misleading and counterfeit appearance of freshness. According to

Dr. Geoffrey Clements: "DNA is difficult to destroy; it survives boiling, and

ingested DNA can survive the digestive process. From there it can pass into

the bloodstream and into other cells. Possibilities include genetic disturbances,

including cancer". (Genetic Engineering: Technology or Cookery?).

      L-trytophan is an example of the unfortunate reality of the real danger of

allergic reactions and that they can indeed have harmful - even fatal - effects on

us. L-tryptophan is a dietary supplement that was made using a genetically

engineered bacteria. L-trytophan was marketed for sale here in the United

States in 1989 by a Japanese Company by the name of Showa Denko, KK.

Within a few months of being sold, the genetically engineered supplement

caused the deaths of 37 people and the permanent disability of 1,500 others.

"Although there is no conclusive proof that EMS (epidemic of an unusual malady) resulted from genetic engineering, the link has not been ruled out; and many experts think it likely that whatever toxins caused the disease were unexpected side effects of the gene-splicing procedure. It is well recognized this procedure can alter cellular activity and generate novel toxins...the main reason a definitive answer has not been reached is that the relevant evidence in Showa Denko's laboratory was destroyed before it could be examined" (Steven M. Druker J.D.).

The Problem with Labeling Genetically Modified Foods

      Unfortunately, a significant number of genetically modified and engineered

foods are already on the market. For the most part, they are not labeled as

such and consequently, millions of people here in the United States are

consuming these products without them knowing that they have been

genetically engineered or modified. Genetically altered and modified foods

already on the market in the United States include corn, soybeans, potatoes,

squash, tomatoes, chicory, and papaya, as well as milk and other dairy

products from cows treated with a genetically engineered growth hormone

(rBST).

"By 1999, approximately 30% of the United States corn crop had been genetically engineered. More than 50% of the soy crop had been modified, and 60-70% of all processed foods contain soy. A total of more than 30,000 grocery products have been genetically modified themselves or contain genetically-engineered components" (American Association for Health Freedom).

      The FDA's own scientists have proven themselves to be unsure of the

effects of genetic engineering of foods. Dr. Louis Priybl of the FDA

Microbiology Group wrote, "There is a profound difference between the types

of unexpected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering" (FDA

Taken to Court by Own Scientists). Because of the uncertainties with regard to

the safety of genetically engineered foods, a landmark lawsuit has been filed

against the US Food and Drug Administration by nine different people including

biologists, advisors, and some of the FDA's own scientists in order to obtain

mandatory testing and labeling of genetically modified foods. "They have been

joined by a whole host of consumer groups, religious organizations, and

concerned scientists. They claim that every genetically engineered food in the

U.S. is on the market illegally and should be recalled for rigorous safety

testing" (FDA Taken to Court by Own Scientists).

Sustainable Agriculture - A Better Solution

      While it is evident that genetic engineering and modification is on the rise, I

argue that this is not the answer to any problem such as the one that pertains to

the uncertain supply of food. It is aparent that food production does need to

increase. However, we already produce enough food to feed everyone - the

real problem of hunger is that the poor cannot afford to buy food and poor

farmers cannot afford expensive modern technologies that could increase their

yields.

"More than enough food is already being produced to provide everyone in the world with a nutritious and adequate diet - according to the United Nations' World Food Programme, one-and-a-half times the amount required. Yet at least one-seventh of the world's people - some 800 million people - go hungry. About one-quarter of these are children. They starve because they do not have access to land on which to grow food, or do not have the money to buy food, or do not live in a country with a state welfare system" (Genetic Resources Action International).

      Sustainable agriculture does not deplete natural resources and does not use

harmful, artificial substances that cumulate in the environment. Rather, it uses

knowledge of the interactions between crops, pests, and pest predators to

avoid the need for costly technological fixes such as fertilizer and pesticides.

Because of these reasons, it is the only sensible form of agriculture for the long

run.

"Analysis of 208 projects in 52 countries covered some 9 million farms on 29 million hectares that have adopted sustainable agriculture practices. A common feature was reduced soil erosion and improved water management through the use of cover crops, inter-cropping, reduced tillage, and development of mulch-based systems. Many projects revealed important interactions...The projects fulfilled many of the criteria of sustainability and did so with production increases often between 50% and four-fold. If such successes in developing local production and consumption while improving rural social structures could be extended, then such projects would have a significant impact on world hunger and poverty" (Recognizing and Realizing the Potential of Organic Agriculture).

      What the people need is readily available food and an inexpensive means

to improve their farms. The solution to these problems is sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture is a method of farming that utilizes the best use of 

nature's goods and services without damaging the environment. This is done by

using natural processes such as nutrient recycling, nitrogen fixation, soil

regeneration, and pest predators in the food production process. By doing this,

the use of pesticides and fertilizers is reduced which reduces the damage to the

environment as well as the danger of health threats to consumers. Also, it

makes better use of the knowledge and skills of farmers, which will allow them

to improve their self-reliance and capacities.

Conclusion

      It is very clear that Genetic engineering may lead us straight down a

dangerous road. Especially since there is a lack of testing and research. Genetic

engineering and modification likely will cause many adverse reactions such as a

detrimental impact on wildlife, further degradation of our environment, and less

opportunities and choices for consumers as well as farmers. It is clearly not the

answer to any problem - only a mistaken solution that would lead to more

problems. The big question is, given that the potential for ecological damage is

known from the outset, will the business owners of genetic engineering

companies be held accountable for the harm caused by their products? It is

unconscionable to allow these businesses of genetically engineered crops to

continue to develop, release, and profit from a technology that has not even

been able to be adequately tested and researched as to the impact it will have

on the environment and the health of wildlife as well as people themselves. This

issue of genetic engineering is just one big experiment that we are all being

made a part of whether we like it or not.

Works Cited

Borlaug, Norman. "Viewpoints - What are the Benefits?" 2001. 8 May 2003.

      <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/viewpoints/benefits.html>

Clements, Geoffrey Dr. "Genetic Engineering: Technology or Cookery?". 7

       June2003.<http://www.naturallawparty.net/key_issues/genetic_engineering.htm>.

Cohen, Michael."Got Pus? Bovine Growth Hormone, Genetic Engineering &

      The New World Order". August 2001. 6 May 2003.

     <http://www.garynull.com/Documents/GE/GotPus1.htm>.

Druker, Steven J.D. "How the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Approved

      Genetically Engineered Foods Despite the Deaths One Had Caused And

      The Warnings Of Its Own Scientists About Their Unique Risks".

      Alliance for BioIntegrity Site. 9 June 2003. <http://www.bio-

      integrity.org/ext-summary.html>.

"FDA Taken to Court by Own Scientists". 11 June 2003.

      <http://eagle.westnet.gr/~cgian/fdacourt.htm>.

"Farmers Say No to Genetic Engineering". Third World Network. 7 May

      2003.http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/farmer.htm.

"Food and Environment - Risks of Genetic Engineering". Union of 

      ConcernedScientists. 30 Oct. 2002. 5 May 2003.

      <http://www.ucsusa.org/foodandenvironment/biotechnology/page.cfm?

      pageID=246>.

"Genetic Engineering and World Hunger". Greenpeace Website.9 June

      2003.http://archive.greenpeace.org/~geneng/reports/gmo/intrgmo6.htm.

"Genetically Engineered Food". American Association for Health Freedom.5

      May 2003. http://www.apma.net/resourcesposgenetic.htm.

Genetic Resources Action International. "Seedling". March 1999. May 10

      2003. http://www.grain.org/publications/mar993-en.cfm.

"GM Trees Threaten the Global Environment". World Wildlife Foundation.9

     Nov. 1999. 6 May 2003. http://www.wwfuk.org/news/n_0000000172.asp

"Harvest of Fear". PBS. April 2001. 5 May 2003.

      <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/exist>.

"Overview of the Process of Plant Genetic Engineering". Agbiosafety and

      Education Center, University of Nebraska. 2001. 7 June 2003.

      <http://agbiosafety.unl.edu/education/summary.htm>.

Owusu, Rachel Asante. GM Technology in the Forest Sector - A scoping

      study for WWF. November 1999. May 10,

      2003. <http://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/gm.pdf>.

Rifkin, Jeremy."The Biotech Century - Playing Russing Roulette with

      MotherNature's Designs". June 1998. 6 May 2003.

      <http://www.emagazine.com/may-june_1998/0598feat2.html>.

Wolfe, Martin Prof."Recognising and Realising the Potential of Organic

      Agriculture".19 April 2001. 10 June 2003. <http://www.biotech-

      info.net/organic_potential.html>.



Jeanice Banttari, Global Studies Program, National University, La Jolla, Ca.