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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fact Sheet: Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering

Why is corn pollen suspected of killing Monarch butterflies? Why are Mexican corn farmers afraid of the wind? Why do many countries refuse to buy American crops?

Since the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) products (also commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms or transgenic) to the market in the mid ‘90s, genetic engineering has sparked a global controversy. Environmental hazards, food and crop contamination, declining market prices, and political battles are all side effects of the genetic tampering with your food.

Genetic Engineering: Science in the Wild

  • Genetic engineering is the manipulation of specific genes that are moved from one species to another to create a trait that didn’t previously exist. For example, fish genes have been transferred to tomatoes and bacteria genes have been transferred to corn.
  • Common crops, such as corn, have been engineered to contain pesticides in every cell of the plant. As a result, these crops are not registered as food - they are actually considered pesticides.
  • Companies in the United States are predominantly focused on developing herbicide-tolerant crops, which means that herbicides can be sprayed directly on the crop without damaging the plant itself. By 2005, herbicide-tolerant soybeans accounted for 87 percent of total U.S. soybean acreage, while herbicide-tolerant cotton accounted for about 60 percent of cotton planted.
  • Nearly 60% of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Genetic Engineering: Threatening Farmers Worldwide

  • Farmers buy GE crops based on promises of lower costs and higher yields, but they often find additional costs in veterinary bills, medications, unstable markets and extra pesticides. In short, farmers often encounter higher costs and lower yields with GE crops.
  • Biotech companies have yet to introduce a GE crop that increases yield, enhances nutrient content, resists disease or tolerates salt or drought.
  • Farmers that buy GE seeds enter into a contract that dictates how and when the crop can be grown and forbids the farmer to save seed - contrary to traditional practices.
  • Many farmers have been sued by GE seed companies for allegedly saving seeds, while neighboring farmers whose crops have been contaminated by GE pollen drift have been sued for unknowingly "possessing" GE seeds.
  • The prevalent usage of GE crops increasingly threatens the biodiversity in our seed supply, making our crops more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and pest infestations.
  • With the continued planting of GE crops, whatever safeguards we have left to protect consumer right to purchase non-GE products and farmers’ right to access, grow and save non-GE seed are seriously compromised.

Genetic Engineering: A Public Health Hazard

  • While the Food and Drug Administration claims GE products on the market are totally safe, there has been no thorough analysis of their long-term implications.
  • Due to the extremely unpredictable nature of genetic experimentation, new food toxins, allergens or diseases can and have resulted from genetic engineering.
  • Health risks also include increased antibiotic resistance stemming from the use of antibiotic markers in the development of GE seed.
  • Weak regulations and corporate oversight have allowed experimental crops to contaminate the general food supply. For example, in 2002, corn that had been genetically engineered to use as a vaccine for diarrhea in pigs, contaminated 500 bushels of soybeans that were intended for the general food supply.
  • The biotech industry has undue influence over government regulatory institutions. A Monsanto executive drafted a proposed legislation for the legalization of one of its products, rBGH, a genetically engineered growth hormone used to boost milk production in dairy herds. She was then hired by the FDA to inform public policy on the very same topic.

The government may have already cast its vote for genetic engineering in agriculture, but it remains a controversy in the minds of consumers and many family farmers. In 2001, Farm Aid helped create the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, an organization still hard at work today informing family farmers and consumers who care about the environment about the legal, financial and health implications of genetic engineering in agriculture. Cast your vote: buy family farmed and organic to get GE-free food.

Source: Farm Aid

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