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GE NEWS ARCHIVE
Mothers for Natural Law
Claims and Facts
The marketing of genetic engineering inspires visions of perfect health, long
life, and miracle foods. The reality is that these claims are often completely unsubstantiated
and sometimes simply wrong.
Claim: Genetic engineering is necessary to feed the world.
Fact: Hunger in the world is caused by poverty, by the simple inability to buy food, not by lack of supply.
Claim: Genetic engineering will help developing countries.
Fact: Biotech companies patent their seeds. To protect their investment, the farmers that use the seed sign a contract which prohibits saving, reselling, or exchanging seed. The family farms of the poorer nations depend on saved seed for survival. Biotech companies also patent other people's seeds, like basmati rice, neem, and quinoa, taking advantage of indigenous knowledge and centuries of selective breeding by small farmers without giving anything in return. The same companies, backed by the U.S. government, proposed to protect their seed patents through the terminator technology. A terminator seed will grow, but the seeds it produces are sterile. Any nation that buys such seeds will swiftly lose any vestige of agricultural self-sufficiency. Furthermore, genetically engineered seeds are designed for agribusiness farming, not for the capabilities of the small family farms of the developing nations. How are they to buy and distribute the required chemical inputs?
Claim: Genetic engineering will reduce the use of herbicides.
Fact: Genetic engineering develops crops with resistance to specific herbicides. For example, Roundup Ready(tm) crops survive spraying with RoundUp(tm). On the one hand, this allows the farmer to use more herbicide. On the other hand, this leads to herbicide-resistant weeds.
Claim: Genetic engineering will reduce the use of pesticides.
Fact: This claim is based on the sowing of crops genetically engineered to produce their own pesticides. Such crops produce the pesticide continuously in every cell. Some of these crops (the Bt potato, for example) are actually classified as pesticides by the EPA. The net outcome of sowing pesticide-producing crops is an vast increase in pesticides.
Claim: Genetic engineering is environmentally friendly.
Fact: The increased quantities of herbicides and pesticides noted above is one strike against this claim. Pollen from genetically engineered crops can be transferred to cultivated and wild relatives over a mile away. This threatens the future of organic crops. It can pass herbicide resistance genes from GE crops to weedy relatives, necessitating the development of more herbicides. Also, the huge areas of genetically identical crops will influence the evolution of local pests and wildlife, and through the food chain, the whole ecology.
Claim: Genetically engineered foods are just like natural foods.
Fact: There is no natural mechanism for getting insect DNA into potatoes or flounder DNA into tomatoes. Genetically engineered foods are engineered to be different from natural foods. Why else all the patents? This claim is empty sales talk.
Claim: Genetic engineering is simply an extension of traditional crossbreeding.
Fact: Crossbreeding cannot transfer genes across species barriers. Genetic engineering transfers genes between species that could never be crossbred. Also, crossbreeding lets nature manage the delicate activity of combining the DNA of the parents to form the DNA of the child. Genetic engineering shoots the new gene into the host organism without reference to any holistic principle at all.
Claim: Genetic engineering is safe.
Fact: Safety comes from accumulated experience. In the case of genetic engineering, there has not been the time or the public debate essential for accumulating sufficient experience to justify any broad claim to safety.
There is a vast domain of ignorance at the root of the technology:
There is no consensus among scientists on the safety or on the risks associated with genetic engineering in agriculture. The international community is deeply divided on the issue. The claim to safety is a marketing slogan. It has no scientific basis.
- The technique for inserting a DNA fragment is sloppy, unpredictable and imprecise.
- The effect of the insertion on the biochemistry of the host organism is unknown.
- The effect of the genetically engineered organism on the environment is unknown.
- The effect of eating genetically engineered foods is unknown.
- There is no basis for meaningful risk assessment.
- There is no recovery plan in case of disaster.
- It is not even clear who, if anyone, will be legally liable for negative consequences.
The claims for genetic engineering are overblown and misleading. And the polls show that people are suspicious.