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What are the Dangers?
Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept
- Imprecise TechnologyA genetic engineer moves genes from one organism to another. A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the insertion into the DNA of the target organism is basically random. As a consequence, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes essential to the life of that organism. (Bergelson 1998)
- Side EffectsGenetic engineering is like performing heart surgery with a shovel. Scientists do not yet understand living systems completely enough to perform DNA surgery without creating mutations which could be harmful to the environment and our health. They are experimenting with very delicate, yet powerful forces of nature, without full knowledge of the repercussions. (Washington Times 1997, The Village Voice 1998)
- Widespread Crop FailureGenetic engineers intend to profit by patenting genetically engineered seeds. This means that, when a farmer plants genetically engineered seeds, all the seeds have identical genetic structure. As a result, if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop, there could be widespread crop failure. (Robinson 1996)
- Threatens Our Entire Food SupplyInsects, birds, and wind can carry genetically altered seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Pollen from transgenic plants can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollinatation. (Emberlin et al 1999)
- No Long-Term Safety TestingGenetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never been part of the human food supply to change the fundamental nature of the food we eat. Without long-term testing no one knows if these foods are safe.
- ToxinsGenetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins in foods. (Inose 1995, Mayeno 1994)
- Allergic ReactionsGenetic engineering can also produce unforeseen and unknown allergens in foods. (Nordlee 1996)
- Decreased Nutritional ValueTransgenic foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness. A luscious-looking, bright red genetically engineered tomato could be several weeks old and of little nutritional worth.
- Antibiotic Resistant BacteriaGenetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to mark genetically engineered cells. This means that genetically engineered crops contain genes which confer resistance to antibiotics. These genes may be picked up by bacteria which may infect us. (New Scientist 1999)
- Problems Cannot Be TracedWithout labels, our public health agencies are powerless to trace problems of any kind back to their source. The potential for tragedy is staggering.
- Side Effects can Kill37 people died, 1500 were partially paralyzed, and 5000 more were temporarily disabled by a syndrome that was finally linked to tryptophan made by genetically-engineered bacteria. (Mayeno 1994)
- Increased use of HerbicidesScientists estimate that plants genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant will greatly increase the amount of herbicide use. (Benbrook 1999) Farmers, knowing that their crops can tolerate the herbicides, will use them more liberally.
- More PesticidesGE crops often manufacture their own pesticides and may be classified as pesticides by the EPA. This strategy will put more pesticides into our food and fields than ever before.
- Ecology may be damagedThe influence of a genetically engineered organism on the food chain may damage the local ecology. The new organism may compete successfully with wild relatives, causing unforeseen changes in the environment. (Metz 1997)
- Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned UpOnce genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them. Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, negative effects are irreversible.
DNA is actually not well understood. 97% of human DNA is called ≥junk≤ because scientists do not know its function. The workings of a single cell are so complex, no one knows the whole of it. (San Diego Union-Tribune 2000) Yet the biotech companies have already planted millions of acres with genetically engineered crops, and they intend to engineer every crop in the world.
The concerns above arise from an appreciation of the fundamental role DNA plays in life, the gaps in our understanding of it, and the vast scale of application of the little we do know. Even the scientists in the Food and Drug administration have expressed concerns. (Alliance for Biointegrity)