Livestock is not the only food source that has been compromised. Today, genetically engineered foods are becoming more and more common. You have already consumed genetically altered food if you shop at a supermarket because many foods are genetically engineered and not labeled as such . Bioengineering may have some intriguing applications in the medical field, but in the food area, there are a number of issues that need to be given greater concern.
Genetic engineering (GE) is a technology that allows the mixing of genes of non-related species; for example, inserting genes from a fish into a raspberry. The genetic information from the fish is first attached to the genes of a virus or bacteria which is then inserted into the raspberry. The virus or bacteria will insert the fish genes into the genes of the raspberry permanently altering its genetic code. These genetic changes can then pass to the offspring of the permanently altered raspberry (or, perhaps, better called "fishberry").
Genetic engineers at are now actively snipping, inserting, recombining, rearranging, editing, and programming genetic material. Animal genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into the chromosomes of plants, fish and animals creating new transgenic life forms. Why? The "new and improved" foods can be patented and sold for profit. Major corporations, such as Monsanto, are using this approach to monopolize agriculture. If we go to a supermarket all tomatoes look the same and in so doing we are rapidly losing varieties of heirloom vegetables. In the past, farmers would save seeds from the crops they grew to plant next year. By only selling a tomato with a thicker skin that can survive the jostling that occurs in transporting food, we are losing the vital nutrients that are found in the varieties that are disappearing. Companies like Monsanto, and the economic success of Industrial farming has led to the disappearance of smaller local agricultural farms that previously preserved the diversity of food that we need to be healthy.
The hazards of GE foods and crops fall basically into three categories: human health hazards; environmental hazards; and socioeconomic hazards. Already, we are seeing real threats in these areas. Up to 500,000 dairy cows are being injected regularly with Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) or Bovine Somatotrophin (BST). The FDA approved this GE hormone in 1994 despite findings that cows injected with rBGH have increased utter infections and produce milk with higher antibiotic residues. Another warning that went unheeded was the potential cancer hazard from rBGH and BST due to the increased levels of IGF-1. Subsequent to this revelation in 1999, Canada banned the use of rBGH. however depending on the source it apprears that rBGH continues to be injected into about 17% of US dairy cows even though no other industrialized country has legalized its use.
In 1999, at Cornell University researchers made a startling discovery. They found pollen from genetically engineered corn (corn that was genetically engineered with a pesticide called Bt inside of it) was poisonous to Monarch Butterflies. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that GE crops are adversely affecting a number of beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and bees, as well as beneficial soil microorganisms, and possibly birds.
GE crops may have lower nutritional value. A study by Dr. Marc Lappe published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 1999 found that concentrations of beneficial phytoestrogens, compounds thought to protect against heart disease and cancer, were lower in GE soybeans than in conventional soybeans. According to researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the United Kingdom's Soil Association (the largest organic farming organization in the UK), organic produce has higher levels of nutrients compared to conventional produce. In addition, the organic produce has many more metabolites, chemicals that seem to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease in humans. The metabolites are also beneficial to the plants themselves by helping to immunize them from external attack by insects, fungus, etc... While not entirely the fault of GE technology, an analysis by the British Food Journal concluded that 20 conventional vegetables between 1930-1980 showed a calcium content dropped of 19%, iron 22% and potassium 14%.
There is some good news to report. According to 1999 information, the European consumers and farmers are slowly but surely driving GE foods off the market as major food processors, supermarkets and fast food chains ban GE soy or soy derivatives in animal feeds.. US corn exports to Europe have fallen from 360 million dollars per year to near zero, while soybean exports have fallen from 2.6 billion dollars per year to 1 billion dollars and are expected to continue falling. In addition, Canada's export of GE canola oil have fallen from 500 million dollars per year to almost zero. Brazilian exporters report doing a brisk business selling GE free soybeans to European buyers. On May 18, 2000 the Tokyo Grain Exchange soy futures market for the first time offered wholesale traders a choice between non-GE soybeans and GE soybeans. On the first day of trading non-GE buyers committed to 914,000 tons compared to 364,000 tons for GE soy futures.
According to The New York Times, US farmers have sustained a serious financial blow because they adopted genetically engineered crops so rapidly. In 1996, the US sold $3 billion of corn and soybeans to Europe. In 1999, those exports had shrunk to $1 billion - a $2 billion decline and loss to the farmers.
With more countries becoming concerned about the dangers of GE foods, the US is becoming increasingly isolated in its policy of no labeling and no safety testing. Since July 1999, major corporations such as Gerber, Heinz, Mead- Johnson (infant formula), Iams (pet food), Frito Lay, Wild Oats and Whole Foods (two national, natural foods retailer) have agreed to go GE free! Monsanto has also agreed to stop producing the Bt potato. American and Canadian farmers are reducing their reliance of GE crops. In 2000, American farmers will produce 25% less GE corn, 13% less GE cotton and 9% less GE soy. Yet, sadly, only 15% of consumers are aware that the majority of supermarket foods already contain GE ingredients. Hopefully, with greater awareness, the day will come when there are labels and warnings on food packages so we can make informed choices. I think this is needed to put the final nail in the coffin of GE foods.
The demand for organic foods is rapidly growing and is now a six billion dollar a year industry. The advantages of organic farming are enormous. However, the increase in GE foods by the biotech food industry may threaten the purity of organic foods. I suggest the following website for more information: www.purefood.org and www.purefood.org/Organic/foodByt8.htm.