The 21st century diet may send us all back into the stoneage.
Mar. 28, 2005
The issues that revolve around the subject of genetically altered crops are very turbulent. Is it the answer to world hunger, or a global catastrophe in the making? The primary question to be asked pertains to safety. Is it safe? The widespread sale and use of these food products by the United States would seem to indicate that they pose no threat. But what to the studies say? The potential problems that could arise from the production and widespread use of these crops could be a danger to our health, economy, and the environment. While the entire world could be affected in all of these ways, the general population is being kept in the dark about what they are eating and what problems could arise as a result of these mutated crops.
According to a New York Times article reported by Bloomberg News entitled "U.S. to Buy Back Contaminated Corn", corn seed that was sold on the market as food was mixed with other seed that has been banned as a product for human consumption due to fear of allergic reaction (Biopesticides "Star Link Corn" par. 3). It should be noted that the same banned food product was authorized by the EPA for consumption by livestock (par. 3), which seems to create something of a contradiction, since the purpose of livestock is generally assumed to be to provide food and other products for human consumption. Apparently, the government was able to detect and remedy the situation in time to keep most or all of the tainted crop from entering into the general marketplace with a twenty-million dollar recall (Bloomberg),. At first thought, this would give us all confidence in the safety precautions in place to prevent us from consuming potentially harmful genetically altered foods. But does South America have the same precautions? Do the starving countries in Africa or the Middle East have this most effective screening process in place? These countries have neither the finance nor technology to detect and correct this sort of problem. Even in America, such precaution cannot be considered foolproof.
In the same report from the EPA noted above, several very noteworthy statements are made regarding the potentiality of adverse effects on human health as a result of these mutated foods. The document clearly states that "the behaviour of GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] may not be entirely predictable" ("Genetic Engineering" par. 9). It also states that part of the process involves adding "donor genes" that "turn on" the desired trait. That's how desired changes are brought about in GEOs. The problem is that it is not known what other genes may be turned on by this process. The report even mentions the possibility of the activation of disease causing genes (par. 7-9).
According to the EPA's report on biopesticides, there are several potential health risks in the production and consumption of these food products. It states that these plants could produce residues that would cause environmental or health problems, have unexpected biochemical properties, be poisonous, cause allergic reaction and disease in humans, or even be used as weapons. That's a long list of potential risk. Definitive resolution for these issues have at no point in my research presented themselves. It can only be surmised that we are risking the health of ourselves, our loved ones, and those around the world by continuing to produce, sell, and consume these "Frankenstein" foods (EPA).
Personal health is not the only issue in this controversy. The United States is the world's leader in genetically-altered crop export (Sarno par.9). With this ever-growing economic dependence on these crops, the United States has a decidedly biased and vested interest in promoting a positive view of crop mutation. While other countries are trying to define and resolve these controversial issues, the United States has continued to relentlessly use and export these crops. So far, there have not been any economy-debilitating ramifications from this practice, costing a "mere" tens-of-millions of dollars per mistake (Bloomberg par.2). The EPA's report lists all kinds of potential health and environmental risks. These risks are shared equally by all countries that use genetically mutated crops. Environmental damage costs money for reparation. Widespread health problems are also very expensive. Since the United States sells more genetically-altered crop than any other country, The U.S. will be held financially responsible by the rest of the world for any damage incurred should any of these problems arise. After all, it is the United States saying that these products are safe while the rest of the world is still investigating the claim (Acosta par. 24).
Of even greater importance are the effects that can harm our planet. The Environmental Protection Agency says that these crops could potentially alter the ecosystem in ways that we are currently unable to predict. The potential adverse biochemical properties could react with other species, which could have any one of many harmful effects on the ecosystem. these mutated plants could act like "exotic species" (Genetic Engineering, par. 9). An exotic species is one that enters from a foreign environment. These types of "eco-intruders" often run rampant through an ecosystem, destroying and replacing existing native species. The problem that North America now faces with the introduction of the South American "fire ant" is a clear example of an exotic species in action. The environment has no defense against it, and it displaces native species in ever-larger numbers every year. Could this happen with genetically mutated crops? The United States government apparently doesn't think so. But the United States is not the only country in the world.
According to an article in Americas by Anne Acosta, entitled "Transgenic Foods: Promise or Peril?", the world's leading scientific research group for GEOs is to be found not in the United States, but in Mexico. The CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) have been studying the issue of crop mutation. Their conclusions are hardly as optimistic as those of the economically biased United States. The CIMMYT says that "absolute certainty" is required before genetically altered corn can be safely released into the environment, due to the ease of pollination of these crops in open fields (Acosta par. 24). The United States, while admitting that there are potential risks and possible unknown outcomes, does not share in the opinion that certainty is required in this area, as evidenced by the current wide-spread use of genetically-altered crops (Sarno par. 9). Why should we be certain as to whether or not these crops will cross-pollinate and create inedible or even poisonous offspring ("Biopesticides" par.9)? Why do we have all the controversy over whether or not they are safe? America has the money. I suppose the government figures it can afford the risk.
There is one other item on the EPA's list of risks that is particularly disconcerting. It says that there is a potential weapons application for these genetically altered organisms ("Biopesticides" par. 9). The report does not state any specific weapons application, but the first thing that entered my mind was a process of extraction and distillation of the toxic bio-chemicals mentioned previously as a potential risk. These could be a new generation of biological weapons. But maybe the implication is not so obvious. What if a government or other organization purposely engineered a crop that would interbreed with existing native plants and create nothing but unusable or even poisonous offspring? They could theoretically be bred to take over an entire ecosystem, rendering the targeted country unable to feed itself. A rich and powerful country like America might be able to detect and nullify this sort of attack before it became catastrophic, but what about the Third World? Once the theoretically attacked country has lost all ts ecosystem, it will be the United States of America that ends up with the bill, regardless of the actual origin of the attack.
The potential advantages to "custom-made" crops for the purpose of feeding both our people and our economy are extensive. It seems that perhaps these potential advantages have clouded the judgement of institutions within the government. While other countries continue to investigate the problems and unknown aspects of this new science, the United States has disregarded warnings from around the world and within its own government. Americans generally tend to disregard the rest of the world when it contradicts their conclusions and beliefs. We act as if we are the only ones that know anything, and the only ones that can learn, discover, or create anything really important. Can we afford this sort of blind "blanket judging" mentality when dealing with such a delicate and potentially dangerous issue? The possible effects of these mutations on our health, our economy, and even the planet upon which we reside are still largely unknown. The possible positive outcomes, including feeding starving children, deprived countries or whatever other morality-based propaganda we care to use to justify what ultimately boils down to financial gain is outweighed heavily by potential negative ramifications. By not requiring that genetically altered products be labeled as such in the marketplace or informing the citizens of the United States of the potential risks, the government of the United States has been lying to its citizens by omission of facts. The support for the sale and use of genetically engineered food at this point in time is nothing less than a crime against humanity. The motive is greed; the outcome unknown.
Acosta, Anne. "Transgenic Foods: Promise or Peril?". Americas (English Edition) 52.14 (2000). Infotrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. North Lake College. Article A73064245. 04 Nov. 2002. http://webinfotrac.galegroup.com.
"Biopesticides". Environmental Protection Agency. 05 Nov. 2002. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/tbio.html
"U.S. to Buy Back Contaminated Corn". New York Times Business/Financial Desk. 08 Mar. 2001. 14 Nov. 2002. http://query.nytimes.com/search
Sarmo, Niccolo. "Environment: No Agreement Near in Biosafety Negotiations". Environmental Bulletin. (2000). Infotrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. North Lake College. Article A59089826. 04 Nov. 2002. http://web2infotrac.galegroup.com