ABCs of genetic engineering, #3.
Genetically-engineered (GE) food or genetically modified organisms which include foods (GMO), also known as Frankenfoods: the promises and realities.
Promises and Realities of GE "Frankenfoods." Genetic Engineering A Series
Rob McLean "We are living today in a very delicate time, one that is reminiscent of the birth of the nuclear era, when mankind stood at the threshold of a new technology," says Dr. John Fagan, a molecular biologist and former genetic engineer. "No one knew that nuclear power would bring us to the brink of annihilation or fill our planet with highly toxic radioactive waste. We were so excited by the power of a new discovery that we leapt ahead blindly, and without caution. Today the situation with genetic engineering is perhaps even more grave because this technology acts on the very blueprint of life itself." Biology 101 and Frankenfoods! How They Affect You, Your Children, and Your Grandchildren. (Most of this information came from The Next Endangered Species.)
Plants and animals are made up of millions of cells. Each cell has a nucleus, and inside every nucleus are strings of DNA (deoxribonucleic acid) which contain complete information regarding the function and structure of organisms.
Genes represent the blueprint of organisms and determine its growth, size, and other characteristics. Genes are the units by which species transfer inheritable characteristics from one generation to the next.
Genetic engineering (GE) artificially tampers with the DNA blueprints. Through genetic engineering, scientists insert the gene of one organism into another in an effort to replicate characteristics in the receiving organism.
A FEW Examples of Frankenfoods!
- Canola, corn, tomato, and soybean plants that withstand herbicide application.
- Corn, tomatoes, & potatoes with built-in pesticides.
- Corn and peas engineered for a prolonged shelf life.
- Genetically engineered rennet (chymosin) used to make cheese.
- Tomatoes injected with the gene of a flounder to give the tomato a longer growing season.
Again, this is only a few examples of genetically engineered foods.
Some companies are developing crops that can withstand increased amounts of pesticides, often pesticides sold by those very same companies.
Promises and Realities of Frankenfoods!!
Biotech corporations make bold promises. Here are some facts that put those promises in dispute!
Promise: Biotech will feed the world’s poor. Reality: Biotech companies will reap financial rewards.
Consider the case of the "terminator seed" technology, pursued by Monsanto, one of the largest biotech companies. Its terminator seed is a genetic engineering technology that sterilizes seeds produced by crops. The technology would force farmers to purchase seeds each year from companies like Monsanto that sell the seeds. Presently, most farmers, particularly in the world’s poorest nations, save seeds from one year for use the next year.
Analysts worry that under terminator technology, many staples for the world’s poorest people, including wheat, rice, and soybeans, would be under the control of international agribusiness. Up to 1.4 billion families worldwide may be forced to buy into the terminator technology.
Monsanto recently announced that, because of public opposition, it would not commercialize the terminator. However, Monsanto said it will continue to pursue several related gene technologies, and could change its policy about the terminator in the future.
If the multinationals really want to help feed the poor, would they come up with technologies so pernicious?
Some companies have developed crops that can withstand increased amounts of pesticides, often pesticides sold by those very same companies.
Promise: Biotech will save the environment. Reality: Biotech is a risky experiment that may have vast environmental repercussions.
Consider the companies behind genetic engineering. They don’t have a great environmental track record. Some of these companies were behind the development of risky chemicals such as DDT and Agent Orange. As we have learned over the past few decades, the development of deadly pesticides has had disastrous implications for wildlife and human development.
US farmers have already planted millions of acres of GE corn. Three years after GE corn was launched on a massive commercial scale, Cornell University scientists discovered that the mutated corn may be deadly to Monarch butterflies.
What other surprises may be in store?
Promise: Genetically engineered crops require fewer pesticides.. Reality: Biotech companies are using these technologies to sell higher quantities of the pesticides they manufacture.
Consider this: Many of the companies behind biotech, such as Monsanto and Dupont also manufacture toxic pesticides. One of the most popular categories of GE foods are crops that are resistant to pesticides, meaning that more pesticides can be applied. Monsanto, for example, has created the Roundup Ready soybean, which is engineered to withstand higher doses of Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide.
Will this enable Monsanto to sell more Roundup?
"We are living today in a very delicate time, one that is reminiscent of the birth of the nuclear era, when mankind stood at the threshold of a new technology," says Dr. John Fagan, a molecular biologist and former genetic engineer. "No one knew that nuclear power would bring us to the brink of annihilation or fill our planet with highly toxic radioactive waste. We were so excited by the power of a new discovery that we leapt ahead blindly, and without caution. Today the situation with genetic engineering is perhaps even more grave because this technology acts on the very blueprint of life itself."
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