Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
What’s Wrong With Genetically Engineering Crop Plants?

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Fall 1999 \ English Editorial

By Jean English

“When you insert a gene into a DNA by using genetic modification, you have no idea where the gene goes – it’s absolutely a shot in the dark. These random mutagenic events can cause plants or crops to produce new toxins, new allergens, or they can reduce the nutritional value of the food … there’s no way to predict their effects.

– John Fagan, founder, Genetic ID Inc.

Let Me Count the Problems …

• Pollen from corn that was engineered to resist corn borers was toxic to Monarch butterfly larvae in lab tests. Aphids and lacewings, both beneficial insects that help reduce populations of crop pests, were killed or otherwise harmed when they ate pests that had eaten genetically engineered (GE) crops. As with pesticides, toxic effects of engineered crops may magnify up and throughout the food chain.

• Pollen from GE crops can spread to wild relatives of those crops, creating “superweeds.”

• GE herbicide resistant crops promote monocultures and sterile fields, limiting biodiversity and possibly limiting the food sources for insects, birds and other organisms in the food chain.

• The primary method of engineering plants to resist insects is to insert the gene that makes the toxin produced by the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. The toxin is expressed in every part of every plant in the field. No one knows the effects of spreading this toxin far and wide in the environment – i.e., effects on soil organisms, on nontarget pests, on field workers who breathe pollen, on consumers who eat the crops.

• Immune systems and several internal organs were damaged in rats who ate potatoes that were engineered to express the Bt toxin.

• A gene for antibiotic resistance is normally inserted into GE crops – possibly leading to the further spread of antibiotic resistance, which is already a problem for human health.

• Effects of GE on the nutrient value of crop plants is generally unknown, but in one study, concentrations of two phytoestrogens were reduced in GE soy. Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that some women consume to try to lower their risk of breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

• Soy, one of the most common GE crops grown, is a common ingredient in formula for babies, yet the health effects of GE soy have not been studied. Our babies are industry’s guinea pigs.

• Engineered crops have not shown the increased yields promised by the biotech industry, nor have they reduced pesticide use.

• Farmers are prohibited from saving seed of GE crops – saving seed has long been a basic tenet of agriculture.

• Farmers never asked for this new technology treadmill.

• The biotech industry’s claim that GE will help feed a starving world is a sham. Hunger is related to problems with the distribution of wealth and of food, not to an insufficient supply of food.

• Widespread adoption of this high-tech, industrial agriculture will force small growers out of the market and will further consolidate the world’s food production in the hands of fewer, larger corporations.

• GE crops are not reviewed for safety unless they have “novel” proteins in them. Even then, the FDA relies on industry’s research for data.

• GE crops are not labeled, so consumers’ basic freedom of choice is eliminated. Consumers who want to know what they’re eating for health, religious or philosophical reasons are not allowed to know. This year, an estimated 40% of the U.S. corn crop and 30% of the soy crop is engineered.

• The farm economy has suffered as Europeans refuse to buy engineered soy and corn, two of the main export crops of the United States.

Let Me Count the Solutions …

• Consumers can buy organic foods and can lobby their legislators to demand that GE methods be studied further before they are unleashed on the environment.

• Industry and government should fund more research into and teaching of organic growing methods.

MOF&G Cover Fall 1999