Although much has been written about GE (genetically engineered) foods, also known as GM (genetically modified) foods or GMOs (genetically modified organisms), much more needs to be since there still are people who have not been made aware of the issue.
Genetic engineering gives a whole new meaning to the word contamination.
Engineered genes now proliferate in the environment, polluting both organic and conventional crops and naturally-occurring plant life. As bad as chemical pollutants have been in the past and still are, at least they can be somewhat contained. When GE pollutants multiply, however, they cannot be recalled or contained – with a drastic end result to life as we know it.
Such originators as Monsanto, the major US-based manufacturer and proponent, declare GE foods are completely safe. Others, from environmentalists to scientists, claim otherwise.
Whether or not to use these foods ultimately rests with the individual consumer – and grower. Therefore, it is in the best interest of everyone to find out the pros and cons of GE foods in order to form a knowledgeable opinion.
The world is running out of time and the subject is becoming more crucial. There are still literally hundreds of GE products waiting for further development, approval, or commercialization. Many have already “snuck” into the food chain and are on our grocery shelves.
Because in vitro and animal testings have shown GE products to be questionable at the very least and hazardous at most, an ever-increasing number of countries are banning them, despite pressure from proponents.
Seldom has any topic raised as much heated discussion as GE foods – and, it appears, with good reason. It should be noted that there is a fine distinction between genetic engineering and the biotechnology industry.
While there may be a need for biotechnology, the genetic alteration of foods and its dangers to the environment, as well as all living things, are decidedly different.
One side of this volatile issue is the view that GE foods are ‘saviours’ of the world. Genetic engineering has been described as one of the most powerful technologies ever developed because it breaks down nature’s own genetic barriers, allowing the transfer of genes between microorganisms, plants, animals, and humans.
For instance, genes from humans have been inserted into pigs to create animals with less fat. Genes from flounders were inserted into tomatoes to protect the fruit from frost damage since the fish is able to withstand frigid temperatures.
Totally avoiding anything GE is almost impossible because of labeling issues.
Such products as beer, alcohol, starch, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, baked goods, sugar, malt syrups, bread, diet sweeteners, mayonnaise, cheese, fermented dairy products, oils, fats, and animal feed all contain some form of genetic engineering.
About the only way to avoid much of the problem is to use only certified organic products, grow your own using organic seeds and methods, and make all your own meals.
Be aware, however, foods labeled organic do not have to be 100% non-GMO but certified organic does. The standard for labeling something organic is as follows:
- If a package says “100% organic”, each ingredient must be organic.
- If the label says “organic”, only 95% of the ingredients must be organic, leaving the remaining 5% open to GE content.
- If the label states “made with organic ingredients”, at least 70% must be organic, leaving the other 30% open to anything which contaminates the so-called organic ingredients.
GE crops now grown are considered to be first-generation. Researchers at biotechnology companies and universities worldwide are in the process of developing second and third generation GE food crops, which will include grains, vegetables, and fruits, as well as pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines.
Second generation crops are derived from already established GE crops that have been developed to deliver certain traits. These are being touted by the industry as “functional foods” as opposed to the first-generation of GE crops labeled as “benefiting consumers”. (If you cannot understand the difference, join the club. Both are supposed to do as claimed, but neither does.)
- Chymosin is an enzyme GE from bacteria, yeasts, and fungi and used in cheesemaking.
- Bioreactors are animals grown to express new proteins.
- Electroporation uses small surges of electricity to create small holes in cell membranes so that foreign DNA can pass through.
- Embryo Rescue is a process of crossing two plant varieties that ordinarily will not breed.
- Ethylene Gas is a chemical sprayed on tomatoes and other fruits and vegetable that are picked while yet green, but the gas makes the food look ripe.
- GE (genetic engineering) is used interchangeably with GMOs (gentically modified organisms) and rDNA (recombinant DNA technology).
- Gene Gun is a device used to shoot microscopic pellets coated with DNA into cells.
- Host Organism is the creature that receives the altered gene.
- Kanamycin is an antibiotic that has been used in gene transfer as a marker gene.
- Laurate is a key raw material used in the manufacture of processed food, and GE is used to create new sources to be used in foods, soaps, and costmetics.
- Pharming is the new term used in GE technology to describe the raising of transgenic livestock that will produce pharmaceutical products.
- Rapeseed (Canola) is a plant in the mustard family. Much of the canola crops in North America are GE and used to make cooking oil.
- Recombinant DNA Technology (rDNA) involves techniques used to manipulate DNA segments in the laboratory to form novel organisms. This process is popularly called GE (genetic engineering) or GM (genetic modification).
- Restriction Enzyme is an enzyme that cuts DNA at specific locations.
- Somaclonal Variation is the process of looking for natural mutations in single plant cells and then growing those cells into new plants.
- Splice is the term used to insert a foreign gene into another organism’s DNA.
- Sustainable Agriculture involves practices intended to keep the land and environment productive for future generations.
- Terminator Technology is the most controversial technique in genetic engineering to date. In terminator seeds, there are three basic genes that have on and off switches – designed to prevent farmers from saving seeds from year to year. The last engineered gene does its job very late in the development of the seed when the inducer gene turns on a control switch so that a toxin is produced. Technically, the strategy behind the patent is to kill only the embryos while leaving such other important seed components as oils and proteins intact. The technology can be applied in several ways, but generally three steps are involved: terminator genes are added to a crop by scientists; seed companies start the terminator process before the seeds are sold by adding an inducer; and farmers grow plants that produce sterile seeds. This technology is especially worrisome to farmers of all countries since it provides complete control by companies as to what, if anything, farmers are allowed to grow. Not only will they create total dependency on GE companies; but the plants can spread sterility to local crops and wild plants, as well as posing a huge threat to food security and farmers’ rights.
- Totipotent is an undifferentiated cell capable of developing into a new organism.
- Transgenic is an organism that contains DNA from another species and is the foundation of genetic engineering.