Today, there are three basic trends in agriculture with two rapidly replacing the third (industrialized methods).
- Industrialized farming uses agricultural chemicals – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, petroleum-based fertilizers, and others.
- GE crops were supposedly invented to cut down on the use of these toxic substances; but often, more is needed. Genetic Engineering requires the manipulation of biotechnology in producing food crops.
- Organic farming does not use any chemicals or genetic manipulation. Instead, producers rely on natural compost and companion planting to revitalize the soil and to nourish growing plants and the environment.
Despite a study published in Science by a University of Minnesota ecologist stating that continued expansion of industrial farming will have massive, irreversible environmental impacts, biotechnology proponents still claim their way will reduce the need for pesticides.
The claim lacks credibility because the biotech companies that produce the GE crops are also the same ones that produce the chemicals that have created the current problems.
Since their claims of providing safe agricultural chemicals have been proven false, their protests of safety in GE foods should also come with equal suspicion.
Two methods are used to accomplish the genetic altering of foods:
- The gene gun literally blasts genes extracted from one organism into the cell walls of another
- A bacterium is used to invade a cell.
Finding a gene to manipulate is very difficult because, even a simple organism like a bacterium has several thousand genes.
Corn has about 30,000 genes, and animals have tens of thousands.
A gene is a segment of DNA that codes for one protein; and there are thousands of genes on each chromosome. Some traits are determined by just one gene coding for one protein, but most are determined by the interplay of several genes.
Multiple genes coding for multiple proteins result in a characteristic yield in rice or wool quality in sheep, for example.
Therefore, finding the most desirable trait of a particular plant or animal is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Ideally for the GE manufacturer, a useful gene should be one that increases the commercial value of a plant or animal, as a higher plant yield, disease and pest resistance, or herbicide resistance. Better taste and nutrition are also desirable qualities, but not high priorities. Those arguments are used only for the media.
After the transfer, the gene will attach to the host genes at different points in the DNA in a hit-and-miss fashion since scientists still have no control over exactly where the genes should go.
Located within the human cell nucleus is a DNA molecule that acts as the command center for the organism, carrying instructions through the genes which express traits and produce proteins that give structure to the cells and direct their activities.
Like pearls on a string, each gene occupies its own place in the DNA. Every scientist knows that tampering with the DNA chain produces wide and varied results – and many of them are not good.
GE and Organic Methods Compared:
(a) Organic Farming
- Based on sustainable methods used for thousands of years.
- Not controversial, but well-accepted worldwide and growing.
- Views agriculture as encompassing soil, plants, human beings, the environment, and society.
- Favours such localized food networks as farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and urban gardens.
- Demand has increased by 20% each year since 1990 making it the fastest growing food category.
- Methods do not pollute the environment but rather enhance and contribute towards its betterment.
- Weeds and pests are eliminated through ‘companion planting’ and crop rotations
- Animals show preference to organically grown foods.
(b) Genetic Engineering
- Based on scientific methods involving gene splicing.
- Controversial, sparking worldwide protests.
- Views agriculture from a microscope, focusing on genes and biotechnology to cross-breed them
- Favours centralized control over the food supply by a few multi-national corporations
- There is no demand for GE foods so one has to be created. In fact, consumers try to avoid them and insist that they be labeled so they can do so. The number of crops has also decreased.
- Methods proliferate in the environment and pollute both organic and conventional crops, as well as naturally-occurring plant life.
- Weeds and pests grow stronger and mutate.
- Animals go out of their way to avoid GE crops, even when they are starving