Researchers at The Boyce Thompson Institute for plant research at Cornell University are modifying bananas to produce a hepatitis B vaccine.
Chinese scientists say they have isolated a gene that allows certain vegetation to thrive in salt water.
The next generation of GE crops is going to be refered to as Pharma, a term that describes ‘Plant-made Pharmaceuticals’. For most people, when a product says it is ‘plant-based’, no alarm bells go off.
However, we now know that they should!
Biotech companies are using corn to develop many pharma products because it costs less to grow and can produce larger quantities than other plants.
Allison Snow, a biologist and expert on cross-pollination at Ohio State University disagrees. She said this is the worst plant species to use because it disperses pollen far and wide. Many neighbouring farmers are inadvertenly harvesting pharma crops even though they used conventional seed.
According to the Genetically Engineered Food Alert, more than 300 open-air field trials of pharma crops have been conducted in unidentified locations across the US, resulting in a host of novel chemicals being released into the human food chain.
Each company tries to ensure the public that it has contained or isolated pharma crops to prevent cross-pollination. But how can anyone make such claims?
Organisms have the unique ability to disperse themselves and are far more ingenious at by-passing anything mankind can think up. Mishaps in Nebraska and Iowa prove this point when test plots of pharma corn contaminated nearby fields, revealing gaping holes in the containment argument.
Biotechnology companies are genetically engineering such plants as corn and tobacco to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial substances. One company, ProdiGene is developing several pharma-corn varieties to produce drugs and an industrial enzyme.
By 2002, it had contracted a group of farmers to grow such crops on a few hundred acres in the midwestern US states. Another company, Epicyte Pharmaceuticals, is genetically engineering corn to develop a drug that prevents the transmission of the herpes virus.
Other pharma crops under development include one that will produce antibodies for therapeutic blood products and oral vaccines for human and animal diseases. A study by the National Corn Growers Association found that some 400 plant-based drugs are being developed worldwide.
Controversy surrounding GE potatoes first came to light in 1998 when Arpad Pusztai, the molecular biologist in charge of an experiment carried out at the Rowett Institute in Scotland was terminated because he made his findings public.
His study involved GE potatoes that were altered in order to produce lectins, natural insecticides that protect the plant against aphids. Male rats were divided into two groups. Some were fed cooked GE potatoes while the others were fed cooked potatoes from the non-GE parent line.
At the end of the 110-day study, the rats were killed and their organs studied. What he noticed was disturbing.
The organs from the two groups differed considerably right down to the cell level, including changes in the sexual organs and total weight. Their immune systems also suffered damage.
Pusztai felt that, in view of these findings, more study was required to see if the organs of female rats would be similarly affected. When he voiced his concerns over these transgenic potatoes on a television program, he was promptly suspended and forced to retire. He was later vindicated when his research was peer-reviewed and published in Lancet.
Dr. Stanley Ewen of Aberdeen University and collaborator of Arpad Pusztai, has also done his own experiments on rats using GE potatoes. His 10-day study showed that greater effects took place in the rats that had eaten GE potatoes.
The effects included elongated small bowel mucosa and changes in the lymphatic counts. Evans also saw that raw GE foods have a greater effect on the gut than cooked ones – something of which raw food consumers should take note.
Because bowel disorders have also skyrocketed during the last decade since GE foods have been on the market, such studies indicate a major concern and should warrant further review before they continue to be foisted on humans.
Scientists in India have added a gene to potatoes which is supposed to produce more protein and essential amino acids.
The infamous ‘golden rice’ is genetically engineered to produce the beta-carotene needed to increase vitamin A levels in the body. The goal is supposed to be an advantage for millions of people worldwide who go blind each year because of a vitamin A deficiency.
Currently, golden rice is undergoing safety and nutrition testing in the Philippines and expected to be available by 2005. However, one has to wonder if these experiments will yield the results the GE industry wants to hear or will the truth be allowed. Not only that, but you need to stop and do the math.
Just how much rice would someone have to eat in order to meet the minimum requirements to stave off blindness? Syngenta, the biotech company that owns many of the patents on the rice, has claimed that even one month of marketing delay would cause 50,000 children to go blind.
That threat alone should be a red flag.
Syngenta is also developing a GE rice to remove a protein that triggers allergic reactions. It is supposedly designed to help kidney dialysis patients in Asia who cannot tolerate the high protein content of the local rice. These must be some kind of powerful rice to do even half of what they claim.
African scientists are working on a GE sweet potato that will resist a virus responsible for consuming more than three-quarters of the harvest in Kenya. However, the GE sweet potato failed to resist the virus in field tests.
Not to be discouraged by the FlavrSavr Tomato fiasco, scientists at Perdue University, along with the USDA, are developing GE tomatoes that will ripen later and give them a longer shelf life. The tomatoes are also supposed to contain higher levels of lycopene, a substance that may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Scientists at the University of California are trying to develop wheat in order to reduce its allergenic properties. However, Monsanto is giving up on the project – for the time being.
Other crops include Roundup Ready versions of wheat, alfalfa, lettuce, tomatoes, golf-course turf grass, Bt apples, disease-resistant bananas, and herbicide-resistant rice and strawberries.
However, many of these crops are 5-10 years away from entering the food market. Because the public is expressing concern over these crops, fewer are being planted. In 1998, the FDA approved thirteen new GE crops; but, by 2002, that number had dropped to two.