Genetically-Engineered Food

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, August 14, 1998

Did you know that we are all guinea pigs in a large-scale, uncontrolled experiment? The DNA in the plants and animals which have fed human beings for thousands of years is being altered drastically, with the help of bacteria, viruses and high technology. The results include plants which produce toxins or serve as sales tools for toxic products. A handful of large corporations (the same ones which were most successful at making and selling pesticides) are creating so-called "novel crops" in their relentless search for higher profits. Humans have never eaten these foods before.

Take a look at the food products in your kitchen. Unless they're certified organic, most of them probably contain one or more ingredients produced from genetically-engineered seeds. Some of the corn baked into chips and flakes, processed into sweetener for sodas and juices, or pressed into oil, has been genetically-manipulated. That corn may contain bacterial genes which produce Bt, an insect-killing toxin. It may also have genes which allow the corn to tolerate high quantities of a poisonous pesticide.

Soybeans, which in one form or another are used in 60-to-70 percent of processed foods, have been engineered to sell brand-name herbicides. Lots of corn and soybeans are fed to the animals we eat, too. And, any non-organic dairy product probably contains some milk from cows shot up with the genetically-engineered growth hormone, rBGH. Infant formula and "nutrition in a can" for the elderly may contain genetically-modified corn, soy and milk products.

Besides corn and soybeans, potatoes, tomatoes, canola and cotton seed oils and yellow crookneck squash have also had genes from other organisms inserted into theirs.

Genetically-engineered seeds are planted on a small, but rapidly growing percentage of total US acreage. The majority of food products are affected, however, because the most common crops were first to get the bio-tech treatment and because the engineered crops get mixed right in with conventional commodities.

Currently, the only way to avoid eating the results of gene-splicing is to buy certified organic food. Organic farmers and consumers have been vocal, adamant and successful (so far) in maintaining this high standard.

Of course, the large pesticide, chemical and pharmaceutical companies which dominate biotech seed production assert that these "novel foods" are completely safe. Never mind that these corporations say the same thing about their chemical pesticides. Unfortunately, the government isn't much help to consumers, either. Its regulators mostly play lap dog to the large corporations which many of them once worked for. They assert that these "Frankenfoods" are safe, even though, according to the New York Times, "No tests have been conducted to determine the impact of transgenic food on the human diet." The BBC just reported that eating transgenetic potatoes damaged the immune system of rats and stunted their growth.

A coalition of scientists, religious leaders, health professionals, consumers and chefs filed suit in May against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The coalition asked for mandatory safety testing and labeling of all genetically-engineered foods. The lawsuit alleges that FDA's present policy violates its mandate to protect public health and provide consumers with relevant information about the foods they eat. Current FDA policy permits most genetically-engineered foods to be marketed without any testing or labeling.

Consumers in other countries are putting up quite a fight as they demand labeling for bio-tech foods. Consumer pressure in Europe has greatly restricted imports of transgenic seeds and foods. In response, the industry as a whole has hired of a global public relations firm to devise a counter strategy while Monsanto has committed over a million dollars to a European advertising campaign launched last week. It has also used intimidation and the courts to silence farmers and critics who question these technologies.

Although feeding the world's growing population is given as the justification for agricultural genetic engineering, the reality is that this technology is used to sell specific pesticides, and to produce lower cost ingredients for the burgers, fries and sodas which now overfeed the richer folks around the world.

A broad coalition of organizations is working to gather one million signatures on a petition demanding truthful labeling of genetically-engineered foods. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "Novel Foods," WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432 for more information.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.