[ Planter ] [Cobwebs] [Cobwebs Archive]
The International Center for Technology Assessment
      - Holding Technology Accountable - 
Note:  See also Center Lawsuit file for more info and updates.              
            Center for Food Safety
            Fact Sheet on the Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food 
            Why is genetically engineered food dangerous?
            Genetically engineering plants and animals for food is risky and 
            unsafe. Biotechnology is too young of a science to be able to fully 
            assess or understand the potential problems that can come from 
            altering the genes of living creatures. There is numerous potential 
            for problems on many different levels. From the unpredictable 
            occurrence of toxins and allergens, to environmental hazards, to 
            ethical issues, biotechnology poses a serious threat. 
            One problem with genetic engineering is that it can cause unexpected 
            mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of 
            toxins in foods. In 1989, a genetically engineered form of the 
            dietary supplement, L-tryptophan, produced toxic contaminants that 
            caused 37 deaths and 1,511 nonfatal cases of a disease called 
            eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). 
            Allergic reactions
            Genetic engineering can also produce unforeseen and unknown 
            allergens in foods by altering the context of a gene pattern so that 
            gene products are mixed in novel configurations. It is nearly 
            impossible to predict whether these new genetic configurations will 
            cause allergic reactions. 
            Another problem regarding food allergy is that without proper 
            labeling, millions of Americans who suffer from food allergies will 
            often have no way of knowing what is in their food and therefore 
            which foods to avoid. A study from the University of Nebraska showed 
            that soybeans genetically modified to contain a gene from a Brazil 
            nut caused an allergic reaction in people known to be allergic to 
            Brazil nuts. 
            Lack of safety testing
            Currently, there are no requirements to safety test genetically 
            engineered foods before they are released on the market. The 
            argument is that the risk from genetically engineered food is small 
            and that it is unnecessary to carry out stringent safety testing. 
            This view is based on unscientific assumptions and is irresponsible. 
            The small risk that a product will produce unanticipated effects 
            becomes virtual certainty of harm when many new genetically 
            engineered foods have become part of the diet of large populations 
            over extended periods of time. 
            Genetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never 
            been part of the human food supply. Without long-term testing no one 
            knows if these foods are safe. 
            Increased pesticide use
            Herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered to contain new genes that 
            help plants avoid the harmful effects of particular weed killers. 
            Scientists estimate that plants genetically engineered to be 
            herbicide-resistant will actually triple the amount of herbicide 
            use. Currently, a crop's sensitivity to herbicides limits the amount 
            that growers can apply. Farmers, knowing that their crops can 
            tolerate the herbicides, will be persuaded to use them more 
            The biotech industry has developed and field tested tomato, tobacco, 
            cotton, walnut, and potato plants genetically engineered to contain 
            an insect-killing toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). B.t. is 
            a soil microorganism that has been used for twenty years as a 
            commercial biocontrol agent against certain insect pests. Widespread 
            use of crops genetically engineered to contain the B.t. toxin poses 
            a potentially significant problem: accelerated evolution of pest 
            resistance to B.t.. If this were to happen, agriculture would lose 
            one of its safest, most valuable pest control agents. 
            Biological pollution
            When genetically engineered plants and animals are taken out of the 
            laboratory and introduced into the environment, ecological havoc 
            could result. In one survey, the top 100 environmental scientists in 
            the United States warned that genetic engineering's "imprudent or 
            careless use...could lead to irreversible, devastating damage to the 
            ecology of the planet." Major environmental risks include 
            cross-pollination of transgenic plants with genetically original 
            plants and the unpredictable ecological effects of altering the 
            balance of nature. 
            The industrialization and monopolization of agriculture
            Biotechnologists claim that genetic engineering will solve all kinds 
            of problems, from agricultural pests to world hunger. However, when 
            one reads through the propaganda, the facts point to a more powerful 
            motive for the biotechnology industry: profit. Biotechnologies are 
            controlled by a small number of corporate powers, and are protected 
            by patents, which means that farmers must pay royalties to the 
            patent holder each time they breed their stock, and must buy fresh 
            patented seed each year. 
            Ethical problems
            Many consumer, animal welfare, religious, and environmental groups 
            worry that biotechnology promotes a view of life as mere chemical 
            manufacture and invention with no greater value or meaning than 
            industrial products. Animal rights groups point out that genetic 
            engineering threatens the rights of animals to quality of life and 
            their own genetic integrity. For example, researchers at the 
            University of Wisconsin have engineered chickens that no longer 
            contain the genetic trait for brooding, eliminating the "mother 
            instinct" of hens in order to create more efficient egg producers. 
            Biotechnologists are altering the genetic makeup of living creatures 
            by introducing genetic material from humans and other species in 
            order to create more efficient and profitable animals and plants. 
            Some religious groups contend that genetically modifying plants and 
            animals is incompatible with a God-centered world view. 
            For more information:
            (1997, Jan. 20). "Science: Unnatural Selection: Are genetically 
            altered foods really safe?" Maclean's, p. 56.
            Cummins, Joe. (1997, Feb.) "Allergenicity." Gene Tinkering Blues.
            Kimbrell, Andrew. (1994, Dec.) "Brave New Food." Currents in Modern 
            Thought, p. 399-408.
            Liebman, Bonnie. (1996, May). "Allergic to biotech? Foods created 
            with biotechnology may cause food allergies to people who are 
            susceptible to specific proteins." Nutrition Action Healthletter, p. 
            Rissler, Jane. "Biotechnology and Pest Control: Quick Fix vs. 
            Sustainable Control."