Genetically Altered Food Debate

Genetically altered foods are everywhere. You eat them daily and aren't aware of it due to the lack of labeling on products. Should we put on the brakes, go ahead full steam, or find the middle ground?

What are the issues involved when we introduce genetically altered foods onto the human landscape? Are we really being saved from the coming global food shortage by the intervention of huge agribusiness interests, or is big business just trying to scare us into moving forward too quickly with GA (genetically altered) foods? Are we at risk or are environmentally friendly "green" groups just looking for another target, while scientists and researchers attempt to improve our lives through science?

On the pro side of the genetically altered food issue, we find foods that are more resistant to disease. Foods that can be filled with more nutrition and even food sources that can become medicine in fighting disease.

Should we worry if Monsanto has inserted a gene from an insect-killing bacterium called BT into corn so that every cell of the plant has activated BT toxin in it? We don't really know yet. The genes the industry giant is inserting into these plants can cause it to create new, foreign proteins -- living cells never seen before in nature. So far there hasn't even been time to do long-term animal or human testing to determine if the new proteins can cause allergies or other adverse effects in humans and in our environment. Recently there has been a major recall of all foods containing this altered corn.

Monsanto has inserted foreign genes into soybeans and canola (rapeseed) that allows farmers to spray the crops with Monsanto's toxic Roundup weed killer without killing the plant. The concern among the opponents of this type of technology is that cross pollination will occur between these plants, which are highly resistant to weed killer, and unwanted weeds that will be too strong to kill.

Another company jockeying for their genetically "enhanced" piece of the pie, is Novartis, a Swiss-based company that has already developed techniques that will alter the genetic make up of living organisms. The goal? Grabbing the patent on these new foods and foods processes so they can "own" these newly created life forms, and reap huge profits in the future.

The proponents of this new gene-splicing movement claim that we have been pruning and mixing and matching (called selective breeding) our plants to come up with new, more resistant, more productive plants for the last 10,000 years! The opponents claim that while we have in fact been actively developing better plants, we haven't been creating new species by mixing genes from animals, viruses and bacteria to our plants. We haven't been mixing animal and plant matter to create the "transgene" effect.

What other benefits are reaped by doing all this gene splicing? While the goal of the companies leading the way may ultimately be making more money, the human race is always looking for ways to make life better. Money does fuel research, and profits are a great incentive for change. Here are some of the benefits that have been created so far:

1.Monsanto has created a soybean called "Roundup Ready." These soybeans are resistant to the weedkiller Roundup. The crops can be sprayed with the pesticide and the weeds will die, but the beans will not. 2. Bt corn -- genetically altered to produce its own pesticide to kill the European corn borer. This harmful intruder does its damage when it is still in the larval stage of a moth and it feeds on the corn.

What are a few of the projects in the works? Scientists are working on making a tomato that has a longer shelf life, rice that is pumped up with more vitamins and protein, and plants that contain pharmaceuticals. They are raising fish (salmon) that mature twice as fast as the "original version."

Researchers are studying coffee beans to try to create a caffeine-free coffee, and strawberries to enhance them with more natural sugars. And these projects are just the tip of the iceberg.

Today there are many organizations springing up that are banding together with either their pro-GA, or anti-GA views. United States seems to be following quite a distance behind the European countries and Canada in scrutinizing the whole biotech industry and its overall effect on mankind. Following is a partial listing of some of the organizations that are playing their part in the future of genetically altered foods.

Pro genetically Engineered Food

1. The Alliance for Better Foods - This site represents an alliance of food industry players who support the use of bio-engineered foods and oppose the labeling of GM products. Some of the members are Agricultural Retailers Association, American Soybean Association, American Feed Industry Association, American Frozen Food Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Dairy Foods Association, International Food Additives Council, and International Pharmaceutical Excipients

2. Life Sciences Knowledge Center - Sponsored by the GM food company Monsanto, their Web site features a searchable news and articles archive. 3. Biotechnology Industry Organization - Features news, issues & policies, reports and other organizational information.

Anti GA foods: (groups totally against genetically altering foods, or concerned with proper labeling and safety of GA foods)

1. Friends of Earth-The largest international network of environmental groups in the world, represented in 61 countries.

2. Keep Nature Natural - A campaign for the labeling and establishment of safety standards for genetically altered food.

3. The Center for Food Safety-Established by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) in 1997 and based in Washington, D.C. CFS is a public interest and environmental advocacy organization which works to address the impacts of our food production system on human health, animal welfare and the environment. CFS works to achieve its goals through grassroots campaigns, public education, media outreach, and litigation.

4.The Union of Concerned Scientists - The mission of the organization in the words of Jane Rissler, Senior Staff Scientist "We are campaigning for food policies that will protect people from potentially untreatable and life-threatening diseases while also promoting sustainable animal agriculture."

5. Greenpeace: Genetic Engineering Campaign - "No genetic engineering of nature" is their credo for this campaign.

During this time of tremendous change it is important for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing! People need to be informed and if they feel the need, take action. In a recent interview Tony Blair, the British Prime-Minister, accused environmentalists of putting "dogma and prejudice" before science. What is needed is for both sides of the issue to come together and hammer out solutions with informed, open minds. Each side has valid points and they must find the middle ground so we can all benefit from the new technology.

© High Speed Ventures 2011