Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Genetically Modified Foods are Dangerous

The prospect of the large scale production of genetically modified (GM) foods rears its ugly head every now and again and I feel very strongly about it - I am very strongly against the use of any GM foods. I sincerely believe that the moratorium on GM crops, currently in place in some countries and in Western Australia, should remain for many years. There needs to be a great deal more research into and greater understanding regarding the long term effects of genetically modifying food crops and the ramifications such genetic engineering will have on the ecosystem and humans.

As a ‘non-scientist’, but someone who has read extensively on the subject I have grave reservations about the validity of much of the ‘science’ behind GM and the wisdom of such modifications to the food we eat which will, undoubtedly, affect our well being and that of our children and grandchildren. I am aware, for instance, that genetic engineers have never taken the reality of gene transfers into consideration when they have introduced genetically modified organisms into the environment. Genetic scientists generally have a ‘silo’ mentality and still consider each species to be unique, to stand alone and remain unaffected by other species. This limited thinking is not only naive but highly dangerous to Life as we know it.

We, as Human Beings are part of nature. The chemical makeup of the universe is in every one of us as it is in every living organism. It has to be so – there is no other source of chemicals! Therefore, logically, every living organism is linked to every other one. In other words every living organism is related to us. They must be – after all we eat them don’t we? We are all so closely linked that “... we can no longer comfortably say what is a species anymore.” [Pennisi, E. (2001) “Sequences Reveal Borrowed Genes.” Science 294: 294: 1634-1635]. We humans are at the top of the food chain and we are what we eat. Tinkering with the genes of a tomato, for example, may not stop at the tomato, but could alter the entire biosphere in ways that we cannot see and may transfer into, and alter the character of the beneficial bacteria in the intestine. [Lipton, B. (2005) “The Biology of Belief.”]. And then what about the growth, which has actually happened, of highly resistant “super weeds”?

Genetic scientists either have no idea about the interconnectedness of all species, of their relationship one to another or of their ‘co-operation’ to create an environment that is suitable for all, or if they do they ignore it. We NEED the plants to absorb carbon dioxide and to provide food; we NEED the bacteria to break down the dead plants to fertilise the soil to grow the plants to feed us humans and all living creatures – those that don’t eat plants eat those that do; we NEED the animals to eat the plants and spread the seeds; we NEED the birds and the insects to pollinate the plants ... and on it goes. Altering one part of one “pattern” in Nature will have unforeseen consequences – pull one ‘thread’ here and something will unravel somewhere else and ‘spoil’ the pattern.

Messing around with all this is fraught. Our technical skills are out of step with ability to wisely use that technology. In this context it may be useful to recall the words of the old cautionary tale about the “Horse-shoe Nail” –

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost,

and all for the want of a horse-shoe nail.

In other words we can never know the outcome or implications of anything we do (or fail to do).

It has been said that one of the great social ills of our time is that we have ‘Science without Humanity’ (Mohandas – Mahatma – Ghandi). Because ‘scientific’ experimentation will continue to deliver results and outcomes which will affect generations still to come (vide the cane toad, DDT and CFC’s to name but a few), I respectfully suggest that Genetic Scientists determine, after very, very careful consideration, whether any project, any bottom-line, any “economic advantage” is more important than the well being of this Planet Earth which over millions of years has given us what we are - Humanity.

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