Saturday 1st January, 2005



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Danger in those GMOs

By Conrad Miller

T&T is now trying to devise a way of dealing with genetically modified foods (GMOs), to conform with the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol which 130 nations signed onto in January of 2000.

Unfortunately, at this time, with the United States being very powerful, distorting science to conform to its political goals and those of its powerful corporations, the facts may be drowned out in a confusing haze.

Basically, the story is that vast monies have been spent to patent genetically altered crops to make a profit. Viruses and bacteria are inexactly implanted into plants from different species, resulting in “novel” products that have never existed before.

Studies have shown that rats fed a genetically altered line of potatoes, for example, were afflicted with severe viral infections, their immune systems were damaged, some organs became abnormally enlarged, while brains, testicles and livers became smaller than normal.

The parent potatoes of the same altered potatoes, fed to another group of “control” rats, developed none of these symptoms.

Other studies have shown abnormal growth of intestinal cells in tested animals that researchers worry could lead to cancer development and other gastrointestinal problems. Plus, with these new never-seen-before transgenic foods, allergies could suddenly flare, possibly even killing the consumer. This has happened, for example, with peanuts.

Naturally, we now label our foods, to ensure that those of us who are allergic to peanuts don’t have to die. If they read the ingredients on the package of the candy or cereal they can decide not to buy. But the corporations that make genetically modified foods don’t want their products labelled. Because then people might not buy them.

As a result, according to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association in the US, markets are going down for genetically modified foods:

“Ninety-five per cent of GMO crops are now being funnelled into animal feed; European feed has to be labelled; the only reason for sales (of GMO products) in countries like the USA is the lack of labelling.”

Moratoriums and mandatory labelling laws have sprung up all around the planet from Japan to Israel, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia, and, of course, in many countries of the European Union.

The British Medical Association called for a moratorium due to concerns about “gene interaction of unexpected kinds that might take place.” British biologist Michael Antoniou warned about “unexpected production of toxic substances.”

Even the American Medical Association, the World Health Organisation, Britain’s House of Lords, and the UK’s Royal Society have called for the phase-out of the all-too-common inclusion of antibiotic resistance genes used as “markers” in GMOs.

This alteration of the genome was supposed to be destroyed by stomach acids, according to scientists at a big US company, so the altered DNA would never travel on into our gut, and then be absorbed into our bodies, or go the other way, out with our faeces to multiply in bacteria about the environment.

Sadly, the US Government took the flawed studies as gospel, instead of doing independent studies itself. So now we have to worry about, amongst other things, resistance to antibiotics being bred inside our bodies, and being spread about the animals and plants of the environment.

How could this all be happening? Especially with new gene-mapping techniques being performed by geneticists around the globe leading to freely shared information about breeding better forms of crops and plants without the dangers of unpredictably/forcefully inserting foreign genes and viruses into experimental DNA?

Obviously, it’s caused by the greed for dollars. The powerful US company which produces 91 per cent of GMOs has amazing influence within governments like the US.

There are many in the Bush administration who help spread the misleading mantra that biotech foods will help feed the world’s hungry.

However, the reality is that we have more food per person today than ever before: 4.3 pounds a day per person, according to the United Nations. The problem is poverty and inequitable distribution of the food.

What the GMO companies of the world want is to produce and patent one type of soybean or species of corn to go along with their pesticide, to which these crops are bred resistant. Then they can sell increased amounts of their pesticide, and force the farmers to buy their seed from them every year, that they are not allowed to save or share with other farmers, according to their contracts.

In addition, there are “terminator seeds” that the big US company et al would love to market, that do not germinate, so farmers would have to buy new seeds every year. Otherwise, the company has to sue farmers for “illegally” planting their seeds, which they have done, with exorbitant penalties resulting.

In T&T, you may think you are not eating GMOs, but if you get your soya oil or cottonseed oil or corn from the US, you are! Eighty-five per cent of US soy is GMO, 73 per cent of cotton is, 60 per cent of canola or rapeseed is, and 45 per cent of corn is.

Check your ingredients on your digestive cookies, or note that “high fructose corn syrup” in your sweet drink, etc to see what I am talking about.

Ninety-three per cent of Americans polled want GMOs labelled as such. Europe has essentially banned them, as has much of the world. But George Bush is on the attack again in World Trade Organisation court challenging the European Union to reverse the will of its people on this issue.

T&T should require labelling of GMOs, following the lead of England’s House of Commons Independent Science Panel which stated on April 29 that “the accumulation of evidence...casts doubt on the safety of genetically modified (GM) food...demand(ing) an inquiry into GM food safety.”

The future holds much improved breeding techniques that will preserve the diversity of our food crops. Biotechnology as currently represented by mono-culture happy gene giant corporations irresponsibly loosing their gene-mutating products on an unsuspecting world, is not the way to go.

Sound science and responsible politics will curb the misguided detour being foisted on us. T&T should carefully consider its options to avoid taking any power-pressured path that will contaminate the country’s food supply and environment. Other countries have seen the light, developing a legal framework to protect themselves, and T&T can wisely do the same.

Conrad Miller is an American medical

doctor who has worked at the Scarborough Hospital in the 1070s as a casualty officer. A regular visitor to T&T, he is also the author of a book on GMOs and similar issues.

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