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GM In A Nutshell
GM In A Nutshell

GM In A Nutshell

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It is the result of a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic, hence they are also known as transgenic organisms. The process is often called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM) but they are the same thing.

How is it Different to Traditional Plant and Animal Breeding Techniques?

Genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding.

In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse. Even when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile — while a horse, for example, can mate with a donkey, the offspring (a mule) is sterile.

With genetic engineering, scientists can breach species barriers set up by nature. For example, they have spliced fish genes into tomatoes. The results are plants (or animals) with traits that would be impossible to obtain with natural processes, such as crossbreeding or grafting.

What are the Dangers?

There are many environmental dangers associated with this technology:

It is an Imprecise Technology
A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the insertion into the DNA of the target organism is basically random. As a consequence, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes essential to the life of that organism. (Bergelson 1998)

There are numerous Side Effects
Scientists do not yet understand living systems completely enough to perform DNA surgery without creating mutations which could be harmful to the environment and our health. They are experimenting with very delicate, yet powerful forces of nature, without full knowledge of the repercussions. (Washington Times 1997, The Village Voice 1998)

GMOs Threaten Our Entire Food Supply
Insects, birds, and wind can carry genetically altered seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Pollen from transgenic plants can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollinatation. (Emberlin et al 1999)

GMOs Cannot Be Recalled
Once a GMO has been put into production, it can cross-pollinate other plants. Unlike toxic chemicals which are released accidentally into the environment, GMOs don not eventually dilute and dissipate. They remain and continue contaminating other plants.

Haven't GM foods been thoroughly tested for safety?

No. The only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food.  No follow-up studies were done.

Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.

But aren't the plants chemically the same, whether or not they are GM?

Most tests can't determine the differences at the DNA level. Further, if a plant has a gene from an animal inserted in it, it cannot possibly be the same as a normal plant. Even though the plants may look the same, eyewitness reports from all over North American describe how several types of animals, including cows, pigs, geese, elk, deer, squirrels, and rats, avoid eating GM foods when given a choice.

Haven't people been eating GM foods without any ill effect?

The biotech industry says that millions have been eating GM foods without ill effect. This is misleading. No one monitors human health impacts of GM foods. If the foods were creating health problems in the US population, it might take years or decades before we identified the cause.

Are there indications that GM foods are causing problems?

Soon after GM soy was introduced into the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50 percent.

In March 2001, the US Center for Disease Control reported that food is responsible for twice the number of illnesses in the U.S. compared to estimates just seven years earlier. This increase roughly corresponds to the period when Americans have been eating GM food.

Without follow-up tests, which neither the industry or government are doing, we can't be absolutely sure if genetic engineering was the cause.