What Are Genetically Engineered Foods?

Genetically Engineered Foods are foods that have been manipulated in a laboratory by changing its genetic blueprint. New genes or DNA segments are transferred from one organism to another, or existing DNA segments are scrambled or deleted. Most of these specialized foods are designed to kill insect pests, be more aesthetically pleasing, or be resistant to an herbicide; allowing the farmer to spray weed killers without harming the desired plant. These genetic changes are radically different from those resulting from traditional methods of breeding. Infectuous viruses and bacteria are most frequently used to jump start new genes into action.

Are there potential risks to genetically engineered foods? (GE’s GMO’s)

Yes. While the risks are real, they are difficult to track as the Canadian government does not perform independent testing of GE foods but instead relies on corporate data that is not peer-reviewed and is labelled “Confidential Business Information”. Since there is no mandatory labelling required for GE foods, there is no way we can trace any possible health impacts GE foods have on its Canadian consumers. Some of the potential risks are listed below.

Environmental Risks:

The Ecological Society of America, a 7,800-member organization of scientists, summarized some of the emerging environmental problems associated with releasing GE organisms into the environment. they include:

  • Creating new or more vigorous pests and pathogens
  • Disruptive effects on biotic communities
  • Irreparable loss or changes in species diversity as well as genetic diversity within species

In addition, GE foods are patented and owned by corporations, therefore the farmers are made reliant on the corporation for seeds/fertilizers/herbicides each year. Although biotech companies claim that GE foods can help feed the world, does patenting and owning food really increase food security? Or instead does it increase our dependence on others to provide us with food?

Health Risks:

Studies have shown that the inserted genes are unstable and can eject the inserted DNA into the surrounding environment. The modified DNA can potentially be picked up by other organisms through “horizontal gene transfer”. The only published human feeding experiment showed that genetic material from GE foods could transfer into the genes of our intestinal bacteria. This type of horizontal gene transferring of GE foods could be linked to antibiotic resistant bacteria, new pathogens, and possibly some forms of cancer.

A researcher in the UK announced on television about 9 years ago after doing studies on the effects of GE food consumption on rats, that his experiments showed intestinal changes in the rats. He said that he would not eat any GE food and that is was “very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinneapigs”. Soon after this public interview he was removed from his job from the Rowatt Research Institute in Aberdeen, UK.

Other threats with Genetically Engineered Foods:

  • loss of biodiversity
  • disturbance of ecological balance
  • new toxins and allergies in food
  • unrecognizable organisms to our digestive system and seen as invading foreigners, causing potential allergic reactions

GE crops currently on the Canadian market:

  • corn
  • canola
  • soy
  • sugarbeet

Other GE crops grown in the US that can be imported to Canada:

  • cotton
  • squash
  • papaya

Upcoming GE Food:

  • alfalfa
  • wheat
  • fish that grow at faster rates
  • plants and animals that produce pharmaceuticals

To avoid GE foods, choose organic foods, which by standard cannot use GE foods, and avoid processed and packaged foods which generally have at least one GE ingredient. Buy from local farmers and ask them about how they grow their crops. Speak to your grocery store manager and tell them you would like them to label GE foods. In addition, write to your local MP and tell them that you want mandatory labelling on all GE food in Canada.

Posted on Tuesday February 10, 2009 by Kerri Cooper