Genetic Modification
Plants, Animals, Food Chain, Crops, Stock Feed, Monsanto, Seed Collection, Patents, Genes, No to GMO, Definition


On Genetic Modification, Agriculture and Patenting

Genetically engineered products are alive, so they're inherently more unpredictable. Because they are alive, they can reproduce. And they can mutate. They can proliferate. They can spread quickly across the world. How can you recall a virus, a bacterium or even a transgenic plant or insect [ which carries genes of another species] back to the laboratory? Even if a small percentage of these transgenic creatures become pests, we're talking about enormous genetic pollution. (Rifkin)(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Rabbits in Australia, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, cats on tropical islands, purple loosestrife spreading across North AMerican waterways - all these species were benign or useful in the places in the world where they belonged, but out of the surroundings in which they evolved, where they existed along with other organisms to keep them in check, they have become pests that are devastating native wildlife and costing billions of dollars a year in lost crops, eradication programs and restoration. If that's what wild creatures that are displaced from their natural habitats can do, what can be expected from life forms with genes spanning species barriers, life forms that are therefore exotic anywhere on Earth? (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

We are destabilizing nature's balance to accommodate a sophisticated but, one can argue, largely unnecessary technology. There are simpler mechanical ways to deal with weeds, including no-till farming, mulching and companion cropping. But none of these Earth-friendly methods can be patented to make big money. They are not splashy, high-tech, instant fixes. They evolve over years and generations because methods have to be developed at a local level by individuals who care about and observe the crops, soils and wild plants of each locality. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Herbicides and pesticides are powerful metabolic inhibitors- that's why they are used. And most have been shown to be carcinogenic. Roundup is supposed to be a relatively mild compound, but it has been shown to be associated with illness, poisonings, and serious allergic reactions, and is highly toxic to fish. In fact, it's rated the third most poisonous agrochemical in California. The crops engineered to be resistant to this herbicide are repeatedly dosed with it throughout their growing period; conventional plants would die if they were sprayed with such chemicals. So we are now eating, in our soy and canola, season-long residues of this herbicide, and no tests have ever been performed to find out if that's safe. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

The testing systems are inadequate. It's a conflict of interest. We are expecting the people who are going to gain profit from these organisms to be honest about the dangers and the difficulties of those products. If they do want to make a huge, enormous profit, it's an immense conflict of interest to expect they are going to be honest about it. (Elaine Ingham, Soil Pathologist)(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Farmers who find that stray GM seeds have blown onto their land from neighbours' fields could face massive fines if the agrochemical giant Monsanto wins a test case in a Canadian court. Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan, is being pursued by Monsanto for damages and the profits from his fields because the company claims that the patent on its genetically modified seeds has been violated.
(Marie Woolf, The Independent, March 14 1999)(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American seed company Delta and Pine, an affiliate of Monsanto, were granted a patent on a genetic technique that sterilizes seeds for all time. Sterile seeds produce only one generation of plants. The new seeds are sterile because the patent holders want to be sure that farmers have to pay for new ones each year. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)


Patenting

When a private or public biotechnology company isolates a gene then inserts it into another organism, it can then claim ownership of the resulting "new" gene and start making money. That means all life - every bird and dog and bee, every bit of tissue in our bodies - is up for sale. Genetically modified mice, sheep, fish, insects, plants and bacteria have already been patented, and companies are claiming royalties on them whenever they are used. Even people are fair game - the government of Iceland recently sold the DNA sequences of all 70 000 Icelanders to a private company. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

In 1980 the United States Supreme Court, by a ruling of 5 to 4, said the General Electric could claim a micro-organism that had been created in a laboratory as a patented invention. That set the precedent for companies all over the world to begin to control the entire genetic commons in the twenty-first century. Only seven years later, in 1987, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a chilling policy statement in which they said, 'Any organism on this planet, any gene, any cell-line, any organ, any tissue, is potentially patentable as a human invention'. Here in one regulatory stroke, the U.S. patent office reduced the entire living kingdom, the genetic commons, to the possibility of private property owned and controlled by a handful of multinational corporations. (Rifkin)(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

The notion that you can patent life has now gone global. In 1995, the World Trade Organisation passed sweeping new rules under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that have changed lives around the world. Under these rules, countries can not use national laws to prevent anyone from patenting living organisms within their territories. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Patents are a wonderful mechanism of collecting incomes from things that nature does freely, that people do freely. [ They force ] people to make payments for what has been theirs, and their right: the public commons. In the 1920's the British placed a tax on salt, salt-making, as a way to finance their armies. And Gandhi went out and said, "No, this has been given freely to us by nature. We make it with our intelligence, we need it for our survival. We will not pay you the taxes you want, because you have not created the salt, and we must have it to live". In a way, life patents are 5 000 times worse than salt taxes of the British regime of those days. It's like patenting air! Because, after all, it's the biodiversity in life forms that make all life possible. It's as vital to life as air itself. It's a condition of our life process. And when our life process and elements of our life process start to get patented, and someone can make money every time we try to use them, it is really the ultimate of organised greed. It has [not only] generated.. an ethical crisis, but is really threatening to generate a crisis of survival.
(Vandana Shiva, Physicist and expert on food issues in the 3rd World) (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

As things stand, the responsibility for any damages that biologically engineered products may cause falls upon the human victims or their governments. In fact, the current wording of the unfinished international Biosafety Protocol, which is being negotiated under the auspices of the UN's Biodiversity Convention, specifies that the importing country, not the patent holder or even the exporter, is liable for any problems that may arise. And if those problems affect nature or wild creatures- well, no one is responsible at all.
Some of the reasons for this situation are those familiar concerns: free trade and global competitiveness. Countries that have become signatories to GATT and the WTO are forced to reduce trade barriers and open themselves to new products in order to remain involved in international trade. One example of what can happen involves the hormones used widely in Canada and the US to make cattle beef bulk up faster. A European Union wants to keep the hormones out of its citizens' diets. The case was taken back before the WTO, which found against the EU. In June of 1999 the EU said they would not accept the hormones, so they are subject to sanctions. The EU will lose about $128 million in trade concessions each and every year these hormones are kept out. If this cost proves too much, and the EU does allow the products in, and it then discovers that in fact they are dangerous after all, the manufacturers won't be liable. The regulatory agencies that tried to keep the products out in the first place will be held responsible for having allowed them in. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

..we need to see nature as the true capital on which our lives and economy depend. And if we learn to value nature, our real wealth, we will take better care of it. Our economic system works for no one, except maybe the one percent at the very top. Our system wastes the environment. It wastes people. And it's very, very expensive. We need a radical change in how we relate to resources and people and the environment. (Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce)(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Our disconnection from the Earth is epitomized by our relationship to food. Most urban people associate food with supermarkets but fail to connect it with the land.
(Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Biotech Companies Concentrate on First-World Problems

Most people in the developed world can afford to pay for expensive drugs like insulin. Adult-onset diabetes, which is tied to obesity, a lack of exercise and diets high in sugar, is a common disease in the industrialized world. Biotechnology is also heavily involved in developing in vitro fertilization and other means of making babies available to the infertile. Infertility too, tends to be a problem that only the richer people of the world can pay to fix. But the diseases that destroy young lives by the millions, like schistosomiasis, malaria and dysentery, are largely ignored by science. Their victims are poor, so there's little money to be made in finding a cure. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Who in the corporations determines the design criteria for what form of genetic engineering they're going to have? It's the money boys.. it's the guys who are dealing with the bottom line. The projects that they are likely to make them the most money are the projects that are going to be developed, not the projects that correspond to some authentic ordering of human needs. (Phil Bereano, Engineer) (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

Specialisation

Biological education has been getting more specialized over the years, but with the introduction of recombinant DNA technology, the situation has worsened. Industrialized countries have put a lot of money into training scientists in this area because it is seen as the technology of the twenty-first century.
'The scientists are extremely creative and very competent within an extraordinarily narrow range .. but often they do not know about organismic physiology. They don't know about whole organisms. And they certainly don't know about the ecosystems they are potentially threatening'.(Goodwin)

So the problem for science is that even though these are "good" scientists, they have become more like technicians. Their training is so specialized that they really are, as Goodwin says, ' simply unable to see the potential consequences of the sorts of products they're producing. And they are not required, within the conventions of science, to take responsibility for their actions'. (Suzuki, Naked Ape to Superspecies)

See also;

http://www.truefoodnow.org/ - True Food Network. Learn the facts behind Greenpeace's True Food campaign, with fact sheets on genetically modified foods and details on how to shop for True Food.


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