Over the last century technology has changed the world we live in drastically, for better or worse. However, a relatively new area of science, called biotechnology, threatens to alter it in ways we may not understand until it’s too late to fix.
At first glance, the arguments for biotechnology seem irrefutable. By manipulating the genetic structure of a plant or animal, the agriculture industry can produce more food more efficiently and eventually end world hunger. They can create “superfoods” with longer shelf lives and immunity to pests. But things are not always as they seem.
Opponents of genetic engineering wonder if this manipulation could lead to ending nature as we know it. Although that seems a little dramatic, consider the case of the poisoned butterfly.
According to Food, Inc.(pp.122-123) by Peter Pringle, in the spring of 1999 a young Cornell entomologist, John Losey, reported in the science journal Nature that the beloved monarch butterfly’s future appeared to be in danger.
At that time, a quarter of the U.S. corn crops had been planted with seeds that contained Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Originally used as a pesticide spray, scientists found it was more effective to inject the Bt bacteria into the cells of crops like corn, cotton, and potatoes. So instead of it protecting from the outside, it grew from the inside out.
Losey and his Cornell researchers were concerned that injecting the bacteria into corn would mean it would be in the pollen the crops released. Losey speculated that monarch butterflies could be harmed when they ate their normal diet of milkweed leaves covered in Bt corn pollen.
In a barebones experiment, Losey fed monarch larvae with Bt pollinated milkweed leaves and observed. Within four days nearly half the larvae were dead and the others were severely underweight compared to the control group.
Until then, the biotech industry had touted the Bt pesticide as the most green-friendly product available, since it was a naturally occurring bacteria. Losey knew that news of the dead monarch butterflies would rock the industry. Many companies had spent millions of dollars developing ways to use Bt.
However, the implications would spell global trouble for all kinds of moths and butterflies feeding near millions of acres of Bt cornfields. There was no way to know yet how this could threaten the balance of the ecosystem.
The opposite result happened in the case of the diamond back moth, but no less alarming. For many years, scientists have known it’s possible for insects to develop a resistance to artificial insecticides. However, the diamond back moth became fully tolerant to Bt crops after just two-dozen generations, or eight crop seasons, according to Your Right To Know by Andrew Kimbrell.
If Bt resistance spreads, this low-impact insecticide will become useless. Unfortunately, the exploitation and genetic modification of Bt is creating a new generation of pests that are unaffected by the bacteria.
So who are the losers? It’s the consumers, organic farmers and conventional farmers who try to minimize the use and consumption of highly toxic insecticides. In the near future the farmers’ only options could be widespread crop loss, costly control techniques or a return to toxic chemical pesticides.
Biotechnology’s chemical techniques have also caused great concern in the dairy industry. Forget the borage of expensive commercials depicting happy cows flirting in a meadow. Your milk comes from an exhausted, disease ridden, overworked cow. Don’t believe me? Check out these findings from Harvard Medical School and other respected institutions.
In the 1980’s, the illusive biotech giant Monsanto created a genetically engineered hormone called rbGH to increase a cow’s milk output, although at the time the U.S was already spending over $15 million per year destroying an overabundance of cows and milk.
The significant increase in milk and consumption of rbGH caused health issues in both cattle and humans. According to Monsanto’s own reports to the FDA, rbGH treated cows produced milk with high levels of a hormone called IFG-1. In 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified potential adverse effects on humans of IGF-1, including strong role in breast cancer, colon cancer, bone cancer in children and lung cancer.
The effects of rbGH on cattle are just as tragic. The tortuous environment in which the animals are kept lends itself to widespread infection. Which includes mastitis, a painful udder infection that produces puss-laden milk. Sick cows don’t make wholesome milk. The farmers’ solution is to inject the cows full of more antibiotics. This means by the time you get that frosty glass of milk, it’s so full of bacteria, hormones and antibiotics it barely resembles the original form.
Due to rbGH’s devastating health impacts, Canada, the European Union and almost every other country in the world has banned the controversial hormone. The United States citizens are literally guinea pigs for biotech corporate profit.
They justify to a trusting public that genetically engineered food is necessary for an overpopulated world. However, instead of distributing our excess to poverty-stricken nations, the U.S. destroys an enormous amount of the milk to keep prices up.
To avoid being lab rats in the biotech game, consumers have started buying organic. Although buying organic is en vogue, most consumers don’t know the motivations of their actions. That’s how the biotechnology companies would like to keep it. If the public was aware of the alarming intricacies of genetically engineered food, they might think twice before buying non-organic food and dairy products.
So just what is genetic engineering? Does it look like the advertisement for the ambiguous chemical corporation during Monday Night Football? You know the ones I’m talking about, where the handsome scientist is standing in an immaculate and colorful lab that could only be the set of CSI: Miami. The ad flashes to a couple picturesque scenes of wheat fields, children playing and Earth from space. Then it ends with the company’s name and a catchy slogan like “Changing the world today for a better tomorrow.” However, they never actually say what it is they do.
That’s probably because you wouldn’t want to know. Genetic engineering isn’t a sleek, smooth process.
According to Andrew Kimbrell in his book Your Right To Know, “the initial challenge is to invade the plant cell and deposit the desired new genes inside. One crude solution to this problem is the gene gun, a device that literally shoots the new genetic material into the cells. Slightly more subtle is the currently favored solution, which is to attach the gene to a vector capable of cell invasion. The best candidates for this task are, not surprisingly, vectors from bacteria and viruses.”
In other words, to modify a tomato to give it a longer shelf life, scientists might inject it not only with flounder fish genes but also use bacterial genes to penetrate the plant’s cells. By the time consumers purchase the food, it could be part tomato and part flounder fish peppered with some bacteria used to carry the foreign cells into the plant’s genetic makeup.
Federal regulation has not caught up with science, so there is no way to know what effects this cross-contamination has on humans.
From butterflies to humans, our natural balance is in jeopardy. The U.S. should follow the lead of concerned nations around the world and ban the use of genetically engineered food until scientists understand its global effects.