Greenpeace activists climb onto the roof of the Agriculture Canada Research Farm in Morden, Manitoba and unfurl a 120 sq. meter banner reading ' STOP GE WHEAT'. © Greenpeace / Michael Aporius

Genetic engineering is the manipulation of genes to create new organisms that can’t be created by nature. Unlike genetic engineering, natural breeding techniques create new varieties of plants by selecting traits from the multitude that already exist within a species. In nature, genetic diversity contains certain limits. Corn can be crossed with another variety of corn, but not with a field mouse.

The genetic manipulation of food is still highly experimental and fails to take into account the incredibly delicate and complex relationship of genes to organisms and organisms to the environment. Genetic engineering takes genes from one species and inserts them into another with the hope of transferring a particular trait. Scientists have tried to introduce a gene that Arctic fish have for resisting the cold into tomatoes to prevent freezing.

Across the country, up to 70 per cent of processed foods in grocery stores contain or may contain GE ingredients. Although 95 per cent of Canadians believe they have a right to know if their food has been genetically engineered, labelling is not required in Canada. In dozens of other countries , more than two billion people are protected by existing or proposed mandatory labelling laws for GE food. To help guide consumers to GE-free grocery shopping, Greenpeace has produced a shopping guide, How to Avoid Genetically Engineered Food.

The most serious environmental threat posed by GE crops is the loss of biodiversity. Nature and traditional breeding techniques have created an incredible diversity of crops. GE crops that reproduce form a living, genetic pollution and pose unpredictable and possibly irreversible risks. Genetic pollution can spread as plants and microorganisms grow and reproduce, and could result in superweeds. If wild plants crossbreed with GE crops that are herbicide resistant, superweeds that resist herbicides could form.

The potentially harmful effects of GE organisms may only be discovered when it is too late. GE organisms have been released into the environment and have landed on our dinner tables without first undergoing long-term health tests and without a clear understanding of how they will interact with other living organisms. The burden of proof that an organism is safe has not been required of biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto . Genetically engineered organisms should be subject to the precautionary principle: don’t wait for disaster before taking action.

Corporations are producing sterile terminator seeds or Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS), a class of genetic engineering technologies that produce seeds with sterile offspring. Farmers can’t use these seeds from their harvest; they will rot in the fields. Terminator seeds are a threat to the food security for 1.4 billion people who depend on the seeds from the previous year’s crops.

There is a global moratorium on terminator technology, and it has already been banned by Brazil and India. Greenpeace says it is time for Canada — a major proponent of terminator seeds — to halt this dangerous technology.

Another GE threat comes from the development of genetically engineered trees.  Widespread propagation and long lifespan mean GE trees could be as great a threat to forests as clearcutting. GE trees could take over natural landscapes, irreversibly usurping the native vegetation upon which plants and animals depend.

Greenpeace wants GE trees banned. As an interim measure, we recommend a global moratorium on commercial and large-scale experimental releases of GE trees. Far more testing is needed before GE foods and other organisms are released.

For in-depth information on genetic engineering, visit Resources.

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