What is genetically engineered food? GE crops are produced using laboratory techniques where genetic material from the cells of one species is transferred into another species to artificially create new living organisms that would never naturally occur through breeding. An example is the case of putting genes from an arctic fish into tomatoes and strawberries to confer resistance to the cold. Of course fish and tomatoes would never naturally breed together in nature! So far, all genetically engineered foods are developed and sold by large chemical companies usually to work alongside their own chemicals. Most GE crops worldwide are grown in USA, Canada, and Argentina.

The artificial organisms that result may be designed to offer a particular 'benefit' to the grower (such as resistance to a pesticide) but will almost always have other secondary effects that cannot be predicted. Because genetically engineered crops are alive, they can escape and reproduce in the open environment, making it virtually impossible to recall a genetically engineered crop especially when something unexpectedly goes wrong. Some of the problems already associated with genetically engineered crops include:

  • The production of unexpected toxins and allergens. Because genetic engineering is a very imprecise technology, the insertion of foreign genes can stimulate the production of unexpected proteins, which may prove toxic or allergenic to those who consume them or may have side effects on the environment. In addition, the introduced gene product itself may trigger allergies. One example is the Brazil nut gene, which was transferred into a soybean. Unexpectedly the soybean became allergenic to anyone with nut allergies and had to be prevented from reaching the market. Luckily, nut allergies are very common and so could be checked for. However, most genetic engineering uses material from organisms such as viruses and bacteria, which are not previously part of the human diet.
  • Antibiotic resistance. In order to check that the genetic engineering process has worked, scientists add genes that confer resistance to common antibiotics. Although only meant as 'markers' these genes are present throughout the GE food. Doctors worldwide warn that some antibiotics may become useless in human and veterinary medicine because of the widespread use of these antibiotic resistant genes. The European Union and doctors associations around the world have called for a ban on these dangerous markers.
  • Effects on the Environment. Genetically engineered crops represent new and potentially invasive forms of life. We have already seen the devastating effect that new introduced species can have on their environment as they become pests (e.g. the introduction of the golden snail in the Philippines). Examples of harmful effects that have already been documented from GE crops include the leaching of toxins into the soil, the poisoning of beneficial and harmless insects such as lacewings or monarch butterfly larvae and also the creation of vigorous 'superweeds'. For example, in Canada the field release of genetically modified canola resulted in the creation of triple herbicide tolerant canola weeds.
  • Contamination of seeds and crops. While many consumers and farmers worldwide are choosing to avoid GE food and crops, people are still increasingly finding even non-GE stocks contaminated. This is due to crosspollination where contaminated pollen is carried by wind or as seeds spread out in the environment or are mixed up during handling. It is also becoming clear that genes can move about due to a little understood process known as horizontal gene transfer where bacteria takes up genetic material and exchanges it with other bacteria either in the soil or in the gut. The fear is that over time everything will be GE contaminated. If something goes wrong, it will be too late.

There are also many ethical and social concerns

  • GE foods remove consumer choice - Because of the widespread contamination caused by GE crops and the fact that many GE crops are not kept separate in the food system, consumers in the Philippines have been denied the right to choose not to eat genetically engineered food. This is particularly serious since GE foods are not labeled or even regulated here in the Philippines.
  • Biopiracy - In order to achieve the desired traits chemical companies often use genes acquired from plants, animals and bacteria that is found in poorer countries where most of the world's biodiversity is to be found. The profits and benefits from using these genes generally accrue to rich agribusiness companies based in northern countries. In effect these genes are being stolen from the poor to feed corporate profits. Transnational companies then try to enforce their ownership of these genes through international patent law.
  • Loss of Farmers Rights - Because genetically engineered seeds are patented, the seed company can maintain strict control over how the seeds are used. US farmers who grow GE crops sign agreements that specify how the crop is to be farmed and promise not to save any seed. If farmers are found to save seed they are sued by the chemical companies. In this way, small farmers lose their basic rights to save seed, which has been the basis of food security since farming began. The GE crop companies now control the seed trade worldwide and US farmers are already reporting that non-GE seeds are becoming very hard to find.
  • Genetic engineering is unnatural - Because genetic engineering crosses species boundaries and interferes in nature to create new living organisms that would never naturally occur, many people hold moral and spiritual objections to the genetic engineering of living things. Speaking last Nov. 12 2000 to an estimated 50,000 farmers from Italy and elsewhere at a special outdoor mass dedicated to farmers, the Pope expressed his opposition to genetically modified crops.

The latest updates

 

Philippines' secondary staple is contaminated with GMOs

Blog entry by Daniel Ocampo | November 21, 2013

People in the cities, particularly Manila are probably only aware of one staple: rice. But what we don’t know is that our country has a secondary staple, white corn which is consumed on a regular basis mostly in the Visayas and...

White Corn in the Philippines

Publication | November 19, 2013 at 17:30

This report confirms the incidence of genetic contamination of the Philippines' traditional white corn varieties. All samples tested positive for contamination, with some samples showing high levels (up to 40 % contamination) in the genetic...

An open letter of solidarity and support

Blog entry by Von Hernandez | November 12, 2013

Dear friends,  It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now. Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly...

Choosing the path of organic agriculture

Blog entry by Daniel Ocampo | October 22, 2013 1 comment

Last week, I went to the 10 th  National Organic Agriculture Congress attended by around 3000 participants from farmers to government officials, NGOs, producers and the business sector at the Philippine International Convention Center...

Golden Illusion

Publication | October 18, 2013 at 1:53

GE ‘Golden’ rice is a genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified, GM) rice variety developed by the biotech industry to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Proponents portray GE ‘Golden’ rice as a technical, quick-fix solut...

Fear of food

Blog entry by Johanna Fernandez | October 16, 2013

I’d never been one to put a lot of thought into what I eat. It used to be that much of the “thinking” happened in calling to mind what I’m craving for, how much money’s in my pocket, or what’s most accessible at a given moment.

3 oil spills in 3 countries in 2 weeks

Blog entry by Zelda Soriano | August 16, 2013

It’s been a bad few weeks for the oceans of Southeast Asia, with three separate petrochemical spills polluting our waters, endangering biodiversity and livelihoods. Coming hot on the heels of the spill in Thailand on July 27,...

The Southeast Asian monsoon, the Arctic and Singapore

Blog entry by Zelda DT Soriano | July 31, 2013

They are very much connected although Southeast Asia and the Arctic are about 6,000 miles apart. The rush to exploit the resources of the northern Arctic region will exacerbate the climate change impacts of the already melting Arctic.

Building a region of ocean defenders

Blog entry by Johanna Fernandez | July 26, 2013

It is easy to recognise our deep connection with the oceans, which have sustained and fed our communities for centuries, and undoubtedly many of us share a feeling of longing and awe when we gaze at the beauty of our seas. But it's...

On Academic Freedom and the CA ruling on Bt Talong

Blog entry by Romeo F. Quijano, M.D. | July 3, 2013

On June 22, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a paid advertisement entitled “Professional Scientific Societies Support Bt Talong Field Trials. UPLB Will Ask the Court of Appeals to Reconsider its Decision to Stop the Field...

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