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What you need to know about Genetic Engineering

From Lightnet News Double Issue #7/8 - Aug 1998

  1. Over 3000 products affected by genetic engineering are ready to enter our stores.

  2. How Does Genetic Engineering Work?
    Proteins form the building blocks of cells. The correct combination of proteins determines the nature of a cell, if it is to grow into a liver cell or a cell that is part of a plant's leaf. The proteins of all cells form the DNA of an organism and in each organism the DNA is identical in every cell. The DNA with the cells differ in their function due to the presence of promoters and operators. The promoter reads the sequence of proteins when chemically stimulated to do so. The operator switches off the promoter when required In genetic engineering the proteins with in the DNA of the cells are separated from their donor organism and attached to an intermediary molecule called a vector. The vector carries the gene (string of proteins) into the host organism. Vectors are made from parasitic genetic material such as viruses, which by their infectious nature allows their programming to pass on from cell to cell.

  3. Examples of the Unpredictability of Genetic Engineering Programmes
    A cold resistance gene was taken from the Arctic flounder and introduced into salmon. In theory the new DNA material was supposed to be positioned so that its promoter and operator functions would continue to be in control of it and no other genetic instructions. However the flounder's cold resistance gene interfered with the salmon's growth hormone gene and the salmon grew ten times faster than normal.

    A bacteria was genetically engineered to clean the soil polluted by chemical herbicides. It was not predicted to do anything else, but instead it broke down the herbicide into a substance highly toxic to fungi vital to soil fertility, and so left the soil barren.

    Maize has been genetically engineered to have resistance to a herbicide called Basta and Soya resistant to a spray called Round up. However when these herbicide resistant crops cross-pollinate with their wild relatives and so pass on the herbicide resistant gene, super-weeds will have been developed and so will require stronger super-herbicides. Organic farmers two kilometres away from genetically engineered rape seed fields have found cross-pollination has taken place with natural rape seed and cabbages that belong to the same Brassica family.

    Also after only 10 sprayings Australian ryegrass has already developed a resistance to glyophosate a key component of Round up. The company producing this herbicide has applied for a two hundred fold increase of the allowable residue of glyphosate in the crop. This has been approved by the US and Canada. Glyphosate is already known to damage soil, destroy vegetation, and wildlife. It kills beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lacewings, earthworms and damages fish and aquatic vertebrates. Presumably livestock and humans will be unaffected by its consumption!

    Crops have also been genetically engineered to kill off insect pests. One commonly used gene is taken from the poison gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis or BT. The poison gene has been introduced into the maize crop to destroy the European corn borer. The result was it also killed off most other insects further down the food chain such as ladybirds and lacewings that feed on the insects consuming the corn.

    As pollination of many plants is completed by insects this has far reaching consequences for the balance between plants and insects. Also the passing of the BT poison gene to wild plants through cross-pollination would have devastating effects. The RSPB are concerned for the welfare of birds feeding on the corn and on these corn-eating insects. Another aspect of this is that some insects will become immune to BT and the Biotech companies will be called upon to produce yet more super-chemicals to combat the super-bugs. Genetically engineered BT has yet another destructive side effect, it has been seen to accumulate in the soil, as it binds onto soil particles. It can remain active for up to nine months in the soil, needlessly killing insects during this time.

    In effect these results reverse the propaganda that genetically engineered food will mean a reduction in the need for chemical herbicides.

  4. Once in the food chain genetically engineered products will also have other unpredictable consequences. For example how will people with existing food allergies respond to digesting food that contains elements of foods they are allergic to. Soya beans have been genetically engineered with brazil nut genes. In trial stages it was found that people who were allergic to Brazil nuts were also allergic to soya beans.

    By the nature of genetically engineered food we will not be able to know the constituents of the food we are eating. We will soon find genetically engineered sugar beet, apples and potatoes with chicken genes, strawberries with the cold resistance genes of the arctic flounder. Human genes in salmon, trout and rice, mouse genes in tobacco, bacteria in our cucumbers and tomatoes.

    The biotec companies claim that the DNA content of our food cannot survive the human digestive processes and that genes introduced into our food cannot effect us. However tests by Walter Dorfler at Cologne University have proved otherwise. In 1989 L- Tryptophan, a dietary supplement was made using a genetically engineered bacteria, it caused 37 deaths in the US and 1511 non-fatal cases of a disease called EOSINOPHILIA MYALGIA SYNDROME.

    Genetically engineered products cannot be properly tested as there is no way to test how a variety of genetically modified products in the diet will interact with each other.

  5. Legislation states that consumer choice will be safeguarded through the labelling of products containing genetically engineered ingredients. However in reality this choice is very slim and in a few years will be non existent. At present seeds genetically modified to be herbicide resistant will need to be labelled but the produce grown from the them will not and could also be labelled organic if grown under organic conditions. Only products containing living genetically modified organisms will be labelled as products containing genetically engineered material that has been killed off by processing will not come under these labelling requirements.

  6. It has been estimated that it will only take between five and seven years before cross pollination will lead to all our food being labelled as containing or possibly containing genetically modified organisms.

  7. Products to be aware of:
    Corn syrup, Tortilla chips, Coca-Cola, Corn flour in soups, Cooking oil.
    J.S. Californian tomato puree, Flavr Savr tomato puree, Beanfeast packet meals.
    Nutrasweet contains genetically engineered phenyalanine within its Aspartame. Aspartame was initially developed by the US Government for use in biological warfare.
    Look for hidden soya based ingredients - soya sauce, tofu, textured or hydrolysed vegetable protein, lecithin, blended vegetable oil, and additives E322 - E471 - E472
    SMA baby milk contains phytoestrogens linked to abnormalities in children.
    To know more ring: Action line Baby milk 01223 - 464420

  8. When you read the advertisements put out by Monsanto, one of the leading Biotec companies, for the purpose of reassuring the consumer as to their unbiased approach in the matter of genetically engineering food, remember that this is the company which has given the world DDT and Agent Orange, the chemical weapon used to defoliate the forests of Vietnam.

  9. What Can We Do ?
    For the present time buy organic food
    Write to our supermarkets, voice your concerns. We can pressure them into avoiding production of these products by affirming to them that there is little purpose in their producing a product that they cannot sell.
    Write to food manufacturers, make them aware of the lack of public confidence in these products.
    Write to Biotec companies.
    Write to your MP and Euro-MP. Urge the British Government to support Austria and Luxembourg who have put a ban on genetically engineered maize and are now threatened by EEC legislation.
    Keep up to date by subscribing to Genetix Update Newsletter. Subscription by donation, write to:

    Genetix. PO Box 9656, London, N4 4JY
    Tel: 0208 374 9516
    Email genetics@gn.apc.org

USEFUL ADDRESSES

RETAILERS:

TESCO
CUSTOMER SERVICES, PO Box 73, Baird Ave. Dundee, DD1 9NF
Freephone 0800 505555
Or Head Office, TESCO STORES Ltd. Tesco House, Delamare
Rd. Cheshunt, Herts. EN8 9SL Tel:01992 632222

J. SAINSBURY plc.
Stamford House, Stamford St. London W1A 1DN
Freephone 0800 636262

ASDA STORES Ltd.
Asda House, South Bank, Great Wilson St. Leeds LS11 5AD
Tel: 0113 2435435

GATEWAY FOOD MARKETS Ltd.
Somerfield House, Hawkfield Business Park,
Whitechurch Lane, Bristol, BS14 0TJ
Tel:0117 93559359

SAFEWAY STORES Plc.
6 Millington Road, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 4AY

SPAR LANDMARK Ltd.
32-40 Headstone Drive, Harrow, Middlesex, HA3 5QT
Tel: 0181 863 5511

WAITROSE SUPERMARKETS plc.
Doncastle Rd. Southern Industrial Area, Bracknell Berks, RG12 8YA
Tel: 01344 424680

MARKS & SPENCER plc
Michael House, Baker St. London SE1 9LL
Tel: 0171 935 4422

FOOD MANUFACTURERS

NESTLÉ CONSUMER SERVICES
PO Box 207, York, YO1 1XY Tel: 0345 697351
H.J.HEINZ & CO. Ltd.
Hayes, Middlesex, UB$ 8AL

SCHWARTZ
Thame Ro. Haddenham. Ayelsbury, Bucks, HP17 8LP

BROOKE BOND FOODS
Brooke House, Crawley, W. Sussex, RH10 2RQ

CPC (UK) Ltd.
PO Box 236, Esher, Surrey, KT10 9XG (Knorr etc)

FOOD STANDARD AGENCIES

Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries and FOOD (MAFF)
Room 306c, Ergon house, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Sq.
London, SW1P 3JR

Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment
Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU

Jack Cunningham, Agiculture Secretary
17 Smith Sq. London, SW1P 3JR

CENTRAL SOYA CONTACT
Can provide manufacturers with sources for non-genetically
engineered soya, contact: Jan Hulevad, Greenpeace, Denmark.
Tel:0045 33 93 8660

Supplier of non-genetically engineered lecithin:
Santista Alimentos, Brazil. Email:moliveir@santista.com.br

The information for this article has been taken from Sue Livingston's article first reproduced in the SC Newletter Issue 76/77 May/June 1998.

We are looking to compile more information on genetically modified foods. Please send in any information or useful addresses and we will list them in our future updates.

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