What you need to know about Genetic Engineering
From Lightnet News Double Issue #7/8 - Aug 1998
Over 3000 products affected by genetic engineering are ready to
enter our stores.
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.
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
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
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
In effect these results reverse the propaganda that genetically
engineered food will mean a reduction in the need for chemical herbicides.
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
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.
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.
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.
Products to be aware of:
Corn syrup, Tortilla chips, Coca-Cola, Corn flour in soups, Cooking
J.S. Californian tomato puree, Flavr Savr tomato puree, Beanfeast
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
To know more ring: Action line Baby milk 01223 - 464420
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.
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
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
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
NESTLÉ CONSUMER SERVICES
PO Box 207, York, YO1 1XY Tel: 0345 697351
H.J.HEINZ & CO. Ltd.
Hayes, Middlesex, UB$ 8AL
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:email@example.com
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.