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More debate over labeling GM foods

(June 20, 2001 – CropChoice opinion) – James Quick, head of the Soil and Crop Sciences Department at Colorado State University, disagrees with The Denver Post editorial on Sunday, June 3, which supports the labeling of transgenic foods.

He contends that we don’t require labels on these foods – or those raised with the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers – because "we trust that valid safety and environmental concerns are being monitored and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency." Problem is, there’s a paucity of independent, peer-reviewed studies on the human and environmental safety of transgenic crops.

Quick goes on to argue that "there is no reason to have a different system for foods produced using agricultural biotechnology, which is really nothing more than modern technology applied to the age-old art and science of plant breeding."

They are different.

According to geneticist Mae-Wan Ho, genetic engineering differs radically from traditional breeding for several reasons:

  • " Genetic engineering makes novel combinations of genetic material in the laboratory between species that do not interbreed in nature.
  • While conventional breeding methods shuffle different forms (alleles) of the same genes, genetic engineering enables completely new (exotic) genes to be introduced, with unpredictable effects on the physiology and biochemistry of the resulting transgenic organism.
  • Gene multiplication and a high proportion of gene transfers are mediated by artificial vectors derived from viruses, plasmids, and mobile genetic elements – all of them genetic parasites that have the ability to invade cells and insert themselves into the cell’s genome, causing genetic damage.
  • The artificial vectors are designed to break down species barriers so that they can shuttle genes between a wide range of species. Their wide host range means that can infect many animals and plants, and in the process pick up genes from viruses of all these species to create new pathogens.
  • The artificial vectors are increasingly constructed to overcome the recipient species’ defense mechanisms that break down or inactivate foreign DNA.
  • The insertion of foreign genes into the recipient organism’s genome is random, giving rise to correspondingly random genetic effects, including cancer in mammalian cells." (" Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare?" Mae-Wan Ho, 1999, page 53).