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Risks of Genetically Modified Foods -
Part 3 - Environment Under Attack

Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

The risks of genetically modified foods are serious and they overcome the benefits. Genetic engineering in agriculture is focused on producing high volume, fast; but genetically engineered food presents significant environmental health issues.

The risks of genetically modified foods (GM) are often not well-communicated by industry and yet they are significant to you and the environment. Genetically engineered food makes money for big business; yet what about the dangers of genetically modified foods.

The environmental health issues to the planet (and therefore to each of us) are becoming more apparent as genetic engineering in agriculture becomes more common. Consider the potential damage to the environment, and in particular to wildlife and the local ecology, through the chemical input in arable farming.

Add the push for genetically engineered food to the decimation of land and wildlife and you will see the dangers of genetically modified foods.

Many GM crops have been modified to become tolerant to herbicides; better known as weedkiller. The purpose behind this is to enable the farmer to spray the land with a herbicide that will kill all plant life except the GM plants themselves.

Risks of Genetically Modified Foods:
The Environmental Outcome Promises to be Devastating.

With the disappearance of all plant-life bar the GM crop, the local ecology would suffer a catastrophe. As Doctor Brian Johnson, of English Nature points out:

  • There is plenty of evidence that our farmland wildlife has suffered a major decline in recent years. The environmentally-untested introduction of GMOs could be the final blow for such species as the skylark, corn bunting and the linnet, as the seeds and insects on which they feed disappear.

For the full report, click here.

The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) assures us that safeguards are in place with their Codes of Practice.

Providing the farmer follows the SCIMAC codes of practice, then our wildlife will survive (what's left of it, that is) and biodiversity will be maintained. For Baroness Young though, that idea is a 'dead duck':

  • ...whilst we agree ... that the voluntary code is adequate to minimize agricultural risks during the field-scale trials over the next three or four years, it does not address our concerns about the effects on wildlife of growing herbicide-tolerant crops. Farmers could follow the code to the letter but using these new GM crops could still remove all wildlife using their fields.

For the full report, click here.

The Risks of Genetically Modified Foods:
'Accidental' Contamination

The reason I have placed the term 'accidental' in quotes becomes clear upon research review. What is clear is that fears of contamination of non-GM crops were, and are, well-founded.

When an organism is genetically modified the result is permanent. A herbicide-tolerant plant will produce herbicide-tolerant seedlings. This will include the pollen, which, as nature takes its course, will float on the breeze away from its field to alight on non-GM plants elsewhere. This is not as much accidental as it is inevitable. The respected Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) says:

  • Everyone knows by now that GM contamination of non-GM crops and produce is inevitable. There have been 142 contamination incidents recorded worldwide since 1997, according to the GM Contamination Register [1]. This is an underestimate, as not every shipment of non-GM produce has been tested, and not every incident registered.

Click here for the full press release.

We might be forgiven for thinking that keeping to the EU regulation exclusion zone of a few hundred metres around a GM area would prevent contamination of non-GM crops. How far can a little pollen or blade of grass stay airborne for goodness sake? ISIS has the answer:

  • A research team led by scientists at the US Environment Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon, used an atmospheric model of wind blowing above fields planted with GM bentgrass to look at GM pollen dispersal, combining modelling with actual analysis of cross pollination with non-GM plants of the same or related species.

  • [4]. The GM bentgrass carried the glyphosate tolerance trait, which provided a ready selectable marker for cross-pollination.

    During extensive greenhouse and laboratory testing, glyphosate-tolerant progeny of non-GM test plants were found up to 21 km from the GM fields.

    The Land Becomes Barren: Is It Something I Said?

    GM food

    This was consistent with the model of wind direction and speed, which showed movement of pollen up to 15 km from the GM fields by the first hour.

    Maximum travel distances increased to 40 and 50 km after two and three hours respectively.

    The three-hour cut off period was based on previous findings that the viability of the grass pollen dropped to zero within three hours.

The wind is not the only medium by which contamination can occur. Non-GM grain, for instance, carried in a vehicle that previously held GM-grain could easily become contaminated.

Risks of Genetically Modified Foods:
So Why the Push for GM?

The main argument from GM advocates is that GM is needed to feed the world and help developing countries. Influential Friends of the Earth(FOE) explain the risks of genetically modified foods and why this theory is baseless:

  • The reason people are starving and suffering malnutrition is not because of a shortage of food, but rather the inability to afford it. Further, it seems that even if third world and developing countries in need of genetically modified foods could afford it, would they actually get it?

In 1998, in the backyard of the most prolific producer of genetically engineered foods - the US - it was estimated that 36 million people went hungry. It strikes me that if the rich superpower that is the US, is unable to feed itself, how on this earth would it be able to feed anyone else?

Rather than paraphrase FOE research and conclusions, please read the full briefing to review the risks of genetically modified foods, Genetically modified foods and GM Crops by clicking here.

Please remember that certified organic food is the safest way to avoid becoming part of the GM food chain and to minimize (if not eliminate) the dangers of genetically modified foods. Look at the benefits of eating organic foods for your health and the environment's health.

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