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Vancouver Sun Forum  sunletters@pacpress.southam.ca

January 26, 2000

To: Forum Editor 
The Vancouver Sun                       
From: Bina Robinson POB 26  Swain NY 14884 USA
Phone 607-545-6213  civitas@linkny.com

Re: GMOs


I submit the following in response to Dr Henry  Geraedts observation (Dec. 27) that there is need for "fact-based dialogue and informed debate about biotechnology":

To begin with, it is necessary to understand the difference between selective breeding, which makes use of natural variations in plant and animal development as opposed to genetic manipulation (GM), aka genetic modification and genetic engineering (GE) which involves removing genes from one species and inserting them into another. 

Selective breeding was once a natural process, part of the on-going evolution accomplished by small, gradual mutations that maintain the balance of all forms of life on our planet.  The process has been artificially speeded up by cross pollinating plants and breeding animals to bring out characteristics humans consider desirable.  From the human point of view, there have been both successes and failures.

GE/GM, on the other hand, consists of mixing genetic material that has evolved in one species for millions of years with that of another, thus challenging the identity of  species that have evolved  in conjunction, and therefore in balance with every other species in their environment.

The new organisms created  can affect the environment and other species in unforeseen ways.  We have only to look at the harm that can come from introducing a new species into an existing ecosystem to appreciate how damaging this can be.  Consider gypsy moths, zebra mussels, kudzu vine and Eurasian milfoil to name just four introductions that have adversely affected North America. One must then wonder what effect GE/GM organisms will have when they are released into ecosystems that have not evolved to accommodate them. Toxin and herbicide-resistant weeds are a real concern as we have learned from the poisoning of monarch butterfly larvae which may be just the beginning of a series of as yet unknown changes brought about by this technology.

Canadians and Americans, unlike Europeans, Asians and people in southern hemisphere countries, have for the most part been nonchalant about the GE/GM organisms emerging from biotech laboratories.  It wasn't until the American giant Monsanto introduced its "terminator" seeds that more people began to take notice.  The only conceivable reason for genetically engineering  crops with sterile seeds was to prevent farmers from using seeds from one crop to plant the next one, hardly a way to prevent starvation in poor countries which GE/GM proponents claim as an objective.

Instead, farmers would have to buy new seeds every year from seed companies most of which are now subsidiaries of biochemical industry conglomerates.  Worse yet, was the possibility that the terminator gene might transfer its deadly capability to other crops growing nearby.

Responding to awakening public opinion,  Monsanto opted to shelve its "terminator" technology rather than see the controversy extend to its so far profitable GE/GM seed and herbicide sales.

It is significant that one of the terminator patent holders is the U.S. government represented by the Department of Agriculture, the same agency that has the power to regulate its use.

Dr Geraedts sensibly agrees with consumer demands for GE/GM foods to be labeled as such, but another writer, Zamir K.Punja (Dec. 17) would put the burden on  producers of traditional foods to label their products as being free of genetically-altered ingredients.  It is by no means certain that the biochemical companies would permit the latter option any more readily than they have permitted their GE/GM products to be labeled as such. 

Readers may recall how Monsanto succeeded in preventing  American milk producers who did not use the company's GE/GM growth hormone Posilac (wisely banned by Canada and Europe) to inform customers of this on their labels.  This company along with other chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerates has achieved the power to avoid many restrictions by insinuating their employees into government agencies so that they become part of the regulatory process instead of powerless applicants passively awaiting approval.

Farmers and consumers are also forsaking their passive role.  A massive anti-trust lawsuit involving 20 US law firms, has been initiated to prevent the monopolistic practices of companies like DuPont, Monsanto and Novartis from forcing their GE/GM products on people who are opposed to them.  The suit has been initiated by the American Foundation on Economic Trends and National Family Farm Coalition as well as individual farmers and their organizations in North and Latin America,  Asia,  and Europe.


SOME HARMFUL ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS ALREADY ATTRIBUTED TO GMOs

1) Unlike topical application, which dissipates quickly and is used sparingly by organic growers to cope with unusual insect infestations, Bt crops keep exuding contamination from their roots resulting in a buildup in the soil.
          The highly-regarded scientific journal Nature has reported a              hazardous buildup of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) in soil where GE/GM plants incorporating Bt in their genetic make-up have been grown.  It has been detected for as long as 243 days during which time it destroys essential microorganisms and beneficial insects as well as those that harm crops. 

2) The US Department of Agriculture has found that Roundup   Ready soy beans require two to five times more herbicide per acre than traditional soy beans using "popular weed management systems".  Roundup is the trade name for Monsanto's weed killer glyphosate.

3) Two scientists at New Zealand's Massey University, Dr Max Turner, soil scientist, and  Dr Neil Macgregor, soil microbiologist, have issued a joint statement, calling the release of GMOs (genetically manipulated organisms) a "one-way street, but unlike DDT, the pollution from genetic engineering once introduced will be self-perpetuating in the soil, the plants, the animals and the rest of the environment."                                 

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