a different kind of coffee break with Gerry and Ray Coffey

Disease-Free Living Through Fitness and Nutrition


Genetically Engineered Foods
Genetically Engineered Potatoes

Arpad Pusztai, a genetic scientist working at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland was very pro GE. In 1998, he set up a 3 year $1.6 million study to test the effects of genetically altered foods on rats, His study included rats feeding on three different types of potatoes as follows:

1) regular non-GE potatoes

2) Genetically altered potatoes (the potatoes were spliced with a snowdrop lectin) the lectin was believed to make the plant toxic to insects.

3) the third group of potatoes were regular potatoes mixed with the same lectin - but not genetically engineered lectin

Out of the three groups of rats, only the group feeding on GE potatoes suffered ill effects. In ten days all their organs reduced in weight, signaling a compromised immune system. Also they suffered from viral infections of the stomach lining.

Prior to his own research Dr. Pusztai was a proponent of GE; he fully expected his research to give GE a clean bill of health. After evaluating ten days of the much longer study, he went on a TV show and told of his research and misgivings. Within 48 hours, Dr. Pusztai was relieved of his long-standing post at the Rowett Research Institute, denied access to his research and put under a gag order. You may well ask, what could keep him from talking - why was he successfully gagged? Because the Institute also threatened to fire his research team. Now, of course, the Dr. has retrieved his research documents and is talking through lectures all over the world. This is only one of too few "independent research" studies that have been conducted and which suggest that GE food is dangerous to human health. It is very difficult to get the truth out when the very institution that authorizes the research, because of not liking the results, tries to suppress it.

One of the facts of life in our times is that many Institutions which are supposed to conduct "independent research" are really beholden to the private industries which fund them. This has happened in our landgrant universities where these universities have contracted partnerships with private industry. How can we rely on research data to be made public when and if the results of that research may go against what the private industry partners are promoting? Honesty, integrity and transparency seem to get lost in these kinds of arrangements.

You can read more about Arpad Pusztai by putting his name into a Google search. There is also more information on my website:  both in the Articles section under Biotechnology and in the links section under Genetic Engineering.

In 1989 a genetically engineered batch of L-tryptophan* sold in the US by a Japanese company, Showa Denko, caused the death of dozens of people, and the permanent disability of 1500. 5000 people were affected. This only occurred with the genetically modified version, yet ALL L-tryptophan was taken off the market. The genetic engineering of L-tryptophan produced a toxin - an unexpected occurrence. Had there been testing done prior to this occurrence, the deaths and disabilities could have been avoided.

* L-tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid.

A very strong thread throughout your letter is the conviction that somehow people will starve around the world if GE is not allowed to proceed. Research available on yield, quite the opposite, shows that the yield is DECREASED in GE plants. A 2-year study out of the University of Nebraska on Round Up Ready soybeans, showed conclusively that yield was reduced. High yielding conventional soybeans produced 57.7 bushels per acre, while GE soybeans produced 52 bushels per acre, a substantial reduction. At the same time herbicide usage was increased. Genetically engineered Round Up Ready soybeans are engineered to resist herbicides. Specifically, the Round Up Ready Herbicide is also sold by Monsanto, the same company that is selling the GE seed. When these herbicides are applied, all surrounding plant life (weeds) and the attendant life that lives and feeds on these plants is killed. Only the target plant is allowed to live. In this sense GE is a culture of death and destruction. True organic agriculture understands and works with surrounding plant life (weeds). Weeds in cohabitation with target plants assist them in many beneficial ways; breaking up hardpans with their stronger root systems; bringing moisture up to the surface and recycling nutrients when applied as mulch, and also as a mulch, reducing water needs.

Researchers say that yield is reduced in GE plants because the alteration of the genome in a plant or organism causes a destabilization of the entire organism. The plant is not functioning at its optimum level, and yield is reduced. The same destabilization also causes a reduction of nutrient values.

So far all independent research substantiates this reduction in yield and nutrient values.

The biotechnology industry has launched a 250 million advertising campaign to convince the American people of the {dubious} benefits of GE. Probably your belief that we need these foods to feed the starving people in the world were garnered from PR input. Not all the money is spent on ads - some of it is spent in strategically placed propaganda which looks like science.

One thing that you can be sure of is that within the scientific community there is no agreement or consensus as to the safety of GE foods.

Two more points I will mention before I end. For those who choose to be a vegetarian, how can their choice be respected if we allow the splicing of animal and insect genes into plants and then do not tell them about it through labeling?

And lastly, in Nature's wondrous system, pollen goes forth through wind, insects and bees to fertilize and even spontaneously hybridize new plants with a plant's close relatives in the weedy community. This has been a form of evolution for plants. But in all the eons of our earth, Nature never, ever crossed a fish gene with a tomato or a rat gene into a broccolini plant because Nature has placed barriers, natural constraints, that do not allow this to happen. Now, all of a sudden, in what is surely an affront to the integrity of Nature, we are allowing the crossing of all kinds of organisms.

You finished your letter with the question of choice. You said that we have the same choice as the farmers who plant GE.

I choose to be an organic farmer. If my neighbor plants GE across the way from me, and our plants come to flower at the same time, my organic plants will be contaminated with his GE organisms. How does that give me the choice that I need to be organic? This has happened already and many organic farmers in the midwest can no longer call themselves organic through no fault of their own. GE technology is a form of trespass onto another's property and essentially denies them the right to harvest the plant of their choice. In the upside down world that we live in - farmers are being sued because they are growing GE plants (that they never planted) because of this contamination process. The Monsanto's and other biotech corporations are suing the farmers because they say the farmers stole their patented technology, when in reality the biotech corporation's GE technology has been the trespasser and stolen the farmer's land and denied him the right to grow the plant of his choice on his own land. An unhappy state of affairs.

I note that you are a gardener, so perhaps you understand the unfairness of this. GE plants, if they are to be grown at all, should be grown in contained environments - biospheres and such - so that their pollen cannot contaminate the entire countryside.

I hope that I have been able to give you at least some food for further thought and deliberation.


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