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Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods
Ron Fried On Tuesday, 28 November 2000, Dr. John Hagelin presented a powerful statement about the hazards of genetically engineered foods to an open meeting of an Environmental Protection Agency panel in Washington, D.C.
The Scientific Advisory Panel for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) held the meeting to consider the possible allergenic effects of StarLink corn on human health. StarLink was recently found to be contaminated by genetically engineered strains of corn that had not been approved by the EPA for human consumption.
Dr. Hagelin's testimony created an explosion of concern among the largely pro-genetic engineering audience at the open meeting and created a fresh wave of scientific scrutiny about the hazards of GE foods. Following is his testimony is reprinted, along with an editorial from the Providence Journal about his leadership in the effort to protect our food supply.
Arlington, Virginia 28 November 2000 JOHN HAGELIN, Ph.D. Director, Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy
Statement for the Fifra Scientific Advisory Panel Open Meeting on Starlink Corn
I speak to you as a scientist who is striving to ensure that our best scientific knowledge be applied for the solution-and prevention-of society's problems. I am a nuclear physicist who has published extensively in superstring theory and, during the last three elections, I have been the Presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party.
I want to address an issue much deeper than whether the CRY9C protein in StarLink corn is likely to be allergenic. I want to address the assumptions that underlie the entire agricultural bioengineering enterprise. I am deeply concerned that life scientists are implementing bioengineering technologies without adequately understanding the lessons we have learned from the physical sciences. One of the key revelations of modern physics is that phenomena unfold in a far less linear and predictable fashion than eighteenth and nineteenth century thinkers assumed. Today we know that there are inherent limitations on our ability to make precise predictions about the behavior of a system, especially for microscopic systems and nonlinear systems of great complexity.
Numerous eminent molecular biologists recognize that DNA is a complex nonlinear system and that splicing foreign genes into the DNA of a food-yielding organism can cause unpredictable side effects that could harm the health of the human consumer. Yet, the genetic engineering of our food-and the widespread presence of genetically altered foods in American supermarkets-is based on the premise that the effects of gene-splicing are so predictable that all bioengineered foods can be presumed safe unless proven otherwise.
This refusal to recognize the risks of unintended and essentially unpredictable negative side effects is just plain bad science. It is astounding that so many biologists are attempting to impose a paradigm of precise, linear, billiard-ball predictably onto the behavior of DNA, when physics has long since dislodged such a paradigm from the microscopic realm and molecular biological research increasingly confirms its inapplicability to the dynamics of genomes.
Moreover, the premise of predictability is not just scientifically unsound; it is morally irresponsible. The safety of our food is being put at risk in a cavalier, if not callous, fashion, not only in disregard of scientific knowledge, but in disregard of recent technological history. Here, too, lessons should have been learned from the physical sciences.
Time and again, the overhasty application of nuclear technologies led to numerous health and environmental disasters. For example, in the early days of nuclear technology, the rush to commercialize led to the sale of radium tipped wands designed to remove facial hair. Nine months later the cancers came. Similarly, the failure to comprehend the full range of risks and to proceed with prudence has led to many disasters in the nuclear power industry. In the case of genetic engineering, even greater caution is called for: a nuclear disaster only lasts 10,000 years, whereas gene pollution is forever-self-perpetuating and irreversible.
The irresponsible behavior that permitted the marketing of bioengineered foods has not been limited to the scientific community, but includes the executive branch of the federal government. The FDA's internal records reveal that its own experts clearly recognized the potential for gene-splicing to induce production of unpredicted toxins and carcinogens in the resultant food. These same records reveal that these warnings were covered up by FDA political appointees operating under a White House directive to promote the biotech industry.
It is unconscionable that the FDA claimed itself unaware of any information showing that bioengineered foods differ from others, when its own files are filled with such information from its scientific staff. And it is unconscionable that it permits such novel foods to be marketed based on the claim they are recognized as safe by an overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, when it knows such a consensus does not exist.
The StarLink fiasco further demonstrates the shoddiness of the government's regulation, since the system failed to keep even an unapproved bioengineered crop out of our food. Indeed, the contamination was discovered not by the government, but by public interest groups. The FDA had no clue and had taken no measures to monitor. This incident also demonstrates how difficult it will be to remove a bioengineered product from our food supply if it is eventually found to be harmful and, therefore, how important it is to prevent the introduction of new ones and to phase out those currently in use.
It is high time that science and the truth be respected, and that the false pretenses enabling the commercialization of bioengineered foods be acknowledged and abolished. I call upon the members of this panel to uphold sound science so that you can hold your own heads up as the facts about the hazards of bioengineered food become increasingly well known. I call upon you not only to resist the pressures to approve the pesticidal protein in StarLink Corn; I call upon you to honestly acknowledge the inherent risks of genetic engineering and to affirm that, due to these risks, neither StarLink nor any other bioengineered food can be presumed safe at the present stage of our knowledge.
9 November 2000 Article
ONLY HAGELIN SAW GENETIC PERIL
ONE OF THE KEY issues that never got discussed in the presidential debates this campaign season was the most serious one facing us today. The fact is that our democracy has been stolen by the powerful lobbies of the special interests. The most conclusive and blatant example of this has been the dangerous experiment being conducted by the biotech industry on the American people. They have genetically manipulated our food supply so that 60 percent of the food on our supermarket shelves has been genetically engineered. The most outrageous thing is that they did it without the knowledge or consent of the American people.
Forty years ago, most scientists thought DDT a safe and promising addition to agriculture. Thalidomide was given to pregnant women by their doctors. Nuclear power was touted as the cleanest energy source on Earth. Marketed prematurely, each of these technological innovations brought unforeseen, unwanted and tragic consequences that could have been easily avoided through proper long-term safety testing. Haven't we learned anything from our mistakes?
The food chain:
In 1996, scientists discovered that ladybugs that had eaten the aphids that had eaten genetically engineered potatoes died.
The immune system:
In 1998, research by Dr. Arpad Pusztai uncovered the potential for genetically altered DNA to weaken the immune system and stunt the growth of baby rats.
In May 1999, researchers at Cornell University discovered that monarch butterflies died unexpectedly from eating milkweed plants that had been dusted with the pollen of genetically engineered Bt corn.
A 1998 study showed that DNA from the food fed to pregnant mice ended up in their intestinal lining, white blood cells, brain cells, and their fetuses. This suggests that the genetically engineered DNA in the food we eat can end up in our own cells.
Last May, a leading European zoologist found the genes from genetically engineered canola jumped the species barrier and were picked up by the bacteria in the digestive tracts of bees. This indicates that antibiotic-resistant genes in genetically engineered foods can cause the bacteria in our own intestines to mutate into superbugs that cannot be killed by antibiotics.
Viral promoters are invasive agents used by genetic engineers to trick a cell into accepting and integrating an alien gene into the cell's own DNA. Some scientists predict that releasing viral promoters into the gene pool could lead to the creation of superviruses and novel infectious diseases for organisms at every level of life -- from bacteria to humans.
These are just some of the dangers that are discernible in the premature marketing of genetically engineered products. The biotech industry is eager to point to their so-called successes while keeping their failures under raps.
Next is the story of rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone (or the story of genetically engineered milk). A Monsanto lawyer drafted a letter to the FDA to get rBGH approved. He then stepped down from Monsanto and took an appointment as FDA deputy commissioner for policy. He then opened his own letter and helped draft the FDA's 1992 policy on genetically engineered food and rBGH. The law that followed, in true violation of First Amendment rights, states that it's illegal to say rBGH is in milk and it's illegal to state that it's not in milk. The lawyer returned to corporate life and became Monsanto's vice president for public policy. Incidentally, rBGH is banned in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand by all major dairy producers. It is also banned in other countries.
I quote Neal D. Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, from a magazine entitled Safe Food News (to get this magazine and to sign the national Genetically Engineered Food Alert petition, call 1-800-REAL-FOOD). "Monsanto's rBGH increases milk production. It also increases udder infections (mastitis) and reproductive problems in cows and shortens their life span. To treat the mastitis, farmers have to give their cows antibiotics. Studies have shown that milk from rBGH cows often contains residues from those antibiotics. And because rBGH-induced mastitis leads to increased amounts of white blood cells - or pus - this is also secreted into rBGH milk. But the risks of rBGH go far beyond even this. More troublesome is the fact that rBGH has been linked to increased risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers."
From pizza to chips, soda to infant formula, ice cream to cookies, vitamins to candies, genetically engineered organisms are in the foods we feed our kids every day. Virtually every food you can think of is in the genetically engineered pipeline. And coming soon . . . rat genes in your lettuce, cows that make human milk, and bananas with vaccines. The only presidential candidate who brought this issue to the forefront of his campaign and informed the American people of the hazards of genetically engineered foods has been the quantum physicist John Hagelin of the Natural Law/Independent Party. As he traveled the country during the campaign speaking in public forums, he talked frankly about the long-term consequences of such experimentation, asking the question: "Who gave the biotech companies the right to threaten our food and environment? The Clinton-Gore administration and our 'Republicrat' Congress, awash in biotech money. We need mandatory labeling and safety testing of genetically engineered foods, plus a moratorium on the release of these experimental lifeforms into the environment until proven safe." John Hagelin's message is urgent and of utmost importance. It is essential that the American people act without delay to preserve their own health and that of future generations.
Don Lovejoy, who has a doctorate in health and human services, is an educator based in Cranston.