You want scary? Genetically modified plants

For many years, seed companies have crossbred varieties of, say, corn, and selected for the best hybrids, using the principles of genetics and natural selection which have been at work for thousands or millions of years of evolution. Now, however, plant scientists have inserted foreign DNA, from other species, into plant DNA. These “experiments” were made for a variety of purposes, some possibly reasonable, others not so admirable. For example, a plant might be made less tasty for certain insects, or more resistant to herbicides that kill competing weeds. The effect of this DNA transplant, then, would be to increase production. Many farmers/agriculture corporations have already adopted these seeds, and pollen/seeds from their farms are already contaminating non-adopters’ fields and seeds. We are on a crop/food rocket ship to somewhere, and we may not like the destination.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. What is neglected in the “increased production” idea is that, for the same thousands of years, the fauna (us) have been evolving along with the flora, in ways that allow, for example, human beings, to safely eat and digest the plants. And who’s to say that, for example, these changes in plants are not going to result in unexpected results. For example:

Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), added GM soy flour to the diet of female rats. Other females were fed non-GM soy or no soy at all. The experimental diet began two weeks before the rats conceived and continued through pregnancy and nursing.

Ermakova’s first surprise came when her pregnant rats started giving birth. Some pups from GM-fed mothers were quite a bit smaller. After 2 weeks, 36% of them weighed less than 20 grams, compared to about 6% from the other groups (see photo).

But the real shock came when the rats started dying. Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 (55.6%) rats from the GM soy group died, compared to only 3 of 33 (9%) from the non-GM soy group and 3 of 44 (6.8%) from the non-soy controls.

Ermakova preserved several major organs from the mother rats and offspring, drew up designs for a detailed organ analysis, created plans to repeat and expand the feeding trial, and promptly ran out of research money. The $70,000 needed was not expected to arrive for a year. Therefore, when she was invited to present her research at a symposium organized by the National Association for Genetic Security, Ermakova wrote “PRELIMINARY STUDIES” on the top of her paper. She presented it on October 10, 2005 at a session devoted to the risks of GM food.

The soy she tested was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready variety. Its DNA has bacterial genes added that allow the soy plant to survive applications of Monsanto’s “Roundup” brand herbicide. Since Ermakova’s unique study was small and not yet peer-reviewed, we cannot fairly draw any conclusions as to if or how Roundup Ready soy influences offspring. From what we do know about GM soy, however, there are several ways in which it might influence the health of the next generation.

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There are obviously a thousand ways in which a given plant interacts with the environment. The process of evolution has provided us with plants which are pretty much in harmony with the world. Superceding that process is bound to get us in trouble if it is done irresponsibly. Certainly the Bush administration has no desire to protect us from the potential hazards. Some states have already tried to regulate the use of these “frankenstein” seeds; new federal laws, however, are limiting the states’ powers, ceding the control to Bush.

the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry approved new language slipped into the 2007 Farm Bill that pre-empts any state prohibitions against any foods or agricultural goods that have been deregulated by the USDA. The passage appears to be aimed at several recently enacted state laws that restrict the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops, but could also prohibit states from taking action when food contamination cases occur.

“Given the recent spate of food scares, it’s shocking to see this attempt to derail safeguards for our food and farms,” said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “We need a Farm Bill that will promote stronger food safety standards, not one that attacks these vital state-level protections.”

The passage approved by the House Subcommittee today states that “no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed; or determined to be of non-regulated status.”

Good luck, out there, people.

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Filed under food/drink, George W. Bush: is he really THAT bad?

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