Science has, during the last few decades, presented us with a steadily increasing and apparently endless variety of moral dilemmas and practical threats. The subject of genetic engineering is a perfect example of how politicians have betrayed us all and are, through their refusal to take on big industry, threatening our very future.
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In just a few decades genetic engineering has evolved so rapidly as a branch of science (if science is the right word for a form of alchemy which seems to pay little or no attention to logic or research) that the future of our species is now threatened. Genetic engineering enables scientists to transfer genes between species in an entirely unnatural way. Human genes can be transferred to pigs, sheep, fish or bacteria. And genes from bacteria, slugs, elephants, fish, tomatoes and anything else can be put into human beings.
Genetic engineering started in the 1970s. The technique involves putting genes from one species into another species. In order to do this the genetic engineers put the genes they want to move into viruses. They then put the virus into the animal or plant which is to be the recipient. Genetic engineering is nothing at all like conventional breeding techniques (such as are used by dog breeders who want dogs with very floppy ears or by people who want to grow black tulips).
Listen to the boastful, extraordinarily arrogant claims of genetic scientists and you might believe that they had all the answers to hunger and disease. They talk grandly about eradicating starvation by creating new high-yield, pest-resistant versions of existing foods and manipulating genes to banish physical ailments, aggression and depression. They will, they say, be able to eradicate homosexuality, control the overpopulation problem, purify water supplies, remove crime from our streets and deal with deforestation. Genetic engineers have even talked of modified strains of bacteria able to eat up plastics, heavy metals and other toxic wastes.
Vast amounts of money have been poured into identifying the human genome (the genetic blueprint for human life). There has even been talk that we will be able to clone ourselves so that we need never die.
Moral and ethical questions have been brushed aside as the unnecessary anxieties of ignorant Luddites who either do not understand what is going on or are temperamentally opposed to progress.
But if it all sounds too good to be true – and all rather reminiscent of the sort of cheap promises with which confidence tricksters make their money – that is because it simply isn’t true. Genetic scientists don’t have the answers to any of our problems. On the contrary, they have created a hugely successful money-making myth which keeps them in fat grants and huge salaries.
None of this would matter too much if what they were doing was as harmless as it is useless. But harmless it is definitely not! Fiddling around with genes is an exceedingly hazardous business. Simply inserting a gene from one creature into another can cause cancer.
Genetic engineering is not something we can simply ignore until the thousands who are making the grand claims are exposed as fraudsters, or until their poorly based pseudoscience falls out of fashion. It is time that the insane burblings of the geneticists were exposed for what they are. I have been writing about the horrors of genetic engineering for over twenty years – since I first realised that scientists were making promises it was clear they couldn’t keep – but most doctors, critics and journalists have so far been too frightened (or ignorant) to oppose the torrent of undiluted praise for genetic engineering and point a firm finger at just another invisible suit of clothes for the same old naked Emperor.
When genetic engineering first hit the headlines, the public was promised that there would be strict rules about just what could and could not be done. But the rules that were intended to protect us have been bent, pushed aside and ignored. Regulations were, it was claimed, slowing down progress, interfering with the competitiveness of the developing new industry and getting in the way of individual scientists keen to get on with their plan for improving the world. It is wrong, say the scientists, to try to ban new thinking or new research.
Genetic engineers claim that there is no need for caution and that only the narrow-minded and the reactionary have reservations about this exciting new branch of scientific endeavour.
But the fact is that the genetic engineering industry has even succeeded in “persuading” politicians and administrators that there is no need to segregate genetically engineered produce from naturally grown produce.
The risks associated with genetic engineering are numerous and widespread. There is little doubt that genetic engineering is at least partly responsible for the problem of antibiotic-resistant organisms. And there is even less doubt that genetic engineering is responsible for some, and possibly many, of the new infective organisms now threatening human health.
Under normal circumstances, viruses are species-specific. A virus that attacks a cat will not attack a human being. And a virus that attacks a human being will not attack a cow. But the genetic engineers have changed all that. They have deliberately glued together different bits of viruses in order to cross species barriers. These genetically engineered viruses can then become virulent again. Genetically engineered viruses are extremely infectious. None of this happens by accident – this is how genetic engineering works.
Naturally, the men and women in white coats who were convinced that they knew best (“Trust us – nothing can go wrong”) have been releasing genetic material that they have been fiddling with into the environment for years. A year or two ago we thought that the dumping of waste chemicals was bad news. But the dumping of genetic misshapes and off-cuts will, I believe, create a problem infinitely larger than the dumping of chemical waste or even nuclear waste. Genes, once they start moving and reproducing, can keep spreading, recombining and affecting new species forever. Once the door has been opened it cannot be shut. And the door has been opened.
“Don’t worry!” said the genetic engineers, when this problem was identified. “Genetic material is easily digested by gut enzymes.”
Sadly, they were wrong about that too.
Genetic material can survive a journey through an intestine and find its way, via the bloodstream, into all sorts of body cells. And once inside a new body, the genetic material can begin to affect host cells. If you eat a genetically engineered tomato the foreign genes in the tomato could end up in your cells. Cancer is an obvious possible consequence of this. Exactly what are the risks? I’m afraid that your guess is as good as mine. And our guesses are just as good as the guesses made by genetic engineers. They don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen. But they know that something terrible could happen.
Readers will, I am sure, have realised that this poses a new and startling question: what about the altered genetic material in new types of food? What happens to genetically altered food when it is eaten? Will the altered genes find their way into our own genetic material? Could genetically engineered food cause cancer? Could genetically engineered food affect the human immune system?
Asking the questions is easy. But no one knows the answers.
Genetically engineered foods have already been shown to produce allergy problems – and to be toxic. One major hazard is that plants which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to disease may be more likely to produce allergy problems. A soya bean genetically engineered with a gene from a Brazil nut was found to cause allergy problems when eaten by people sensitive to Brazil nuts. A strain of yeast, genetically altered in order to ferment more quickly, acquired cancer-inducing qualities. Contaminants in an amino acid produced by a Japanese company led to 1,500 people falling ill and to the deaths of 37 individuals.
And yet politicians have done nothing to protect the public. The manufacturers of genetically engineered foods do not have to identify foods that have been genetically engineered. No one tests genetically engineered foods to see whether or not they are particularly likely to cause allergy problems. The new food is tested when it is put onto the market. You and I are the unwitting test subjects. Even drug companies have to do some tests before they can launch new products. Food companies seem to be entirely free of controls.
Amazingly, the politicians and administrators whom we pay to protect us allow the manufacturers to get away with the argument that it would be impossible to separate and identify genetically engineered foods. “Segregation of bulk commodities is not scientifically justified and is economically unrealistic,” said the industries involved in genetic engineering. “Certainly!” said the politicians and the bureaucrats. “If you say so.” The US government announced that it would not tolerate the segregation or labelling of genetically engineered crops. The US government has stated: “We do not find any scientific evidence to support the assertion that bio-engineered foods are inherently less safe. Therefore, they should not be singled out for special labelling requirements.” In my view, this must rank as one of the most hollow and absurd statements of the century since as far as I am aware no one has done any clinical investigations to find out whether or not bio-engineered foods are safe, a bit unsafe or completely deadly.
European politicians do not have the guts to stand up to American politicians. They are frightened that if they upset the Americans the Americans will introduce trade embargoes. (The American government, desperate as ever not to annoy big American companies, warned food companies that if they label their products as not containing genetically engineered food, they will not be looked upon favourably if they attempt to market their products in the US.)
The problems are only just beginning but already they are frightening. Potatoes and oilseed rape were genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides. The resistance spread to weeds within a single growing season. Thanks to the irresponsible overuse and abuse of pesticides, and the widespread introduction of crops genetically engineered to produce “natural” insecticides, more than 1,000 agricultural pests have now acquired so much resistance that they are immune to chemical control. Crops which have been genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides have already begun to make weeds immune to the same herbicides.
If the big seed companies and the politicians have their way then within a year or two farmers throughout the world will be growing the same variety of genetically engineered soya, the same type of genetically engineered potato and the same genetically engineered corn. That is not a prediction which is difficult to make. It is exactly what the big seed manufacturers are planning. And when the world’s single crop of soya/potatoes/corn is destroyed by an insect or plant disease which is immune to every pesticide known to man (and remember there are already 1,000 insects and plant diseases which satisfy that requirement) countless millions around the world will die of starvation.
I strongly suggest that you refuse to buy – or eat – food that has had its genetic composition changed in any way.
The above is taken from `Meat Causes Cancer and More Food for Thought’ by Vernon Coleman.
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