The Providence Journal
November 9, 2000
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?
From soil to superviruses: In 1994, a genetically engineered bacterium developed to aid in the production of ethanol produced residues that rendered the land infertile. New crops planted on this soil grew three inches tall and fell over dead.
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.
Monarch butterflies: 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.
Pregnant mice: 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.
Honeybees: 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.
Superviruses: 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 -- 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.