|Food Chain No. 21 - July 1997 (ITDG, 1997, 20 p.)|
This thought - provoking leader was sent in by Barbara Briggs: Faculty member of Maharishi University of Natural Law, Teacher of Transcendental Meditation, 28 Lyndhurst, Ashurst, Skelmersdale, Lancs., WN8 6UH, UK
GENETIC ENGINEERING: A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING
The leader of this issue of Food Chain is a comment by one of our readers who is concerned about the current worrying trends in modern food biotechnology. These matters affect us all, as previously observed and pointed out in Food Chain 18 (the article on the UHT dairy) - Is the west always best?
During the past decade, the focus of modern agriculture in the west has undergone a marked shift from traditional breeding methods to the genetic manipulation of foods. The huge transnational biotechnology companies promoting genetically engineered foods are attempting to convince the general public that the artificial transference of genes specific to one type of organism into another has distinct advantages over traditional breeding methods. However, they are unable to assess the long-term effects of introducing new genes into any organism or plant, nor the extent of the risk it poses to the health of the consumer.
The widespread introduction of genetically engineered products into the food chain will inevitably affect almost all consumers, because nearly all countries import a large percentage of processed food which contain genetically modified ingredients. For example, soyabeans, mixed in with conventional soyabeans, have already been imported into the United Kingdom from the United States and are being used as ingredients in products containing soya. Soya derivatives are used as an ingredient in 30,000 food products and 60 per cent of processed foods including bread, soya based milk, flavourings, margarines and spreads, meat, vegetarian and savoury products, baby and dietetic foods, confectionery and animal feeds. Somewhat worryingly, the biotechnology industry already controls large segments of the world's food supply including food patents, seed companies and other related aspects of the food chain.
Since 1987, there have been over 2000 small-scale releases of genetically altered foods in the US alone. During the first half of 1994, the number of releases almost doubled. The biotechnology companies are developing new varieties of foods by manipulating the genetic structure of plants and animals. For example, the new herbicide-resistant soyabean recently imported into Europe has been produced by injecting the bean with one gene from a bacteria, one from a virus and one from a petunia!. It is no coincidence that the herbicide resistant strain has been developed by the company responsible for manufacturing the herbicide. Another example is the rot-resistant tomato which incorporates genes from cold-water fish! In the US, thirteen new genetically manipulated crops are in the process of being prepared for widespread marketing. These include modified maize, sugarbeet, potatoes, and squash. Most of the crops are being modified with genes for increased herbicide tolerance. Already, genetically modified foods such as tomatoes, soya products, yeast, vegetarian cheese and oils containing fish, insect, virus and bacterial genes are appearing on supermarket shelves in the US and Europe. These products may soon reach developing countries as well.
Due to the complexity of genetic coding and the current level of ignorance of the subject, no one can possibly predict the long-term effects of manipulating the genetic structure of any organism or plant, nor the extent of damage it can inflict on the consumers. The reason is that:
· The original genetic intelligence of the host will be disrupted. Genetic engineering alters the information content of the gene pool of a species. This is accomplished either by adding to the gene pool new genes, often derived from a widely divergent species, or by altering the information content of genes already in the gene pool.
· The transposed gene will react differently working within its new host.
· The genes of the host and the transposed gene combined together will have unpredictable effects.
The inherent risk associated with consuming genetically modified organisms is that the introduction of altered DNA molecules may induce mutations in the genes of the recipient organism. It could disrupt any of the cellular processes in which DNA or RNA participate.
The sequential unfolding of nature's intelligence has progressed over millions of years of co-evolution. This orderly process of sequential development has given rise to the wide range of biological diversity in the agricultural domain.
The widespread haphazard introduction of genetically engineered crops threatens to disrupt the natural order of the ecosystem in the world. The disruption of the food chain could lead to reduced soil fertility, loss of biodiversity, increased pollution of food and water and a vicious cycle of new plant diseases, pests and weed varieties which will have to be counteracted by more powerful poisonous agro-chemicals. The transference of animal genes into plants also raises important ethical concerns for vegetarians and religious groups.
The key to ensuring an abundant harvest of naturally grown, healthy food in developing countries is to restore, preserve and enhance soil fertility through the application of scientific principles which do not impact negatively on the environment. Farmers in developing countries should he trained in the utilisation of methods such as crop diversification, crop rotation and natural methods of pest control. By maintaining balance in the soil, the ability to resist the damaging influence of weeds is increased. Planting can also be timed in order to give crop plants an advantage over weeds. The only way to create food self-sufficiency is to develop the full creative potential of the individual so that everyone in the country has the knowledge and experience necessary to live in harmony with natural law.
The high-tech manipulative approach to food production which has rapid material gain as its primary objective, carries the risk of inadvertently generating new diseases and new weaknesses across the human species. Unlike chemical and nuclear pollution, the effects of genetic pollution and the toxic effects of genetic mistakes will he irreversible. These errors will he passed on to all future generations of a species. Due to a lack of stringent government regulations, coupled with political and economic pressures from the powerful transnational biotechnology industry, the 'guinea pig' in this worldwide experiment is the general public!
It is impossible for any country to isolate itself from the unpredictable negative side-effects that may arise from ingesting genetically modified products. Therefore, in order to safeguard the health of the human species as a whole and to preserve the balance of the global ecosystem, it is vital that the wise leaders of every country be made aware of the inherent dangers of these unnecessary genetic manipulations, and that they collectively take steps to enforce an absolute hen on the release of any more genetically altered organisms into the environment.
For further reading, please refer to:
Genetic engineering: The Hazards. Verdic Engineering: The Solutions. Fagan, J. MIU Press, Fairfield, Iowa 52557, USA. Available in the UK from MAP, Tel: (01695) 51015
The risk of crop transgenic crops. Abbot, R.J. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 280-282, 1994.
Are current transgenic technologies safe? Ho, Mae-Wan, Paper prepared for the Workshop on Capacity Building in Biosafety for Developing Countries, May 22-23, 1996. Available from Mae-Wan Ho, Biology Dept., Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK.
AN APPROPRIATE PALM KERNEL-SHELL SEPARATOR
Prior to extracting oil from palm kernels it is essential to separate the shell from the kernel. Traditionally the shell is removed manually after breaking the nuts; a slow and laborious task. At large scale hydro-cyclones are used which are expensive and often require imported parts, particularly pump impellers which tend to wear rapidly.
A worker in Nigeria has reported that he has developed a separator which uses the difference in density and surface coefficients of friction to separate kernels from shell by flotation. The liquid medium used to effect the separation is a water/kaolin clay mix with a specific gravity of 1.18 (52g of kaolin in 100 mls of water).
The most important feature of the system is the conical separating chamber, the shape of which assists separation based on the surface coefficient of friction. During trials a separation efficiency of up to 94% has been achieved.
For further details contact: Mr O N Oguoma, Federal University of Nigeria, Plot 94, PMB 1526, Owerri, Nigeria.