Biotech companies claim that genetically engineered crops have been well-researched, and have been proven safe for humans and animals, but independent scientists dispute that claim. Do escaped transgenes persist in nature?
The food in grocery stores today is unlike the food eaten by our ancestors, even a few hundred years ago. Part of the difference is easy access to highly processed foods that contain refined sugar and chemical preservatives. A more significant difference is the high percentage of genetically engineered (GE) crops that are the source for our food. The corporations who developed this technology tell us that it’s safe, so why are independent scientists worried?
There are many reasons for concern. The GE crops are created by using a new genetic process to insert an unknown amount of DNA that has the potential to spread in the environment in unpredictable ways. Independent research on the effects of eating these new foods has been suppressed when it shows evidence that the GMOs are harmful to health.
Traditionally, humans have bred new varieties of plants by transferring pollen between two plants of the same type, for example from one corn plant to another. This mimics the exchange of DNA (genetic material, or genes) that occurs naturally without human intervention, and the resulting plants contain only plant DNA.
Genetic engineering (GE) is fundamentally different, because it uses a microorganism (typically a bacterium) to transfer DNA and insert it into the DNA of the plant. The new DNA contains the desired gene (such as herbicide resistance), plus a gene for antibiotic resistance, plus an unknown amount of bacterial DNA with unknown functions. The process is not at all precise, partly because the process causes mutations in the plant’s DNA, and partly because even a single change in the plant DNA can give rise to multiple changes other than the one intended.
Spread of engineered DNA
In 2012, GE crops were planted worldwide, on 25 million acres of land. After GE DNA is released into the environment through the planting of a GE crop, the DNA can spread through the environment to plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals, in ways that are difficult to predict and impossible to control.