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Its What We Dont See That Will Hurt Us

By Jackie Giuliano Ph.D.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks is it a cave,
Or winding path?
The edge is what I have . . . --Theodore Roethke

In a little known action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shocked the environmental world by approving the use of genetically engineered crops by the Monsanto Company and Novartis, among others, in 1995. Today, after a few years of the use of these plants in commercial agriculture, an environmental calamity may be in progress. The genie is out of the bottle, and there may be no way to stop it.

A coalition of environmental, farming and consumer groups has filed suit against the EPA demanding immediate action. But it may already be too late.

Possibly the single most important biological pesticide on the market for the last forty years has been a bacterium known as Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt). This bacterium is even used by certified organic growers to kill corn borers, potato beetles and other crop eating insects. To prevent the insects from developing a resistance to Bt, growers have reserved it for emergency use. Soon, however, Bt may be useless since genetically engineered crops are now being planted that contain high doses of the Bt toxin in their cells.

On February 18, 1999, the Center for Food Safety, Greenpeace, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, and over 70 other U.S. organic farmers, farming organizations and environmental groups filed a lawsuit claiming that the EPA violated the law and its own regulations in approving genetically altered Bt plants. The lawsuit demands that the EPA:

1.cancel the registration of all genetically engineered Bt plants
2.cease the approval process for any new registrations
3.immediately begin an environmental impact assessment to determine the impact of the Bt plants in use.

In the short term, everything looks great to profit-seeking companies and their pesticide dependent farmer customers. Marketed as a pest-resistant crop, these genetically engineered corn, potato, rice, rapeseed, eggplant, grape, tomato, cranberry, cotton, apple, poplar and walnut plants seem very attractive to pest-weary farmers. Over three million acres of these transgenic Bt plants were planted in the U.S. in 1997 alone.

But this large-scale use will soon result in resistances to Bt among the targeted insects - a well known phenomena when large quantities of pesticides are used.

To make matters worse, some research has revealed that these genetically engineered plants may be toxic to non-target organisms and to predators of the target insects. Also, the genetically engineered versions of Bt will be less specific as to what they kill and will persist in the soil for longer and in much higher doses than have been traditionally used.

Bt may not be all that benign. In 1998, French doctors discovered that a sub-type of the Bt bacterium caused a serious infection in a soldier wounded in Bosnia. A microbiologist in a military hospital near Paris looked into the matter further, injecting the bacterium into mice with weakened immune systems. He found that the bacterium began destroying the walls of the blood cells.

Ecogen Inc, the U.S. company that markets the Bt sprays, insisted that they are safe because the bacteria are not exposed to blood. I guess they never heard of anyone getting a cut.

Chemical companies claim that there are no harmful affects from eating Bt crops since the bacterium is rendered harmless by stomach acid. However, Canadian doctors, scientists, and health professionals have expressed concern about possible long-term toxic or other adverse effects on individuals with low stomach acidity, such as the elderly, or individuals using antacid medications. No long term animal studies have been done to determine the effect of eating Bt producing crops.

In a 1997 study, scientists in Scotland discovered that ladybugs feeding on aphids that had eaten genetically modified potatoes laid fewer eggs and lived only half as long as ladybugs who ate aphids that fed on normal potatoes.

The scientists found that the genetically modified plants did not kill enough pests on their own, and the ladybugs were needed to kill the rest of the aphids. Ironically, it seems that the ladybugs are also harmed by ingestion of the genetically modified potatoes.

In another study of the effect of genetically engineered rape (Brassica napus) plants on bees, it was found that the genetic engineering also subtly changes the chemical composition of the plants' nectar and pollen. The foraging pattern of the bees was observed to change and their mortality rate increased significantly. (Rape seeds are pressed to produce canola oil.)

Once again, corporate controlled research organizations are rushing headlong into new technologies before we have the means to analyze the far-reaching consequences of their use.

Some critics feel that the chemical companies have a devastating sub-agenda to their marketing practices and believe that they are waging an undeclared war on the few sustainable farming practices left. If Bt is eliminated as a tool for organic farmers and if biological predators are destroyed, then farmers will have no choice but to buy products from the chemical companies. It is hard to believe that anyone could have such a terrible purpose in mind, but the actions of the genetically engineered crop manufacturers are suggestive.

This is a difficult problem to combat since the power of our corporate controlled culture is so pervasive. There can be no more solid proof that our government agencies are more concerned with the free flow of commerce than with our health and the future of our world.

Apply pressure wherever you can. Tell the managers of the supermarkets you patronize that you will stop shopping there unless they assure you, with signs and labels, that genetically engineered foods are not sold there. Refuse to buy any products made by the companies that manufacture genetically engineered foods and let their presidents and chief executive officers know about your actions.

We must act swiftly and relentlessly on this issue. Biotech foods may not look any different and on the surface, their benefits may seem plausible. But the hurt that will result will be permanent, life-threatening and on a planetary scale.

As usual, it is the little things that we dont see that will hurt us.

RESOURCES

1. Congress must be influenced to stop this madness. Contact your congressperson and tell them to stop all approval of genetically engineered crops until we can be sure of their safety. Tell them that existing standards for determining safety DO NOT WORK. The links below will give you the information you need. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html

2. Write a letter to the EPA. Let them know that these short term decisions that benefit a few large corporations must stop. We must consider the future. You can send them an electronic comment at http://www.epa.gov/epahome/comment2.html

3. Read about the lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety at http://www.icta.org/ctanews/bt2press.htm

4. Learn about some actions you can take at http://ftp.oit.unc.edu/farming-connection/news/actalert/btcrops.htm

5. Read a New York Times article about the problem at http://csf.colorado.edu/ecofem/nov98/0060.html

6. Read a detailed article about genetically engineered foods at http://www.home.intekom.com/tm_info/rw90104.htm

7. The ecological impacts of transgenic crops is detailed at http://www.pmac.net/miguel.htm

8. Learn about the issues. Seek out books on the subject. A good source for used (and new) books is Powells Bookstore in Portland, Oregon at http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/associate?assoc_id=212 where you will find a wonderful alternative to the massive chain bookstores taking over the market.

 

[Jackie Giuliano, Ph.D., can be found in Venice, California, wondering if his dog Banshee, who now has bone cancer, was poisoned when she went into the ocean a few years ago. He is a Professor of Environmental Studies for Antioch University, Los Angeles, and the University of Phoenix Southern California Campuses. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@deepteaching.com and visit his web site at http://www.deepteaching.com]

This article appears courtesy of Jackie Giuliano (copyright 1999)
and is printed with the permission of the
Environment News Service.


Jackie Giuliano, Ph. D., can be found in Venice, California, wondering what is left that is safe to eat. He is a Professor of Environmental Studies for Antioch University, Los Angeles, and the University of Phoenix Southern California Campuses. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at http://www.healingourworld.com


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