GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Dr.Fagan's STATEMENT ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS



PERSONAL STATEMENT ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS 
by Dr. John Fagan 

As a molecular biologist I have participated in the development of 
genetic engineering. Yet, over the years I have watched with dismay as 
the biotechnology industry has veered into increasingly irresponsible 
applications of this technology. They have done this in the name of 
progress, but the underlying drive for economic profit jeopardizes 
health and the environment. 

I feel responsible as a scientist and as a human being to do what I can 
to rectify this situation. 

The use of genetic engineering to manipulate the genetic blueprints of 
the plants and animals from which we derive our foods is a serious 
misuse of this technology. Genetic engineering is an inherently 
unnatural and artificial method for modifying the characteristics of 
living things, and not simply an extension of traditional breeding 
practices, as proponents often maintain. This process-essentially 
genetic surgery-unavoidably disrupts the natural sequence of unfoldment 
of the genetic information that governs an organism's functioning. 
Moreover, this process is unavoidably unpredictable in its outcome. As a 
result, genetic manipulations can accidentally introduce into foods 
dangerous new allergens and toxins, and can reduce the nutritional value 
of the food. 

Already genetic engineering has accidentally created allergenic soy 
beans, while genetic manipulations intended to enhance the ability of 
bacteria to produce a food additive have caused those bacteria to also 
produce toxins that killed and permanently disabled U.S. citizens. 
Furthermore, genetic manipulations of crop plants frequently confer 
commercially interesting characteristics, such as herbicide resistance, 
at the expense of food qualities that we consumers value, such as 
nutrition and flavor. 

Currently, government regulations on the safety testing of genetically 
engineered foods are weak in many countries and non-existent in others. 
Thus, these foods are not tested adequately before they are placed on 
the market. This places consumers at risk. Also, laws do not require 
most genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such. This denies 
people the right to choose whether or not they wish to eat these 
experimental foods. This violates very fundamental human rights. 

This is not a small problem. At present, the genes of virtually every 
grain, vegetable, fruit, and legume have been manipulated in the 
laboratory, and many of these foods have already entered the 
marketplace. If current momentum is maintained, genetically engineered 
forms of essentially every food that we eat will be lurking unlabeled in 
our grocery stores in just a few years. The risks will be widespread, 
and unavoidable-unless we take action, and do so now. 

Genetically engineered foods must at least be labeled as such. Safety 
testing must be made much more rigorous, and these foods should be 
banned until scientifically shown to be safe for everyone. 

Not only does the commercialization of genetically engineered foods pose 
significant health risks and violate the fundamental rights of every 
human being to knowingly choose the foods that they eat, but the use of 
genetically engineered crops and livestock in agriculture can seriously 
damage the environment. Through cross pollination and other mechanisms, 
manipulated genes and genetically engineered organisms can enter the 
ecosystem, disrupting its natural dynamics and threatening the 
environment, the food chain, and global biodiversity. 

The hazards of genetic pollution, alone, are sufficient grounds to 
justify a world-wide ban on most applications of genetic engineering in 
food production. This course of action is further justified by the fact 
that agricultural genetic engineering perpetuates and extends the 
treadmill of chemical agriculture that is depleting our soil, 
diminishing the nutritional value of our food, and tainting it with 
toxic and carcinogenic substances. 

The over-emphasis on genetic engineering and other high-tech approaches 
in agriculture is especially regrettable because it is unnecessary. Far 
safer, sustainable agricultural methods are available that can feed all 
of humanity. Excessive reliance on high-tech methods has stunted the 
implementation of sustainable farming approaches that are based on 
understanding deeper levels of natural law. These approaches are capable 
of efficiently and cost-effectively providing nutritious food without 
disrupting the environment and squandering precious, non-renewable 
resources. 

In addition to the consumers' right to know, there is another 
fundamental ethical issue related to the commercialization of genetic 
engineering-the patenting of life. One of the cornerstones of the 
biotechnology industry is the ability to patent the genetic blueprints 
of plants, animals, and human beings. These blueprints have existed 
since time immemorial, yet in the name of economic expediency, 
governments around the world are allowing multinational corporations to 
claim ownership of these genes. According to the law of this land, many 
genes that are part of your body and mine are already owned by these 
companies, as are the genes of many foods. This is simply not in accord 
with natural law. 

The rapid and indiscriminate introduction of genetically engineered 
foods into our food supply is ill-advised. We need to act now to protect 
the health and safety of our children and future generations; to 
preserve the welfare of the environment; and to guard basic human 
rights. We need more rigorous safety testing of genetically engineered 
foods, and a ban on these foods until scientifically shown to be safe. 
At minimum, any genetically engineered food that enters the market place 
should be labeled as such so that consumers can choose whether or not to 
eat them. 

Address: 
Maharishi University of Management
Fairfield, Iowa 52557-1078
U.S.A.
Phone: 515-472-1111 or 472-8342
Fax: 515-472-1167 or 472-5725
email jfagan@mum.edu.