Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods

OPIRG wcsbeau at
Mon Jun 21 16:23:06 EST 1993

Posting this on behalf of Dr. Cummings. Hoping to start some serious
discussion about the implications of allowing, for example, untested
gene-tinkered canola onto the market, plus discussion on the ethics
(or lack-there-of) of failing to label foodstuffs that have been
"tinkered", or that contain tinkered (ie transgenic) ingredients.
Cross-posting to give the discussion a "pus.  Maybe (we hope)e) talk
between biologists, agriculturalists, and people NOT trained in these
areas, can help clarify where the problems lie, and what ethical and
safety issues Canada and the USA have to look at, as regards transgenic

Dianne Murray
Reid Cooper

***************************article begins here*********************************


by Joseph E. Cummins, Ph.D.
(Associate Professor (Genetics), 
Dept. of Plant Sciences,
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada).

from "alive", Vol. 130, May 1993, pp 12-13. 
[posted with permission of Dr. Cummins]
Gene tinkered crop plants being prepared for market include potatoes with
genes from chickens, silk moth or bacteria; tomatoes with genes from
flounders, bacteria, or virus; corn with genes from bacteria, fire fly or
wheat - along with numerous other examples.

      The biotechnology industry hopes to market such crops without labelling
them or testing them on animals, obliging the people of North America to be
white mice for their experiments.  Such tests on humans has already led to
disaster.  A food material sold in natural food stores - *tryptophan*
(_Nature's_Bounty,_ _Showa-Denko_Co_) was contaminated by a byproduct produced
by a gene-tinkered bacterium.  The byproduct caused an auto-immune blood
disease called *eosinophile* *myalgia* syndrome (a disease somewhat similar to
Lupus).  The disease killed 27 people and permanently injured between 5,000
and 100,000.  Among the victims was a goalie for the Islanders, Mark
Fitzpatrick, a 22-year-old from Vancouver, whose playing life was threatened.

      These were the first acknowledged victims of biotechnology - but not the

      The main problem with biotechnology is scientific imperialism. Scientists
are a a pampered minority, who frequently have little or no contact with
average people. Jim Watson, a co-discoverer of the DNA structure, states about
biotechnology in his book *The DNA Story* (1981), "It was never the intention
of those who might be called the "molecularbiology establishment"  to take the
issue to the general public to decide."

      My direct experience was in a Canadian legal public hearing about
biotechnology regulation (1990).  The chairman on the session on human health
impacts was an industrial consultant hired by the government.  That chairman
refused to hear my witness statement even though I am more than qualified as a
professional geneticist. "Disagreeable" evidence was deleted.

      Scientific imperialists hold key positions in academic publishing and
government bureaucracy.  They are ruthless.

The main threat from gene-spliced crops lies in the eesoteric aspects of
genetic engineering used in producing the transgenic crops.  Essentially, all
of the crops will be bearing antibiotic resistence genes in bacteria.  Such
genes are needed in the early stages of gene tinking but are unessential in
the final crop. There is every reason to believe that the wipespread
dissemination of anti-biotic genes to crops will be followed by the transfer
of these genes to pathogenic organisms.  Resistant forms of pathogens are
already causing uncontrollable increases in tuberculosis, veneral disease, and
fatal diarrhoea targeting small children. (It was possible to trace drug-
resistant pathogens from ill calves to a farmer, then to his daughter, then to
her infant, then to other infants in a hospital nursery!)

      Medical authorities predict that Draconian isolation priocedures and
closed wards for sick people will appear as antibiotic resistence amplifies. 

      The biotechnology industry has no substitute for the anti-biotics being
rendered useless by their use in crop plants.  A procedure called "plasmid
rescue" allows the antibiotic resistance gene cassettes to be transferred from
crop plants to soil bacteria, while MOB genes transfer the cassettes to
disease-causing bacteria. Food allergy is a potent threat, with enzymes for
antibiotic resistance, along with proteins and enzymes for most of the crop
modifications for storage, drought and pest resistance.  Food allergy creates
symptoms from migraine headaches, to asthma, to diarrhoea, to death.

      Allergens are substances causing allergy in sensitive people.  Among
these substances are enzymes, food additivesand foriegn materials in food. 
You may recollect the powerful allergic response of many people when enzymes
were added to laundry detergent.

      Hundreds of thousands of sensitive North Americans will die and millions
will suffer, from gene-tampered crops.  The biotechnology industry has evaded
financial responsibility in the disaster by a "sweet scam" in which they
received prior government approval without testing. Cereals (espicially wheat)
are among the important foods which, on ingestion, produce respiratory,
gastrointestinal, or skin problems in sensitive people. Wheat gluten has been
implicated in schizophrenia.  Transfer of wheat genes to other cereals or corn
might greatly increase incidence or impact of schizophrenia.  Yet such
transfers are being prepared for market.  Interestingly, spider toxins are
being engineered into insect viruses being sprayed ion crops, or into crops,
to fight insects.  These toxins not only kill insects but they cause strong
allergic response.  The "safety" of the toxins has been approved based on
highly theoretical computer models of human nerve channels.  Such models
ignore allergy.

      Another area of gene modification is introduced male sterility as an aid
in hybrid seed production.  Many of the introduced genes are synthetic "anti"
genes, that seek out and destroy normal fertility genes.  Fertility genes
influence fiundamnetal processes, such as meiosis (gene changes during
formation of egg and sperm).  Such genes are based on genetic consensus, thus,
they are highly conservative.  What I am saying is that many of the same
sterility genes are likely to effect humans as well as corn, tomatoes, and

      It is folly to allow the general release of such detrimental genes. In
Canada and the United States, most of the several hundred field tests are
being undertaken by multinational chemical companies, with government and
universities providing few tests.  All of the transgenic crops have bacterial
antibiotic resistence and 81% of the tests are for herbicide tolerance
(promoting use of polluting chemicals) with male sterility the other main
test.  These tests are being done with little or no monitoring and are being
done with little or no monitoring and are being done with little or no
monitoring and are being done with little or no monitoring and are being done
near population centres by the mutinational corporations.

For reasons that are rather technical, most of the crop plants are engineered
to include gene switches (promoters) that make up a large part of the
Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) chromosome. Ca MV is a pararetrovirus related
to the hepatitis B virus and to HIV virus, the AIDS virus.  Such switches may
be transferred to infecting viruses to produce more deadly strains by a
process called "pseudorecombination" allows the artificial gene switches to be
transferred to viruses unrelated to the switch, creating super virulent
hybrid-viruses. Such genetic accidents have been observed in the laboratory.

      China is currently planning to test crop plants and microbes altered for
enhanced soil fertility in test plots spanning several square miles.  The
spread of antibiotic resistence genes in the creation of virulent new crop
diseases and evident food allergy is likely to be observed in the trials.  The
public should be careful to ensure that scientific imperialists do not "cover-
up" the damaging results or suppress their release to the public.  However, it
will be impossible to stop them from down-playing and obfuscating detrimental

      Even though governments do not plan to require gene tinkered crops to be
labelled, the public shuld demand such labelling.  However, scientific
imperialists have been well known to sneak banned tests through, as occured
early  in the development of biotechnology. An inexpensive monoclonal antibody
test (ELISA) for measuring the products of tinkered antibiotic resistance
genes should be made available to public prior to sale of any tinkered crops
to the public.  Such tests are inexpensive (about $4 to $10 each) and simple
to perform; for example, a fifth grade class proved perfection in analysing an
arcane human growth factor using an inexpensive ELISA test.  Such tests are
now readily available for pesticides and easily prepared for ferreting out
gene tinkered crops. Healthy people need to use such tests to stay that way.


M.W. Fox "Superpigs and Wondercorn" Lyons and Burford. N.Y. 1992.

"The Gene Exchange", A public voice on genetic engineering. National Wildlife
Federation 1400 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036-2266 "Gene Watch" Council
for Responsible Genetics, 19 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA  02138  USA



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