A Big Vote in the State of Washington

November 5th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on A Big Vote in the State of Washington

gmoTomatoesToday, the citizens in Washington state are voting to decide whether to label food that contains genetically modified ingredients through Initiative 522. Supporters of the initiative say consumers have the right to know what’s in the food they buy, while opponents say the measure would lead to higher food costs. If voters approve 522, Washington would be the first state to enact labeling requirements for foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Connecticut passed a labeling law last summer that doesn’t take effect until several other states pass similar laws.

As GMO’s continue to be in the spotlight, more and more people are becoming aware of them, and more and more information is being shared about what they are, and what they potentially do. As a result, many are receiving what I’d call a “tabloid-like version” of what exactly genetic modification is. Because it’s such an important issue, and it has the potential to impact our entire food supply, especially those of s in the organic and natural foods industry, should know not just the passion and angst behind the issue; but we should know and understand the actual science as well. To that end, let’s put on our “Dr. Science” caps and get a little geeky.

First, I would ask you to just take a moment and really grasp the significance of the following sentence: “Our food is being made and modified by the world’s largest pesticide manufacturer”. This is not hyperbole; but rather it’s fact. That’s pretty powerful, and just that alone is a superb reason for wanting to minimize the impact of genetic modification on our food supply. But there’s more.

So, let’s make sure we all understand exactly what genetic engineering is and is not. It is not about crossing different breeds of animals, developing various hybrids of fruit, or other “within species” enhancements that improve naturally-occurring traits. It’s about using a bacteria or virus to artificially insert an entirely foreign DNA into a plant’s genes. An example is Monsanto’s “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, which is genetically modified to produce a protein that ruptures the stomach when ingested by pests.

And here is some more rather geeky, but very valuable information from the GMO Awareness Website that should make everyone very anxious about the use of genetic modification:

The first risk of genetic engineering is the very theory underlying its science and methods, which was brought to light by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute.

All along, genetic modification has been based on a theory that one gene will express (or “code for”) one protein, and thus an organism’s genome — its total complement of DNA genes — should fully account for its unique pattern of inherited traits. However, when the Human Genome Research Project was completed in 2002, it proved this theory was not true. The Human Genome Research Project discovered that genes operate in a complex network in ways that are still not fully understood. The human genome has just under 25,000 genes, yet our bodies function with approximately 100,000 proteins. This is not a one-to-one ratio.

There are far too few human genes to account for the complexity of our inherited traits, not to mention the vast inherited differences between plants — including the unrelated genes of the bacteria or viruses with which plants are being genetically manipulated. “A genome is a complex ecosystem that is greatly influenced by the environment—each gene of a genome makes many proteins according to environmental cues,” Dr. Thierry Vrain, former research scientist for Agriculture Canada.

Gene Modification is Not Specific, Precise, or Predictable

Thus the very process of genetic engineering—the random insertion of a gene into the genome—causes disruptions in many enzymes that perform basic metabolic work. Says Dr. Vrain, “Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic.”

Fast forward to this decade, and the results of the Human Genome Research Project are once again being proven: while working to find allergens in their GMO crops, scientists discovered that the genetic regulatory sequence used in more than 60% of GMO crops encodes a significant fragment of a “viral” gene that, in their words, “might result in unintended phenotypic changes.”During this same study, they also discovered some GMO crops had “superfluous” and “unsuspected” genes, including incomplete or rearranged sequences. The results of this study could not more clearly underscore what the Human Genome Research Project has been saying all along:

“Genetic engineering is an experiment in the proposition that human institutions can perform adequate risk assessments on lab-created living organisms”

Historically, whenever we attempt to dominate, manipulate, and/or control outcomes of nature, we lose. It’s that simple. Humankind does best when we work with nature; when we follow nature’s lead, and not try to control or manipulate her, but rather when we dance with her. Genetic modification is not dancing. Let’s hope the citizens of Washington send us all that message today.