I have for decades been deeply concerned about genetic engineering – and the way it is endangering all our lives. The following piece is taken from my book Meat Causes Cancer. And other Food for Thought (the first edition of which was published in 1994). The extract is still entirely accurate. Beneath the extract I have added an update.
‘Science has, during the last few decades, presented us with a steadily increasing and apparently endless variety of moral dilemmas and practical threats. The subject of genetic engineering is a perfect example of how politicians have betrayed us all and are, through their refusal to take on big industry, threatening our very future.
In two decades or so genetic engineering has evolved so rapidly as a branch of science (if science is the right word for a form of alchemy which seems to pay little or no attention to logic or research) that the future of our species is now threatened. Genetic engineering enables scientists to transfer genes between species in an entirely unnatural way. Human genes can be transferred to pigs, sheep, fish or bacteria. And genes from bacteria, slugs, elephants, fish, tomatoes and anything else can be put into human beings.
Genetic engineering started in the 1970s. The technique involves putting genes from one species into another species. In order to do this the genetic engineers put the genes they want to move into viruses. They then put the virus into the animal or plant which is to be the recipient. Genetic engineering is nothing at all like conventional breeding techniques (such as are used by dog breeders who want dogs with very floppy ears or by people who want to grow black tulips).
Listen to the boastful, extraordinarily arrogant claims of genetic scientists and you might believe that they had all the answers to hunger and disease. They talk grandly about eradicating starvation by creating new high yield, pest resistant versions of existing foods and manipulating genes to banish physical ailments, aggression and depression. They will, they say, be able to eradicate homosexuality, control the overpopulation problem, purify water supplies, remove crime from our streets and deal with deforestation. Genetic engineers have even talked of modified strains of bacteria able to eat up plastics, heavy metals and other toxic wastes.
Vast amounts of money (at least $3 billion) have been poured into identifying the human genome (the genetic blue print for human life). There has even been talk that we will be able to clone ourselves so that we need never die.
Moral and ethical questions have been brushed aside as the unnecessary anxieties of ignorant Luddites who either do not understand what is going on or are temperamentally opposed to progress.
But if it all sounds too good to be true — and all rather reminiscent of the sort of cheap promises with which confidence tricksters make their money — that is because it simply isn’t true. Genetic scientists don’t have the answers to any of our problems. On the contrary they have created a hugely successful money making myth which keeps them in fat grants and huge salaries. (It is important not to underestimate the importance of money in the world of genetic engineering. The world market for biotechnology products is growing at 30% a year.)
None of this would matter too much if what they were doing was as harmless as it is useless. But harmless it is definitely not! Fiddling around with genes is an exceedingly hazardous business. Simply inserting a gene from one creature into another can cause cancer.
Genetic engineering is not something we can simply ignore until the thousands who are making the grand claims are exposed as fraudsters, or until their poorly based pseudoscience falls out of fashion. It is time that the insane burblings of the geneticists were exposed for what they are. I have been writing about the horrors of genetic engineering for over twenty years — since I first realised that scientists were making promises it was clear they couldn’t keep — but most doctors, critics and journalists have so far been too frightened (or ignorant) to oppose the torrent of undiluted praise for genetic engineering and point a firm finger at just another invisible suit of clothes for the same old naked Emperor.
When genetic engineering first hit the headlines, the public was promised that there would be strict rules about just what could and could not be done. But the rules that were intended to protect us have been bent, pushed aside and ignored. Regulations were, it was claimed, slowing down progress, interfering with the competitiveness of the developing new industry and getting in the way of individual scientists keen to get on with their plan for improving the world. It is wrong, say the scientists, to try to ban new thinking or new research.
Genetic engineers claim that there is no need for caution and that only the narrow minded and the reactionary have reservations about this exciting new branch of scientific endeavour.
But the fact is that the genetic engineering industry has even succeeded in ‘persuading’ politicians and administrators that there is no need to segregate genetically engineered produce from naturally grown produce.
The risks associated with genetic engineering are numerous and widespread. There is little doubt that genetic engineering is at least partly responsible for the problem of antibiotic-resistant organisms. And there is even less doubt that genetic engineering is responsible for some, and possibly many, of the new infective organisms now threatening human health.
Under normal circumstances viruses are species specific. A virus that attacks a cat will not attack a human being. And a virus that attacks a human being will not attack a cow. But the genetic engineers have changed all that. They have deliberately glued together different bits of viruses in order to cross species barriers. These genetically engineered viruses can then become virulent again. Genetically engineered viruses are extremely infectious. None of this happens by accident — this is how genetic engineering works.
Naturally, the men and women in white coats who were convinced that they knew best (‘Trust us — nothing can go wrong’) have been releasing genetic material that they have been fiddling with into the environment for years. A year or two ago we thought that the dumping of waste chemicals was bad news. But the dumping of genetic misshapes and off-cuts will, I believe, create a problem infinitely larger than the dumping of chemical waste or even nuclear waste. Genes, once they start moving and reproducing, can keep spreading, recombining and affecting new species for ever. Once the door has been opened it cannot be shut. And the door has been opened.
‘Don’t worry!’ said the genetic engineers, when this problem was identified. ‘Genetic material is easily digested by gut enzymes.’
Sadly, they were wrong about that too.
Genetic material can survive a journey through an intestine and find its way, via the blood stream, into all sorts of body cells. And once inside a new body the genetic material can begin to affect host cells. If you eat a genetically engineered tomato the foreign genes in the tomato could end up in your cells. Cancer is an obvious possible consequence of this. Exactly what are the risks? I’m afraid that your guess is as good as mine. And our guesses are just as good as the guesses made by genetic engineers. They don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen. But they know that something terrible could happen.
Readers will, I am sure, have realised that this poses a new and startling question: what about the altered genetic material in new types of food? What happens to genetically altered food when it is eaten? Will the altered genes find their way into our own genetic material? Could genetically engineered food cause cancer? Could genetically engineered food affect the human immune system?
Asking the questions is easy. But no one knows the answers.
Genetically engineered foods have already been shown to produce allergy problems — and to be toxic. One major hazard is that plants which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to disease may be more likely to produce allergy problems. A soya bean genetically engineered with a gene from a brazil nut was found to cause allergy problems when eaten by people sensitive to Brazil nuts. A strain of yeast, genetically altered in order to ferment more quickly, acquired cancer inducing qualities. Contaminants in an amino acid produced by a Japanese company led to 1,500 people falling ill and to the deaths of 37 individuals.
And yet politicians have done nothing to protect the public. The manufacturers of genetically engineered foods do not have to identify foods that have been genetically engineered. No one tests genetically engineered foods to see whether or not they are particularly likely to cause allergy problems. The new food is tested when it is put onto the market. You and I are the unwitting test subjects. Even drug companies have to do some tests before they can launch new products. Food companies seem to be entirely free of controls.
Amazingly, the politicians and administrators whom we pay to protect us allow the manufacturers to get away with the argument that it would be impossible to separate and identify genetically engineered foods. ‘Segregation of bulk commodities is not scientifically justified and is economically unrealistic,’ said the industries involved in genetic engineering. ‘Certainly!’ said the politicians and the bureaucrats. ‘If you say so.’ The US government announced that it would not tolerate the segregation or labelling of genetically engineered crops. The US government has stated: ‘We do not find any scientific evidence to support the assertion that bio-engineered foods are inherently less safe. Therefore they should not be singled out for special labelling requirements.’ In my view this must rank as one of the most hollow and absurd statements of the century since as far as I am aware no one has done any clinical investigations to find out whether or not bio-engineered foods are safe, a bit unsafe or completely deadly.
European politicians do not have the guts to stand up to American politicians. They are frightened that if they upset the Americans the Americans will introduce trade embargoes. (The American government, desperate as ever not to annoy big American companies, warned food companies that if they label their products as not containing genetically engineered food they will not be looked upon favourably if they attempt to market their products in the US.)
The problems are only just beginning but already they are frightening. Potatoes and oilseed rape were genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicide. The resistance spread to weeds within a single growing season. Thanks to the irresponsible overuse and abuse of pesticides, and the widespread introduction of crops genetically engineered to produce ‘natural’ insecticides, more than 1,000 agricultural pests have now acquired so much resistance that they are immune to chemical control. Crops which have been genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides have already begun to make weeds immune to the same herbicides.
If the big seed companies and the politicians have their way then within a year or two farmers throughout the world will be growing the same variety of genetically engineered soya, the same type of genetically engineer potato and the same genetically engineered corn. That is not a prediction which is difficult to make. It is exactly what the big seed manufacturers are planning. And when the world’s single crop of soya/potatoes/corn is destroyed by an insect or plant disease which is immune to every pesticide known to man (and remember there are already 1,000 insects and plant diseases which satisfy that requirement) countless millions around the world will die of starvation.
I strongly suggest that you refuse to buy — or eat — food that has had its genetic composition changed in any way.’
That is the extract from my book Meat Causes Cancer (which was first published in 1994).
In the last few days the UK Government has announced that it will change the rules on gene editing; changing the existing DNA of plants and animals. In the past genetic engineering was ruled by legislation matching laws introduced in 2018 under a European Court of Justice ruling.
The UK Government’s new ruling is designed to make research and development easier and in due course genetically edited food (both plant and animal) will be sold in the UK.
To my surprise, the farmer’s union has welcomed the change. A vice-president said that `gene editing is about speeding up the genetic-selection process that could have occurred naturally. As we look at tackling the challenges of climate change and feeding an ever growing population, we need all the tools available.’
So, there we again.
Our world is being changed fundamentally, and without any idea of where the changes will take us, in order to help us tackle the entirely spurious, pseudo-scientific nonsense that started life as global warming, morphed into climate change, has gone through several other iterations and has ended up as Net Zero – the bizarre idea that we can eradicate the use of all fossil fuels while still providing a world population in excess of seven billion with all the necessary food and energy.
(The very idea is, of course, nonsensical but that doesn’t matter – for two reasons. First, climate change doesn’t exist. It’s a piece of mythology, deliberately designed to excuse a programme of control over the world’s population. Second, there is a very clear plan to reduce the world’s population by over six billion.)
The enthusiasts who have welcomed giving more authority and power to the genetic engineers believe (for no good reason that I can discern) that genetic engineering will produce healthier food. There is also an assumption (based on little more than hubris and hope) that the genetically engineered products will be resistant to weather changes and disease.
There seems to be no understanding that genetic engineering will result in a narrowing of the diversity of plants and animals. A disease which affects a widely used genetically engineered product could lead to a famine that would make the Irish potato famine look insignificant.
All the fears about genetic engineering which I expressed in 1994 still remain. Back then I argued that those promoting the values of genetic engineering should be obliged to prove that their efforts would be entirely safe. The response then (and I strongly suspect it would be the response now) was that it was up to me to prove that genetically engineered products were dangerous.
This, of course, is a complete reversal of common sense and the scientific process.
What sort of monstrosities will the genetic engineers produce? What sort of hideous hybrid animals will result? How many billion will die when widely farmed genetically engineered crops fail?
No one knows the answers to these questions because the UK Government has authorized another massive experiment.
We will be the guinea pigs.
I suspect that, as a result, billions will die.
But then, that’s almost certainly the plan, isn’t it?
Adapted from Vernon Coleman’s book Meat Causes Cancer. And More Food for Thought – available as a paperback and an eBook.