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 just a few decades 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.
It is important to understand that genetic engineering is nothing at all like conventional breeding techniques.
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 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 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.
None of this would matter too much if what they were doing was harmless. But fiddling around with genes is an exceedingly hazardous business. Messing around with genes can cause cancer.
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 forty years but most doctors, critics and journalists have so far been too frightened to oppose the torrent of undiluted praise for genetic engineering.
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.
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 succeeded in ‘persuading’ politicians and administrators that there is no need to segregate genetically engineered produce from naturally grown produce and yet 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. 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. I first warned about this hazard in a book I wrote in the early 1990s.
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 decades.
We thought that the dumping of waste chemicals was bad news. And it was. 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 wide.
‘Don’t worry!’ said the genetic engineers. ‘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 as well as I do that something terrible could happen.
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 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 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 people paid to look after the world have rolled over before the big cheque books of the companies which mess around with genes.
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 problems are only just beginning but already they are frightening. Potatoes 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 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.
It’s time for all the messing around with genes to be halted. This isn’t Ludism, it’s common sense and self-preservation.
I leave you with one final thought.
Monsanto is one of the best, known companies turning out genetically modified seeds.
And guess what: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a big investor in Monsanto.
I have always regarded Monsanto as the most evil company on the planet and I’ve thought of it this way for several reasons.
First, Monsanto has long been a leader in the development of genetically modified plants. These terrify me because as far as I have been able to find out they have never been properly tested to see what long term consequences there might be. What damage could there be to crops in a few years time? Could they become more susceptible to disease? And are there any risks to the people who eat genetically modified food? For some years now, Monsanto has taken to patenting its seeds and as a result small farmers who have traditionally grown their crops from their own seeds have found that they have been unable to do so. There are said to have been many thousands of suicides as a result of this – as farmers found that they weren’t allowed to grow the seed they had saved from their own crops but had to buy seed they couldn’t afford to buy. I have reported on this many times in the past.
And, of course, Monsanto is the manufacturer of Roundup – a doubtless effective but equally doubtless nasty weed killer. Unfortunately, there have been a number of claims that Roundup causes cancer and there were 125,000 lawsuits as a result. The German company Bayer bought Monsanto a little while ago. Bayer is alleged to have paid $63 billion for Monsanto and to have paid $10.9 billion to settle the claims relating to Roundup.
The bottom line is that I cannot imagine why anyone who really cares for people and the planet would put any money into Monsanto or Bayer.
Oh, and Bill Gates funded research to create genetically modified mosquitoes.
If that doesn’t keep you awake at night then you haven’t been paying attention.
The result? The world now has a huge population of hybrid mosquitoes – and there is a real risk that the mosquito population will be more resistant to mosquito control measures.
Adapted from the book Food for Thought by Vernon Coleman – available on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.