What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
This is a plant, animal or microbe that has received, through laboratory techniques, a copy of a gene that gives it a desirable property.
What is a gene?
A gene is a piece of the substance DNA, which controls a particular property. For example, a gene may control the color of a corn grain.
What is unusual about genetic modification?
Genetic modification is similar to plant breeding, something that has been done for thousand of years already in producing a more productive plant. Hybrids, for example, are genetically modified using natural hybridization. These hybrids get a new mixture of genes, most of which you do not know about. With GMOs however, genetic modification is done by a scientist to the plant or animal and the GMO gets one or two desirable genes, genes you know exactly what they confer to the plant or animal.
Do we have GMOs or its products in the Philippines already?
Actually, there are several:
The insulin prescribed by doctors to diabetics is produced by genetically modified bacteria, which received a copy of a human insulin gene – making insulin cheaper, safer and readily available to diabetics.
The Hepatitis B vaccine that protects you from getting sick with hepatitis B (which you can get from dirty water by the way) is produced by yeast, hence the vaccine is now cheaper and available.
We import a lot of corn and soybean from the USA, the number one country in growing GM corn and soybean. Most likely, the imported corn contains about 30% GM corn while the soybean contains about 60%. So, the “taho” from the “maglalako”, hotdogs, canned tuna, and other products containing these imported grains would contain GM products.
The Bt corn that the corn farmers of General Santos want to plant.
Why would these farmers want to plant Bt corn, a GMO?
These farmers observed a trial planting of Bt corn in their locality. They realized that Bt corn can save their crop from the dreadful corn borer which usually reduces their harvest by as much as 30-80%. Besides, the presence of corn borers indicates aflatoxin in the corn grains. Remember, aflatoxin is a potent cancer-causing substance.
Don’t farmers use anything to kill the borer?
Most farmers use a very toxic chemical, Furadan. It kills leaf-eating insects, soil-inhabiting insects, soil nematodes, wildlife, farm animals and you, if you drink it. If you eat young corn, you may be eating some of it because this chemical gets into all parts of the plant. (How do you think it kills the borer inside the plant?).
So, Bt corn is safer than conventionally grown corn?
Of course, conventionally grown corn uses chemical pesticides.
But accordingly, Bt corn produces a toxin?
A toxin against the borer, moths, and butterflies – but not man.
Bt corn, coffee, siling labuyo – most plants produce an insecticide.
The insecticide of Bt corn is a protein. It is digestible and can be excreted by the body as waste materials.
Chemical pesticides often kill many kinds of insects, birds, farm animals, and even man. Can Bt corn have the same effect?
No, as I have said only other moths and other butterflies. In the trial planting of Bt corn in General Santos City, spiders, grasshoppers, aphids, and other insects were seen on Bt corn plants.
How about Bt corn killing the monarch butterfly in the US?
The Monarch butterfly is a butterfly that catches the fancy of Americans because they are colorful and migrate seasonally from Mexico to the USA. There is a short laboratory experiment in Cornell University in New York showing some of the butterfly’s larvae dying or growing slowly when eating leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen. Whether this could also happen around cornfields is still speculative although some argue that this could be few and may not significantly reduce the population of the butterfly.
And this report about the Bt toxin persisting in the soil and may kill soil insects?
Killing soil insects is speculative. Given the high temperatures we have, the numerous microbes in our soils could easily destroy the toxin exuded by the corn plant. Besides, the Bt bacterium is native to our soils and has not killed all soil insects.
But what is this genetic pollution with GMOs?
Ask the corn farmer about the yellow kernels he gets from white corn planted near a yellow corn field.
You did say earlier that GMOs are not toxic, but what about this report by a UK scientist who claims that his rats died after being fed with GMO?
You must be referring to Dr. Arpad Puzstai who fed raw GM-potato to his rats. The Royal Society of London actually discredited his conclusions. One reason is that rats do not usually eat raw potatoes. If you eat raw rice only for six months, you could die also.
Can GMOs cause cancer?
Insulin for diabetics and Hepatitis B vaccine to protect your child are all GMO products. Insulin has been used since the mid-1980s, and up to this day, there have been no reported cases that it caused cancer.
But there is supposedly this scientific evidence of a hormone produced by a GMO that causes cancer?
You must be referring to bovine growth hormone (bgh) which normally promotes cell growth and under certain conditions may promote cancerous growth. This may hold true only for this particular hormone and definitely not to all GMO products. Besides cancer depends upon your DNA.
Now that is another word often associated with GMOs – DNA. What is DNA?
DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid. To understand DNA, think of yourself as a house and the DNA is the blueprint, the plan from which the house was built.
Building a GMO is like building a house, you must first make a blueprint. You look at different house models. You may say, I want Model 1 but I would like to have the kitchen of Model 2. Then the architect draws a blueprint that is mainly Model 1 but incorporates the kitchen plan of Model 2.
Also, going back to cancer, for you to get cancer, you must have a weak point in your DNA. Only when an outside force is applied to that weak point then you can have cancer. If that weak point does not exist, you will not get cancer.
Building a house is a human activity, but a GMO is living organism. Doesn’t creating GMOs pose ethical issues?
The Vatican and the Muslim elders do not find anything wrong with making GMOs for food and medicine to alleviate human suffering. An influential UK scientific think tank, the Nuffield Foundation’s Council of Bioethics also argued that there is moral obligation to develop GM-crops.
How about the claim that eating GMOs will make you gay or infertile?
These claims are all part of a campaign to discredit GMOs. These are baseless.
If GMOs are that innocuous, why all the fuss?
The current fuss is created by anti-GMO groups mostly from Europe and has local representatives. The position of some is ideological, i.e. being anti-GMO is being against the concentration of wealth and power to the few multinationals that produce GMO seeds. Another reason is economic; European farmers cannot compete against the GMOs produced mainly by Americans, Argentinians, etc. For certain organic farming enthusiasts, their opposition to GMOs is geared to preserve their way of life much like that of religion. Examples are our brother Muslims who consider the pig as an unsuitable food, or the Hindus of India who maintain that the cow is sacred and must not be eaten.
Author: Saturnina Halos, based on the outputs of the Genetically Modified Organisms Workshop held last 24 March 2000 at the ATI/BAR Board Room, ATI Bldg., Quezon City, photo from repeatfanzine.co.uk
Update: Nov. 29, 2007 – Possible Effects of GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a broad group of plants, animals, and bacteria that are engineered for a wide variety of applications ranging from agricultural production to scientific research. The types of potential hazards posed by GMOs vary according to the type of organism being modified and its intended application. Most of the concern surrounding GMOs relates to their potential for negative effects on the environment and human health.
- Food Allergy
- Increased Toxicity
- Decreased Nutritional Value
- Antibiotic resistance
Related article about harmful effects of GMO at www.cqs.com/50harm.htm