Genetic Engineering of Food Is Not the Answer

04/15/2015 12:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

In January 2001, I went to California's Monterey coast for the Asilomar ecological conference. About 300 people met in Watsonville to take a bus tour through farms in the prosperous Pajaro Valley near Watsonville.

In the bus I met an organic farmer who made a modest living near Santa Cruz from growing tomatoes on two acres of land. He said he quit working for a global food company because he disagreed with its immoral behavior. "What you hear of Monsanto," he said, "is nor practiced by Monsanto alone. Agribusiness companies are not trying to feed the world. Their game is power, monopolies, and profits."

Monsanto, of course, is the American giant multinational seed, pesticide, and drug company pushing the genetic engineering of food to its limits. Some of the seeds Monsanto is selling to farmers are designed to bring traditional farming to an end. The Monsanto farmers must buy their seeds from Monsanto every growing season. This is what the organic farmer had in mind with his warning about Monsanto.

Genetic engineering is also known as recombinant DNA technology, molecular engineering, or gene splicing. We talk about GMOs in describing genetically modified organisms or foods. But whatever the name, genetically engineered foods removes us further from family farming and the natural world. Crops that coevolved with human beings for millennia become extinct or their seeds end up in some refrigerated collection.

Agribusiness is responsible for this civilization upheaval. It is an industry of large farms, giant machinery and pesticides. It values pesticides so much it invented the genetic engineering of crops in order to extend the life of its weed and insect killers. But its vision is the control of the world's food. Genetic engineering and pesticides are a means to that end.

Genetic engineering manipulates the molecular world of important crops so that agribusiness poisons will not kill those crops. Agribusiness then sells to the gullible farmers its toxic combination of herbicide and seed, the two working together, the seed having being made immune to its companion herbicide.

Genetic engineers have also added genes from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), into the genetic code of corn. Bt kills the European corn borer belonging in the same insect family with the beautiful Monarch butterflies and moths.

Out in the land, Bt does have the opportunity to kill the European corn borer and butterflies. But that opportunity is rare because of the countervailing forces of nature. First of all, the Bt toxin kills certain insects only when it is in the gut of those insects. Something in the digestive system of the insect activates the Bt molecules, making them lethal to the European corn borer or butterflies. No such complexity (and protection for the insects) exists in the bioengineered Bt corn. The entire corn plant and its pollen become killers to the Monarch butterflies and the European corn borers. The activated lethal Bt toxin is in every cell of corn.

The toxic pollen of the Bt corn moves with the wind. Cornfields are huge. They include billions of corn plants very close to each other. The danger for the Monarch butterflies and other related Lepidopteran insects is overwhelming.

How did this dangerous genetic engineering of food come about?

It started in the 1970s when molecular biologists scrabbled bacteria genes and built the first genetically engineered bacterium. By the 1980s, gene splicing included shooting foreign genes into crops.

Steven M Druker, a lawyer, followed the scrabbling of genes with considerable unease. He kept asking himself, scientists, and government regulators how could a few companies disregard the country's food safety laws, which forbid hazardous additives into food. He was convinced genetically engineered food was different, nay hazardous. And, yet, the genetic engineering companies and the Food and Drug Administration have been saying there's no difference between GE food and conventional food. Druker spent some twenty years finding out the truth whether or not GE food was safe.

The result is his book, "Altered Genes, Twisted Truth" (Clear River Press, 2014): a sobering, comprehensive, and riveting history of how corporate power bended the state and brought into being the genetically engineered food industry.

Druker says he "uncovered the crime that enabled the commercialization of genetically engineered foods." He criticizes numerous "molecular scientists" for selling out to corporate interests in expanding their gene splicing techniques to food. These scientists and their societies would have national conferences declaring the "safety" of manipulating crops to withstand the toxic power of herbicides and the "safety" of crops becoming poisonous to insects.

Druker accused the Food and Drug Administration for subverting science and deceiving the public. FDA simply classified all GE foods as additives Generally Recognized as Safe. But Druker knew there never was a scientific consensus about the "safety" of GE food. He said FDA's GE policy was "unscientific, irresponsible, and fundamentally wrong."

This led him to suing FDA. No trial took place, but the discovery part of his legal action brought to the surface some 44,000 pages of government documents, including FDA scientists' caution about the risks of GE foods. FDA arbitrarily exempted GE foods from scientific testing demanded by the food safety laws.

"FDA had ushered these controversial [GE food] products onto the market by evading the standards of science, deliberately breaking the law, and seriously misrepresenting the facts... that the American people were being regularly (and unknowingly) subjected to novel foods that were abnormally risky in the eyes of the agency's own scientists," he wrote.

On the basis of this evidence, Druker accused FDA of perpetuating "an enormous ongoing fraud." He condemned the entire GE food business. "[T]he GE food venture," he says, "has not been, nor can be, conducted responsibly or safely... it must... be terminated as rapidly as possible."

Read this very important, well-written, and timely book.

We don't need GE food. Family farming is the answer.