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Why Labeling Genetically Modified Organisms is Pointless

I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in these matters, but I believe the evidence presented below shows that GMOs have and will cross with non-GM crops and wild relatives. This will make it impossible to have any foods that will be free of the modified genes, and any other dangerous bits and pieces that have been inserted into the organisms.

Other evidence shows that the vectors used are also dangerous, and this means that the whole process must be stopped until such time as the scientists themselves (free of the constraints imposed on them by greedy self-interested corporations) can prove conclusively that they have reached a level of expertise and knowledge that is needed to be sure of no danger.

What appears below is not speculation to be argued about politely with the representatives of corporations, but things that have actually happened. (Conclusion at the end if you find this too boring.)

  1. GMOs Cannot Be Kept Apart
    From Their Wild And Cultivated Relatives


    Field tests with genetically engineered potatoes have demonstrated both the high frequency and wide range of gene flow. When normal potato plants were planted in distances up to 1100 metres from genetically engineered potatoes, and the seeds of the normal potatoes were collected afterwards, 72% of the plants in the immediate neighbourhood of the transgenic potatoes contained the transgene. At greater distances an almost constant 35% of seeds contained the transgene (Skogsmyr I, (1994) "Gene dispersal from transgenic potatoes to conspecifics: A field trial." Theor. Appl. Genet 88: 770-774.).

    Scientists at the Scottish Crop Research Institute have shown that much more pollen escapes from large fields of genetically engineered oilseed rape than is predicted from earlier experiments on smaller plots. They found that escaping pollen fertilised plants up to 2.5 kilometres away (Timmons AM, O'Brien BT, Charters YM & Wilkinson MJ (1994) "Aspects of environmental risk assessment for genetically modified plants with special reference to oilseed rape." Scottish Crop Research Institute, Annual Report 1994. SCRI, Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland.).


    Crop seeds travel hundreds of kilometres between seed merchant, farmer and processing factory. Therefore spillage in transport is inevitable -- and could be more worrying than threat through pollen spread (Crawley M., (1996) "The day of the triffids". New Scientist 6 July, pp. 40-41 -- this was further referenced).


    It was reported in 1994 that gene transfer can occur from plants to micro-organisms. Genetically engineered oilseed rape, black mustard, thorn-apple and sweet peas all containing an antibiotic-resistance gene were grown together with the fungus Aspergillus niger or their leaves were added to the soil. The fungus was shown to have incorporated the antibiotic-resistance gene in all co-culture experiments (Hoffmann T, Golz C & Schieder O (1994) "Foreign DNA sequences are received by a wild-type strain of Aspergillus niger after co-culture with transgenic higher plants." Curr. Genet. 27: 70-76.). It is worth noting that micro-organisms can transfer genes through several mechanisms to other unrelated micro-organisms.

  2. Unexpected Effects

    Genetically engineered soil bacteria Klebsiella is a common harmless variety of a bacteria Klebsiella planticola, inhabiting the root-zone of plants. It had been genetically engineered to transform plant residues like leaves into ethanol that farmers could readily use as a fuel. The genetically engineered bacteria not only survived and competed successfully with their parent strain in different soil types, it proved unexpectedly to inhibit growth or kill off grass in different soil types tested. In sandy soil, most of the grasses died from alcohol poisoning. In all soil types the population of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the soil decreased. These soil fungi are crucial for plant health and growth as they help plants to take up nutrients and to resist common diseases. In clay soils, the genetically engineered bacteria increased as well the number of root-feeding nematodes. (Holmes T M & Ingham E R (1995) "The effects of genetically engineered microorganisms on soil foodwebs" in Supplement to Bulletin of Ecological Society of America 75/2)

    The bacteria Pseudomonas putida was genetically engineered to degrade the herbicide 2,4-D. The engineered bacteria broke down the herbicide but degraded it to a substance that was highly toxic to fungi. These fungi -- crucial to soil fertility and in protecting plants against diseases -- were therefore destroyed (Doyle JD, Stotzky G, McClung G & Hendricks C W (1995) "Effects of Genetically Engineered Microorganisms on Microbial Populations and Processes in Natural Habitats, Advances in Applied Microbiology," Vol. 40 Academic Press).

    The toxin-producing gene of the bacteria Bacillus thurigiensis, for instance, is commonly engineered into crops to provide them with a built-in insecticide. However, the toxin produced is known to resist degradation by binding itself to small soil particles whilst continuing its toxic activity. The long term impact of this toxin on soil organisms and soil fertility is unknown (summarised in Doyle et al., 1995).

  3. Dangers Inherent in the Process Itself


    35S Promoter (CaMV) in Calgene's Flavr Savr Tomato Creates Hazard

    Joseph E. Cummins Associate Professor (Genetics) Dept. of Plant Sciences
    University of Western Ontario London, Ontario N6A 5B7
    Telephone: (519) 679-2111 Ext. 6478
    Answering Machine: (519) 681-5477
    FAX: (519) 661-3935

    June 3, 1994

    "Feel free to reprint this article in unalterated form"

    The majority of crop plant constructions for herbicide or disease resistance employ a Promoter from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV). Regardless of the gene transferred, all transfers require a promoter, which is like a motor driving production of the genes' message. Without a promoter, the gene is inactive, but replicated. CaMV is used because it is a powerful motor which drives replication of the retrovirus and is active in both angiosperms and gymnosperms. The CaMV pararetrovirus replication cycle involves production vegetative virus containing RNA which is reverse transcribed to make DNA similar to HIV, Human Leukemia Virus and Human hepatitis B. (Bonneville et al. RNA Genetics Vol.11, "Retroviruses, Viroids and RNA Recombination" pp. 23-42, 1988). CaMV is closely related to hepatitis B and is closely related to HIV (Doolittle et al. Quart.Rev.Biol. 64,2, 1989; Xiong and Eickbush, EMBO Journal 9, 3353, 1990). The CaMV promoter is preferred above other potential promoters because it is a more powerful promoter than others and is not greatly influenced by environmental conditions or tissue types. CaMV has two Promoters 19S and 35S. Of these two the 35S promoter is most frequently used in biotechnology because it is most powerful. The 35S promoter is a DNA (or RNA) sequence about 400 base pairs in length. The use of the CaMV promoter in plants is analogous to the use of retrovirus LTR promoters in retrovirus vectors used in human gene therapy. The majority of human gene therapy trials employ LTR promoters to provide motors to activate genes.

    Antisense genes are genes constructed to have a complementary sequence to a target gene, thus producing a product that combines with a gene message to inactivate it. Antisense is analogous to an antibody which combines with an antigen like a key fitting a lock. Antisense is being used to treat human cancer and HIV infection. Antisense is used to prevent spoilage in tomatos, either by targeting an enzyme degrading cell walls (polygalacturonase), or production of ethylene a hormone promoting ripening (P. Oeller et al. Genetic Engineering 49, 1989; R. Fray and D. Grierson, Trends Genetics 9, 438, 1993). Most frequently antisense targets production of a chemical metabolite producing ethylene. The antisense gene also influenced polyamines spermine and spermidine production through S-adenosylmethionine. The implication is that the plant antisense gene product should be tested in animals to ensure that critical functions including gene replication, sperm activity and gene imprinting are not disrupted.

    The perceived hazards of CaMV in crop plants include the consequences of recombination and pseudo recombination. Recombination is the exchanges of parts of genes or blocks of genes between chromosomes. Pseudorecombination is a situation in which gene components of one virus are exchanged with the protein coats of another. Frequently viruses may incorporate cellular genes by recombination or pseudorecombination, it has been noted that such recombinants have selective advantages (Lai, Micro. Rev. 56, 61, 1992).

    It has been shown that the CaMV genes incorporated into the plant (canola) chromosome recombine with infecting virus to produce more virulent new virus diseases. The designers of the experiment questioned the safety of transgenic plants containing viral genes (S. Gal et al., Virology 187: 525, 1992). Recombination between CaMV viruses involves the promoter (Vaden and Melcher, Virology 177: 717, 1992) and may take place either between DNA and DNA or RNA and RNA and frequently creates more severe Infections than either parent (Mol. Plant-Microbe Interactions 5, 48, 1992). Recently related experiments suggest altered plants may breed deadlier diseases (A. Green and R. Allison, Sciences 263: 1423, 1994). DNA copies of RNA Viruses are frequently propagated using the CaMV 35S promoter to drive RNA virus production (J.Boyer and A. Haenni, Virology 198: 415, 1994 and J.Desuns and G.Lomonossoff, J. Gen. Vir. 74: 889, 1993). In conclusion CaMV promoters recombine with the infecting viruses to produce virulent new diseases. CaMV viruses and promoter may incorporate genes from the host creating virulent new diseases.

    CaMV can recombine with insect viruses and propagated in insect cells (D. Zuidema et al. J. Gen. Vir. 71: 312, 1990). Thus it is likely that as large numbers of humans consume CaMV modified tomatos recombination between CaMV and hepatitis B viruses will take place creating a supervirus propagated in plants, insects and humans.

    Plant biotechnology has grown out of recombinant DNA research that began in the early 1970's. The special nature of recombination has been debated since that time. In recent years, government regulators on the American and European continents, under pressure from well-funded lobby representing the biotechnology industry, have chosen to ignore the special nature of recombination. They have chosen instead to base regulations on existing frameworks for toxic chemicals and pathogenic organisms. Ignoring the special nature of recombination is likely to have costly, if not terminal, environmental consequences. A worst-case example includes the complete cloning of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) on an E. coli plasmid. When the plasmid is used to transform animal cells, intact HIV viruses are released from the cells. A careless (but legal) release of HIV bacteria to the environment would allow the plasmid to transfer to Salmonella as well as E. coli. Thus, numerous mammals and birds could contain HIV bacteria which could transform the animals, which would in turn produce HIV particles unable to target the animals T-cell receptors but easily transmitted to humans. When all the animals are HIV carriers, human survival would be marginal. The special concerns of recombination in plant biotechnology include the viruses and bacteria used in crop plant construction and gene flow between related crop plants and weeds in the field.

    Currently most experts agree that virus diseases such as influenza gain strength for epidemics by alternating between animal hosts (pigs and ducks) and man. Epidemics begin when rare combinations appear in large closely associated populations such as in Asia. CaMV can propagate in plant and insect hosts following recombination. It may not be outlandish to predict that CaMV may recombine with related Hepatitis B or for that matter HIV to create a most powerful disease. The salient feature being large number of people or animals consuming large numbers of virus genes incorporated into crop plants making up a major part of human and animal diet.

    The use of CaMV promoter is seldom an issue in reviews of safety of gene tinkered crops. Few people have raised the important issue and more often than not their concerns are ignored by government officials "protecting" public safety. This omission may be a fatal one because it has potentially the most damaging impact, and the one perceived at the beginning of gene splicing.


As Bill Mollison said; "the time for evidence is over, there is only time for action." Or in the more eloquent words of Kant, "It is often necessary to take a decision on the basis of knowledge sufficient for action, but insufficient to satisfy the intellect." In this case I think we are faced with a situation demanding the latter.

If we campaign wholeheartedly for a ban we are on solid scientific ground. We can appeal directly to people to help, and show them why it is important. The campaign for labelling is making the issue of a life-threatening technology appear to be merely an issue of civil rights. This is playing right into the hands of the biotech corporations. I would like to see a debate about how to stop them, not about how to allow them to carry on. No one has the right to choose something that threatens the lives of others. These new organisms must be stopped. The democratic process is being subverted by powerful corporations who are taking direct action with no mandate. How should we react?

February, 1997
South Downs EF!
c/o PO Box 2971, Brighton BN2 2TT, UK

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