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Genetic manipulation and transgenic food

Title: Genetic manipulation and transgenic food

Author: Albert de Germinal, Consumption of Eco-Biological Products Cooperative

Summary: Genetic manipulation and the apparition of transgenic foods has consequences on different aspects: health, environment, economy, social and international relations, etc. The author proposes the need of elaborating a study of the interests that drive the chemical and pharmaceutical industry to develop these new techniques and products, as well of the risks and consequences for the life of the planet and the effects of these policies in the agrarian economies of the countries of the so-called Third World. On the other hand, the author proposes a series of actions to be carried out that to combat these policies.


The development of genetic engineering, and with it the apparition of the first transgenic food products, makes an analysis by the consumers of organized eco-biological products of their position on this issue necessary.

Given the complexity, difficulty and innumerable interrelationships of genetic manipulation, I consider convenient the establishment of two types of agreements:

a) A preliminary assessment and resolution on the most significant and relevant aspects.

b) A subsequent follow-up and deeper and more detailed study with the preparation of a Dossier and its periodic actualization and the presentation of proposals and actions when it is thought appropriate.

1. It is about a technology and products that throughout their complete process, cause huge and serious repercussions that affect a wide thematic spectrum: health, environment, economy, social and international relations, etc.

It is necessary to emphasize that the main interest of its promoters and defenders is not bettering or solving of serious health and nutrition problems from which humanity suffers, but instead their goal is directed to the control of the whole food chain and to obtain billions in profit. The biotechnological investigation is controlled by a reduced number of multinational corporations of the agro-chemical sector in constant process of integration and concentration.

2. Genetic engineering is based on a reductionist scientific paradigm that presupposes that each specific character of an organism is codified in one or a few specific and stable genes, in such a way that the transfer of these genes has as a result the transfer of a concrete character. Nevertheless, given the enormous complexity of the genetic code , even in very simple organisms such as bacteria, it is not possible to predict the consequences of the introduction of new genes in any organism or plant. This is because: a) the transferred gene can act in a different form when it functions inside another organism, b) the original genetic code of the organism is altered, c) the new combination of the genes of the organism and the transferred gene will have unpredictable effects, and d) there is no way to know a priori the global and long-term effects of the genetically manipulated products on health.

Artificial transfer of genes from one species to another results highly dangerous. Biotechnological corporations erroneously argue that their manipulations are similar to natural genetic changes or to traditional reproduction techniques, but this is false, because the cross between different species does not occur in Nature, and henceforth real disasters can be created, new toxins, illnesses and weaknesses. In this dangerous experiment and the public is the guinea pig.

3. Food manipulated through genetic engineering can become a dangerous and even toxic substance for the metabolism. Even if the gene itself is not dangerous or toxic it could alter complex biochemical systems and create new bioactive compounds or change the concentrations of those which are normally present. Properties of proteins can also change in a new chemical environment, given that they can yield and adhere to new forms.

Genetically manipulated products have more risks than traditional foods. Genetic engineering processes can introduce new allergens in foods that previously were naturally safe. There exists a case of a manipulated bacteria used to produced large quantities of a dietary supplement, triptophane, that caused 27 deaths and 1.500 disabilities in the United States (in 1992). There are also indications that the genetically manipulated soy seed (like the kind that has come to Spain) can cause serious allergic reactions.

On the other hand, an increase in the pollution of food and drinking water will result, as more than 60% of genetic investigation is destined to the development of plants that are resistant to herbicides and pesticides with the consequent increase in the concentration of inorganic chemical agents. 4. The potential ecological risks of the application of genetic engineering to agriculture include the possibility that some transgenic crops can become harmful weeds, while others could become a bridge through which new genes are transmitted to wild plants, which could also become harmful weeds. These new harmful weeds could negatively affect agricultural farming, as well as natural ecosystems. In a similar way, fish, molluscs, and insects that are manipulated by genetic engineering could become plagues under certain conditions. It could even happen that some would reproduce to the point of becoming dominant, displacing others and therefore reducing the diversity of the reproductive stock.

The fact that genetic engineering will accelerate the rhythm of loss of global biodiversity of agricultural crops and plants is especially alarming. Transgenic crops constitute a threat to wild plants and rural varieties (traditional varieties of crops) that constitute a principal source of the genetic diversity of the crops.

Third World countries are faced with larger environmental risks than the Western countries because, in contrast, they harbor a great quantity of natural relatives of many crops, which makes easier the generation of mutant wild species. On the other hand, almost all global centers of origin and diversification of crops are found in Third World countries, and in consequence, the erosion of vegetal biodiversity and the germoplasm of plants (so crucial for a sustainable agriculture) in these countries, increases the risk of a lack of food at global level in the future.

Another of the possible environmental problems derives from the possible chemical pollution of the superficial and subterranean waters by microorganisms or plants with metabolically altered processes. It can be impossible to recuperate and even more difficult to control, the genetically manipulated organisms that are harmful, especially those agents that controlled or do not enter in contact with the atmosphere.

5. Genetic manipulation has open the door to patents on the life of genetic material derived from human beings, animals and plants, widening the legislation of patents to the genetic structure of living beings. This means reducing life itself to mere merchandise with the ensuing negative consequences, both ethical and practical, for humanity, living beings in general and the ecological equilibrium of the planet.

The deed itself can be considered as a veritable act of intellectual piracy of biotechnological corporations, because through the World Organization for Intellectual Property, they try to impose the royalties of their patents (seeds, plants and livestock) to the agricultural world. Here a special mentioning of the local farmers of the Third World is necessary as they have developed and bettered crops in a natural way for centuries and have freely shared their knowledge.

This entails that a multitude of small farmers will be forced to leave their land, with the consequent dismantling of farmer economies and rural communities all over the world. In this way, large companies of independent seeds will be absorbed by the industrial giants (chemical, pharmaceutical, etc.) that have been taking hegemonic positions to control the world market of seeds.

In contrast to the legal regime that before protected the right of those who obtained improved varieties and that guaranteed free access to the necessary germoplasm for the development of new varieties, the patents of living material now give their holders monopolistic rights. As a result, the development of new varieties through genetic manipulation will rest in hands of a small handful of companies that will impose "their" products on us, without the independent improvers of varieties and race having access to fundamental genetic resources.

6. The development of genetic engineering is provoking a strong process of economic and business concentration at a planetary scale of the companies dedicated to seeds, food production, chemical and pharmaceutical industry and new technologies, all with a view toward controlling the whole food chain. This means that our health and our nutrition will become exclusively dependent on these large monopolies whose only interest lies in obtaining large profits. This model of concentration brings with it fatal consequences for the countries of the Third World because the safe and stable genetic resources of varieties of plants and animals of these countries, which represent the accumulated knowledge from the experience of generations of farmers and indigenous communities throughout the centuries, are presently acquired as raw material for the biotechnological industry.

In fact, in the next decades, many crops that today are produced in natural conditions will be produced in laboratories by means of tissue cultures and other biotechnology, and later on in factories and/or by transgenetic cultures adapted to new surroundings and cultivated in the fields of mainly industrialized countries. Today research is being done to modify or replace vanilla, sugar, cacao, coffee, tobacco, coconut, palm oil, and other crops. This would have as a result disastrous social consequences with an incalculable loss of employment in countries that produce these crops.

Genetic engineering is, on the other hand, an economically and financially expensive technology, that demands a profitability as fast as possible that attracts (due to multinational pressures) great public financial resources for "spectacular" biotechnological projects that without a doubt should be employed in defense of biodiversity, indigenous production and biological agriculture.

7. In the field of ecological and agricultural consumption, three urgent issue have been put forth:

-How to control and defend biological seed before genetic handling and the control of seed banks by multinationals?

-The requirement that the actual normative on agricultural production prohibit the employment of seeds, enzymes and additives handled genetically.

-The verbal and written commitment by producers and consumers of biological products to reject any genetically handled product.

8. Before this situation the organizations of consumers of ecological and biological products must consider the following proposals:

a) The immediate paralysis of production and commercialization of all genetically manipulated products.

b) An absolute negative to the patents on all types of living beings and the processes and techniques of genetic handling.

c) The obligation that all fresh or transformed product, including enzymes and additives that contain any ingredient that is genetically manipulated, be clearly identified in the label.

d) The participation of organizations of consumers, ecologists and farmers in the bodies dedicated to the authorization, following and control of food products genetically handled.

e) That all human and financial means that are presently invested in the field of genetic handling be destined to the research and defense of biodiversity, respect and the maintenance of traditional crops, the protection of original seeds and indigenous produce and the development of ecological agriculture.

Barcelona, April 25, 1997

Albert (de Germinal)

Germinal is a cooperative of consumers of eco-biological products and a socio-ecological and organization in solidarity.

Organization and objectives:

As a cooperative there are no clients but members, and therefore all property is collective. It is a non-profit organization as all benefits are reverted to the associated persons. The cooperative has a democratic base, which means that all associated people have voice and vote within the organization, and more importantly, they participate as actively as is possible for them.

As a consumer cooperative, the products are the most eco-biological possible, considering the following parameters:

-that they do no contain additives that are harmful to our health

-that they come from biological crops

-that their cycle or fabrication process (packaging, transport) is the less polluting possible

-that they come from a close geographic area

The products are directly acquired for producers that offer guarantees of quality and reliability. Acting without intermediaries logically involves the possibility of acquiring products at a better price.

As a socio-ecological organization our will is to have an impact on daily life, and, at the same time, give the necessary steps that will take us toward a cleaner and more sustainable world.

In solidarity, the cooperative is in contact with associations that also promote consumption in solidarity, in other words, of products coming from Third World countries.

In this way the cooperative has set out to cooperate as much as possible with any kind of campaign or action that favors ethnic groups or countries in need.

Germinal is a step of a long path. A path that will take us to improve our relationship with our environment. A path that goes from the present individualistic model toward a global model in solidarity.

c/Rosendo Arus, 47
08014 Barcelona
Tel. 421 15 89

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