It is clear however, that this is not a need driven technology, the impetus is profitability not the solving of agricultural problems. GE is a product of the proprietary science, which is driven by Intellectual Property Rights. Proprietary science is bad science it is secretive, not open to criticism, and distorted by the demands of corporate profit.
Currently the genetically engineered (GE) seed market is controlled by the five largest chemical corporations, Aventis (formerly AgrEvo and Rhone Poulenc), Monsanto, Novartis, Du-Pont and Astra-Zeneca. The most common application of GE in agriculture has been the creation of herbicide resistant crops. 71% of the area planted to transgenic seed in 1998 contained the herbicide resistance trait. Through the introduction of a gene conferring resistance, these crops can withstand contact with powerful broad-spectrum herbicides that will kill other plants.
Chemical companies have manufactured crops tolerant to their own herbicides, such as Monsantoís "Roundup Ready" (glyphosate resistant) crops and AgrEvoís "Liberty Link" (resistant to glufosinate ammonium). By allowing the application of higher dosages of herbicide on a wider range of crops at any time in the growing season, GE will increase applications of and residue levels in food.
Despite industry claims of the safety of these modern herbicides, laboratory tests on glyphosate have found it causes genetic damage to human blood cells, is carcinogenous and causes adverse effects on reproduction. The US Environmental Protection Agency describes glyphosate as "extremely persistant". Aventis claims itís glufosinate is environmentally benign because it is derived from a fungi molecule. Glufosinate is acutely toxic, especially to the nervous system. The use of glufosinate is expected to increase rapidly in the near future due to the marketing of GE resistant crops.
Total weed removal caused by the use of broad-spectrum herbicides on resistant crops will have adverse ecological effects. Weed diversity in and around crop fields has been documented to play important ecological roles such as enhancement of biological insect pest control, better soil cover reducing erosion, attracting beneficial insects and food for birds and small mammals.
Insidiously, the industry has tried to promote GE as a solution to world hunger, a tactic that has been likened to the blackmailing of consumers. Hunger is caused by inequalities in purchasing power and the lack of access to land rather than a global shortage of food. The promotion of GE crops in the poor nations of the south will exacerbate problems caused by the introduction of chemical industrial agriculture.
A statement by the delegates of all African countries (except South Africa) participating in the 5th extraordinary session of the Commission on Genetic Resources stated. "We...strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us... on the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will undermine our ability to feed ourselves."
Genetic engineering is not essentially the same process as conventional breeding. GE is totally new and allows for gene combinations that could not arise through clonal or reproduction based breeding. By creating different crops each bearing the same genetic sequences, GE will lead to a further loss of genetic diversity in crop species.
There is inherent uncertainty involved in the practice of GE. Geneticists cannot predict what disturbance will be caused by the introduction of a foreign gene into an organism. The inaccuracy of techniques for adding genes means that the new genes may end up anywhere in the genetic code. There is very little understanding of the complex interactions between genes and many examples of unpredictable consequences.
There are many serious dangers to ecosystems posed by GE crops. The genetic pollution caused when the new genes and combinations of genes created by the bio-engineers escape into the environment will be impossible to recall or contain. This pollution will spread, replicate and recombine creating totally unpredictable effects.
Foreign gene sequences will inevitably pass into conventional crops and populations of wild relatives of crop species through cross-pollination. With herbicide resistant crops this threatens the creation of multiple resistance to the most common herbicides in weeds and volunteers. GE plants designed to have competitive advantages could become a weed problem in themselves.
The novel genes will also be taken up by soil bacteria, that taken up and exchange genetic material. This means that even GE plants that do not release pollen can still spread genetic pollution. There is very little understanding about microbial populations, less than 1% of soil bacteria have been characterised to date.
There are many more unanswered questions about the serious risks of GE crops. There are multiple health risks including warnings that artificial gene transfer vectors constructed by genetic engineers could give rise to new pathogens.
Information about genetic engineering on the web
The Rural Advancement Foundation International
Ag Biotech Infonet
The Institute of Science in Society
Physicians and Scientists for the Responsible Application of Science
gm-info.org: new site from Corporate Watch