- October 30 - Twice as many field tests of genetic engineering experiments involving plants combined with genes from humans, chickens, cows, mice, and other animals were authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) between 2001 and mid-2003 than were authorized during the entire first 13 years of USDA record keeping, according to a new report released today by U.S. PIRG.
The PIRG-authored report, "Weird Science: The Brave New World of Genetic Engineering", documents the previously inconceivable ways in which scientists are manipulating nature and highlights the differences between genetic engineering and traditional plant breeding. It also examines the unpredictability of genetic engineering, detailing examples of some unexpected results that have already occurred in field tests.
As part of their fourth annual Kraft Week of Action, U.S. PIRG and the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition called on Kraft to remove genetically engineered ingredients from their products, and join in the call for stronger regulations of genetically engineered crops, including mandatory pre-market safety testing and labeling
"Open-air plantings of bizarre gene combinations in common food crops are unpredictable and potentially dangerous," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan . "The biotechnology industry, the food industry, and the U.S. regulatory system are failing to protect human health and the environment."
The report highlights field tests of unusual gene combinations such as:
Corn and Hepatitis B and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus
ProdiGene genetically engineered a corn with genes from a number of viruses, including hepatitis B virus and the simian immunodeficiency virus. USDA issued a permit in 2001 for ProdiGene to field test this pharmaceutical corn on 53.5 acres in Nebraska.
Safflower and Carp
Emlay and Associates created safflower that produces pharmaceutical proteins by genetically engineering the safflower with growth hormones from carp. USDA agreed in June 2003 for this crop to be grown on 11 acres in North Dakota and Nevada.
Wheat and Chickens
The University of Nebraska acquired three permits to grow field trials of wheat genetically engineered with chicken genes to produce fungal resistance. The field tests were authorized to occur between March 2002 and August 2003 in Nebraska.
Rats and Soybeans
The University of Kentucky used the genes of the Norwegian rat to alter the oil profile of soybeans. The test was authorized to begin in May 2003 on an acre in Kentucky and can continue until May 2004.
The report disputes industry claims that they can insert foreign DNA into new species with great accuracy, and that the technology is merely an extension of traditional plant breeding. In May 2000, for example, Monsanto disclosed for the first time that its genetically engineered soybeanstheir most widely used product, which has been on the market for four yearscontained additional and unexpected gene fragments. Just one year later, Monsanto had to admit once again that additional unexpected DNA was discovered in the soybeans.
"Despite very visible gaffes by the biotechnology industry, such as illegal corn in taco shells or unapproved genetically engineered livestock in the food supply, it is shocking to learn about experiments that put rat genes in soybeans and chicken genes in corn," added Caplan. "Because genetically engineered crops are poorly regulated and resulting food products carry no consumer label, consumers are all test subjects in a vast food experiment."
The Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing or labeling for genetically engineered foods. 80-90 percent of the American public consistently favors mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. The Department of Agriculture was recently excoriated by the National Academy of Sciences for inadequate oversight over field testing of genetically engineered crops and a lack of scientific expertise.
U.S. PIRG and Genetically Engineered Food Alert criticized the U.S. government's continued efforts to force genetically engineered products on American consumers by failing to offer consumer choice through mandatory labeling, and forcing them abroad through trade threats and multilateral trading institutions such as the World Trade Organization. Kraft is the largest food company in the United States and second largest in the world. The coalition criticized Kraft for removing genetically engineered ingredients from food sold in the European Union while taking no such action in the United States.
"Genetically engineered products are being forced on us without adequate testing and without consumer choice," concluded Caplan. "Kraft has the opportunity to be a leader in rejecting genetically engineered crops but has failed to do so. It is time for the food industry and the biotechnology industry to stop this unwelcome experiment on the U.S. environment and American consumers."
Genetically Engineered Food Alert supports the removal of genetically engineered ingredients from grocery store shelves unless they are adequately safety tested and labeled. www.gefoodalert.org
U.S. PIRG is the national lobby office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy groups.