Tinkering With Life's Sacred Genetic Code
Tinkering With Life's Sacred Genetic Code
by Patricia Dines
Awakened Woman e-magazine, Aug. 1999
(c) Patricia Dines, 1999. All rights reserved.
How many of us, amidst life's details and quandaries, stop to consider DNA, the genetic code that makes all life possible on this planet?
And yet it is just this code that creates all species on Earth - their births, lives, interactions, survival, children, and perpetuation into the future. It is this code that creates so many of the characteristics we love and enjoy and wrestle with in ourselves, our families, our food, and our world. And when it goes awry - in a child or a crop - huge suffering can result.
And it is just this code that has the full attention of whole groups of corporate scientists right now, as fields like health, agriculture, and food are being brought together into a new field they call "Life Sciences."
Dangling the dream of people and crops cured of disease, of prosperity and overflowing food for all, they have set about to understand and change the DNA of a startling number of life forms on this planet. Spiders, bees, bacteria, pigs, fish, trees, corn, soybeans, and tomatoes are just a few of the species now subject to the genetic knife, as human beings splice a little of this species into that one, and salivate over the huge profits they hope will result.
And how could anyone dare to object, as corporations "improve" nature to make our life a paradise?
Why should we be concerned?
And yet, across the world, many are objecting - scientists, health professionals, consumers, chefs, and people who love the planet and Creation.
And they bring up some key facts that the corporate dreamweavers neglect to mention about Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM). Such as:
Humanity understands only 1% of what DNA does, let alone how it all precisely and magically interacts; what they don't understand, they recklessly call "junk." Scientists deduce what they think segments of DNA control, but know very little about what else that segment might control; what other segments are necessary for it to work correctly; and what happens when it's combined with a completely different species. In addition, the tools being used to make these genetic modifications are shockingly imprecise, despite their optimistic term "genetic engineering". Mothers for Natural Law says that it's like doing heart surgery with a shovel. Others say that even that analogy is too generous. Even from a mechanical point of view, some say it is simply foolhardy to use crude tools to fundamentally change what we barely understand - and yet upon which all life on this planet depends.


All life is interconnected, and any changes made to one part of the system will ripple through all others, with enormously unpredictable effects multiplying along the way. Corporate scientists are operating from a reductionist model that says they can change many single elements and not even consider the impacts on the whole system. Yet already evidence shows that modified genes travel and cross with wild species; harm insects like butterflies; and can get through the gut into human beings.

One of the major design characteristics these scientists disregard is the species barrier, which keeps each species functioning in the overall system while protecting them from the diseases of other species. Those rare times when diseases cross the species barrier have been disastrous. For instance, when a pig flu transferred into humans in 1918, more than 20 million people were killed worldwide, impacting a generation. Contrary to the scientists' claims, GM is not the same as traditional cross-breeding, which requires that animals be somewhat related and gives Nature the final say about the result. When would a fish and a tomato actually breed? This is just one of the many combinations that GM scientists are rapidly putting into our bodies and ecosystems, setting the stage for a mind-boggling number of potential disasters.



There has been no testing of vital aspects of these changes before their release into dominance in our food supply and world. This includes almost no testing of the impact on the human diet and health. Yet independent testing, scientists' assessments, and simple logic show reason for serious concern. These same corporations have made great promises about their products before, then left humanity with the toxic burdens of DDT, PCBs, nuclear waste, and much more. Let's learn that prudence and testing beforehand is much less costly than trying to clean up the mess afterwards.


Corporations make many claims about GM that do not bear up under scrutiny. For instance, they claim that GM will reduce pesticide use; but the purpose of about half the current GM plants in the U.S. is to allow farmers to use more herbicides, closer to the plant - and the corporations have asked that the amount of herbicides allowed in our food be increased. Corporations also claim that GM is necessary to feed the hungry; but even a simple analysis shows that: (a) distribution and elite control of food are the main causes of hunger; (b) GM will increase, not decrease, this problem by further centralizing control of food, food production, and wealth; and (c) worldwide monocropping of GM seeds can easily lead to mass hunger. And then there are the claims to the farmers, who are finding out the hard way that GM crops have failed them (misformed cotton bolls, etc.), leading to crop disasters and million-dollar. And we're just at the beginning of all this!


Even pesticides and nuclear waste eventually decay, though the latter can take more than 100,000 years. But when we change the DNA basis of all life and interactions on this planet, this is an experiment that cannot be recalled. Corporate scientists are developing the power to change the direction of all life on this planet - but not the humility or community responsibility to see the limits of their own knowledge, and the horrifying damage that will likely result. Therefore, it is up to citizens to understand and take action for a world direction that truly respects all people and all life on this planet.

What are the consequences?

What are some of the very likely outcomes if we let corporations continue to put so much of our shared resources and energy in this direction?
* HARM TO HUMAN HEALTH. Modifying the DNA of food can:

• Increase pesticide use, and the harm that it does to humans and our ecosystems.

• Create unexpected toxics. In 1989, toxics in the GM'd food supplement tryptophan killed 37 people, permanently disabled 1500, and made 5000 others very ill. ( New England Journal of Medicine, August 9, 1990).

• Cause unforeseen and unknown allergens in foods. "Without clear and precise labeling, millions of Americans who suffer from food allergies will have no way of identifying or protecting themselves from offending foods." (Mothers for Natural Law. Food and Drug Administration 57 Federal Register 22987)

• Decrease food's nutritional value. GM foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness.

• Increase antibiotic resistance and thus increase failure of antibiotics for human disease. (This is because most GM foods use an antiobiotic resistant gene marker.)

• Increase disease by crossing the protective species barrier. * Create untraceable disease, because GM foods in the U.S. are not labelled.



Already, erroneous GM seeds have gone into production; farmers' seeds have failed miserably; and GM seeds are supplanting varieties that have demonstrated their local viability. A high percentage of soy and corn in this country are GMd without labelling, impacting more than 10,000 products, and many other crops are being planted and in the pipeline. What happens to our food supply if even one of these brave new crops, planted across the world, has a human-introduced genetic error, or becomes the favorite food of a particular pest? The Irish potato famine was caused by just this situation - one pest attacking a major monocropping - and it devastated the lives of millions, leading to mass migration and a fundamental change in that country's history. Could our future disasters make this look like, er, small potatoes?


Although there is a shocking lack of pre-testing, the testing that has been done demonstrates that this harm does occur - as one would expect from having people make this scale of change with so little knowledge and putting personal profit above all.


As part of their plans, corporations are changing a lifeform's DNA, then patenting the result - as if they'd invented the whole thing - removing from the public domain the seeds and lifeforms that our communities and farmers have selected and saved for thousands of years. Are these lifeforms really their invention? Could they invent them from scratch? Activists are challenging the right to patent the lifeforms that were given to us all by the Source of all Creation.


To enforce these patents, corporations have developed technologies that render their seeds sterile (for example, Terminator Technology). This ensures that farmers have to go back and pay for seeds each year - introducing death into the cycle of life for corporate profit; increasing farmer costs dramatically; and ending the thousand year cycle of farmers saving seeds that work best in their areas. Even on a practical level, it's expected that millions of subsistence farmers worldwide could be pushed over the edge by this major system change. The corporate solution? Give the poor the first year's seeds free or cheaply. Is that really a gift, when it loosens them from the subsistence system that currently feeds them and hooks them instead into the GM seed/pesticide treadmill that has put so many other farmers in dire straits?


And these are real and likely, not theoretical, risks - as demonstrated by the fact that insurance companies are refusing to insure GM! Who will pay for the harm that will predictably result? You and me and this planet will pay, as corporations and selected elites add huge sums to their bank accounts, funding their private escape from the mayhem they will have created.


Then what's the solution?
We are at a pivotal time where very different futures will emerge depending on who decides what about our future. Does the corporate vision really reflect yours'? All across the world, citizens are standing up and "just saying no" to genetic modification - and having an impact. Some of the ways you can also choose a better future for us all include:
• INSIST ON THE RIGHT TO KNOW. Insist on labelling of food, so consumers can choose if they want to participate in this mass, uncontrolled experiment with our lives. (Note: This is a vital step, but not enough, because all life is connected.)
• REJECT THE PATENTING OF LIFE. Keep Nature's lifeforms in the public domain and available to all, as was the original design. Patents are for original creations; corporations are only modifying what was created by a much greater wisdom than our own.
• SUPPORT LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE in your food purchases and in our political priorities. There is another way! Buy non-GM food, especially organic. Insist that the USDA prioritizes organic research funding. Support your health, the sacred planet, and the farmers who've taken a stand against so many toxic and harmful paths, including GM and toxic pesticides and fertilizers.
• EDUCATE YOURSELF AND TAKE POLITICAL ACTION. Get to know what the real issues are and find ways you can help to create the future that inspires you, and avoid one you feel would be harmful. The resources below are fabulous starting points for information and action on these topics.
• EDUCATE OTHERS AND SUPPORT POLITICAL ACTION. Through articles, forwarded information, etc., show others what's really at stake right now, and ways they can make a difference.
• SUPPORT THE HEROES. With money, energy, and resources, support the groups and people who are on the front line on this issue - keeping track of the details, making them understandable to others, and supporting us all in taking constructive action. They cannot do their work without our support!
Patricia Dines has been a professional writer and trainer for 16 years. She is founder of Community Action Publications (CAP), a community-based organization that creates and distributes information on a variety of health and environmental topics. For more information on CAP, see http://www.healthyworld.org.
(c) Patricia Dines, 1999. All rights reserved.

Resources for Information and Action [Note: These have not been updated since the articles publication.]
For more information and action opportunities, see the complete resources list on our website at http://www.healthyworld.org/ge.html
Some of the most informative sites:
• Mothers for Natural Law at www.safe-food.org/ Great GM information. Includes a description of GM; what scientists say; and the wide range of foods that are now potentially GMd <www.safe-food.org/-consumer/foods.html>. Sign their "right to know" petition for labelling GE food. (877) REAL-FOOD (515) 472-2809. (Iowa)
• Campaign for Food Safety at <www.purefood.org> Information and email list covering GM, factory farming, citizen action, etc. <alliance@mr.net>. (218) 226-4164. (Minn.)
• Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy at <www.iatp.org>. Good centralized source of avariety of biotech information and resources.
• Dr. Ron Epstein webpage <http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/gedanger.htm>. Compilation of a wide range powerful essays and information on "Genetic Engineering and Its Dangers." 

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 05/16/07