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Genetically engineered seeds — What are we eating?

Facts on the issue

What is a genetically engineered crop or plant?

  • Genetic engineering involves the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another; such a transfer would not occur naturally. Genetic engineering is used to introduce or enhance particular characteristics, such as herbicide tolerance, pesticide traits, or added vitamin or protein content. Seeds can be genetically engineered to be sterile, as with the so-called Terminator.

  • To date, the majority of genetically engineered crops benefit the producing companies. There are no benefits to the consumer. It is disputed whether the use of genetically engineered seed results in less use of pesticides or herbicides.

  • There are concerns about pollen drift from genetically engineered crops to native or wild species or to non-genetically engineered crops such as organic fields.

  • In a Bt seed, genes from the Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria are forced into the seed and the plant becomes a pesticide. The toxicity does not break down in sunlight like the sprayed form of Bt. Toxins that are produced remain in the plant all the way to our plate. There are also concerns about build-up of those toxins in the soil and potential harm to soil microbia and beneficial insects.

  • Widespread use of pest-resistant crops, or Bt, presents the possibility of the pest building up resistance to the Bt toxin. The potential for "super bugs" is an ongoing concern, as it would render the use of the Bt spray useless, destroying a natural pesticide used by organic growers.

  • The EPA placed new restrictions on genetically engineered corn to reduce the threat of ecological damage. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel recommends even more testing and monitoring of genetically engineered crops.

  • Approximately 50 million acres were planted with genetically engineered seeds in 1999. Sixty to seventy percent of all packaged food on American grocery store shelves contains genetically altered ingredients. Some of the primary crops being genetically engineered include soybeans, tomatoes, canola, potatoes, corn, cotton, cheese, milk, papaya, and yellow crook-neck squash.

  • Genetically engineered food is currently not labeled in the United States.

(Sources: Organic View: September 28, 1999; ECNews Summer 1999; Nucleus, Fall 1999, p 3; Seed Savers Exchange, 1999 Summer)

Actions you can take

  • Write Stephen L. Johnson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (mail code 1101), 401 M St., SW, Washington, DC 20460 and explain that you are troubled by the potential threat of Bt-corn pollen to monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects, and the EPA’s failure to identify and examine the risk before the crop was approved for planting.

  • Write Mike Johanns, USDA Secretary, 200 A Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20250. Insist that the labeling of all genetically engineered crops/food is an important right-to-know concern. Tell him that the USDA should cease funding research on sterile seeds and increase funding for organic agriculture.

  • Write your Congressional representative to sign on to HR3377/S2080, legislation requiring that all genetically engineered food be labeled.

  • Call or e-mail us for updates on actions the Adrian Dominicans are taking on genetically engineered seeds from a shareholder perspective. We can be reached by phone at: (517) 266-3521 or e-mail: mweber@adriandominicans.org.