GE Foods: Most Commonly Altered Crops

It's no coincidence that the first crops chosen for genetic engineering are such items as corn, soybeans, potatoes, canola oil, and cotton. These crops are produced in a volume significant enough to make them financially profitable for manipulation, and they all serve as raw materials or additives for countless other processed or manufactured products. Below is a list of the most popular genetically engineered crops and some information about their progress.

Crop

Alteration

Projected Results

Problems and/or Potential Dangers

Tomatoes* Scientists were able to isolate the gene responsible for the production of ethylene gas in the fruit and insert it "backward" to slow down or stop the ripening process. Experiments were also done inserting genes from cold-water fish into tomatoes. The goals were to extend the shelf life of tomatoes and make them more freeze-resistant. Neither of those goals were successfully reached, and the Flavr-Savr tomato disappeared from the market. The FDA's checklist for biotech foods contained the following four questions: Does the food have the same nutrients as other foods? Is the food free of toxins? Is the food free of proteins that cause allergies? Is the food basically like other foods? They were satisfied that the Flavr-Savr tomato met these criteria. If testing was done on the long-term effects of consuming these tomatoes by humans, no results were made public.
Dairy Cattle Dairy cattle are treated with recombinant bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH) Increased productivity, i.e., more milk from fewer cows. Many dairy cattle developed mastitis (infected mammary glands) requiring treatment with antibiotics, traces of which could end up in the milk. Increased milk production has made dumping of excess milk necessary at times and caused prices paid to producers to plummet on occasion. Many small dairy farmers have gone out of business. Some scientists have serious concerns about the fact that milk from cows treated with rbGH has been found to contain higher than normal levels of a substance called insulin-line growth factor1 (IGFI). If extra doses of IGFI enter the human bloodstream after digestion, it could cause premature growth in infants and breast cancer in women, according to Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center.
Beef Cattle After castration, cattle are injected with growth hormone. Increased productivity, increased body weight, more meat with less fat. Some studies have shown links between growth hormones and cancer in humans, resulting in the boycott of hormone-treated beef by the European Union.
Chicken Factory-raised chicks are fed antibiotics. Chickens immunized against harmful bacteria. Scientists have long speculated that feeding antibiotics to animals raised for meat will ultimately result in antibiotic resistance in humans who consume meat. A study published in a May issue of the New England Journal of Medicine was able to establish that link. Minnesota public health officials reported an "eightfold increase in drug-resistant food poisoning among Minnesotans that directly followed the approval and use of the same drug in chickens," according to the May 31 issue of Time magazine. After matching DNA from the drug-resistant bacteria to bacterial contamination found on chickens purchased in Minnesota and across the Midwest, they concluded that use of the antibiotic produced a resistant bacteria that was passed directly to consumers through unsanitary handling or undercooking. Though the FDA has yet to establish acceptable levels for antibiotic resistance in humans, the Time article states that the FDA is in the process of "forming a plan for pulling antibiotics off farms and ranches when human resistance develops."
Potatoes Genes from Bacillus thuringiensis toxins, a common soil bacterium that is nontoxic to humans and many other animals, are spliced into potato seed. Bt toxin is lethal to the Colorado potato beetle. Bt toxin offers no deterrent to leaf hoppers, also a serious potato pest. Widespread exposure to Bt toxins will ultimately cause harmful pests to genetically adapt against it, rendering it useless to large agribusiness concerns that grow the GE potatoes as well as small organic farmers, who rely on it as one of the only nontoxic pesticides available to them.
Corn Genes from Bacillus thuringienses toxins are spliced into corn. Bt is toxic to the corn borer. Cornell entomologist John Losey published a study in the journal Nature about his experiments with monarch butterflies that came in contact with pollen from Bt treated corn. Losey sprinkled pollen from genetically altered corn on milkweed, the primary food source for monarchs in their larval (caterpillar) stage. Most of the larva died. Monsanto spokesmen were quick to downplay the possibility of airborne Bt corn pollen being spread to milkweed and other plants. However, with some 20 million acres of Bt corn under cultivation in the U.S., it's not difficult to imagine the dangers to the monarch butterfly population that migrates across the American corn-producing belt every year.
Cotton** Genes from Bacillus thuringienses toxins are spliced into cotton. Bt is toxic to the boll weevil. Widespread use of Bt in cotton, corn, and other crops will hasten natural selection against it by harmful pests, rendering it useless.
Soybeans Round-Up Ready Soybeans are inoculated with the chemical herbicide Round-Up; many new patented soybean seeds contain the so-called "terminator gene" which renders the plants sterile. Growers can spray soybean fields with Monsanto's Round-Up to kill weeds and other pests without damaging soybean plants. No tests have been done on the long-term dangers to humans ingesting foods that are prepared or manufactured with "Round-Up Ready" soy products. Farmers and scientists alike fear that this will result in a loss of biodiversity and could also cause localized famine if subsistence farmers lose one year's crop and are left with no viable seeds and no money to purchase more. Also, there is some concern that the Round-Up Ready soy will cross-pollinate with other plants in the wild, creating "super-weeds" with genetic resistance to herbicides.
Canola oil Plants are inoculated with the chemical herbicide Round-Up. Growers can treat fields with Monsanto's Round-Up herbicide to kill weeds and other pests without fear of damaging canola plants. No tests have been done on the long-term dangers of humans ingesting treated canola oil or foods that have been manufactured with it. Concern exists that the Round-Up Ready canola plants will cross-pollinate with other plants in the wild, creating so-called "super-weeds" with genetic resistance to herbicides.


*The Flavr-Savr Tomato developed by Calgene was one of the very first genetically engineered foods to hit the market. **cotton oil is used in many vegetable oil blends

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