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Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops and Genetically Modified Foods (GMO's)

written by: SallyOdum•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 7/31/2009

Cross pollination and horizontal gene transfer risks are two of the dangers of genetically engineered crops. Discover the significance of these risks. Locate groups and information to assist you in learning more about genetically modified foods (GM foods).

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    c. 2008 Sally Hansley Odum 

    In the summer of 2006, American exports of rice to Europe were halted when the U.S. rice crop was found to be contaminated with “unapproved” engineered genes. Such contamination probably occurred from accidental cross-pollination of genetically engineered crops with non-GE or conventional crops. Accidental cross-pollination or “genetic pollution” occurs when the wind blows pollen from one field into another. In the same way, crops that are growing close to native plants (other than crops in a field) may also cross-pollinate with the wild plants. This has the potential to radically alter entire ecosystems on which life itself depends. Called “horizontal gene transfer,” this process offers the possibility that genes might spread from modified crops to wild relatives. How much of this “accidental” cross-pollination or cross-breeding has already occurred in nature or in conventional fields? Your guess is as good as the next scientist’s. But consider that global biotech crop acreage grew to 222 million acres in 2005, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

    So confirms one of the biggest dangers of genetically engineered crops: cross-pollination, horizontal gene transfer or cross-breeding with conventional crops and wild plants.

    While genetically engineered crops are touted to be good from an economic standpoint (proponents argue that it increases yield, thereby increasing profits for farmers), in its brief history, the opposite has proven to be the case. A failed experiment with GE cotton in India caused scores of poor farmers to commit suicide because they could not afford the exorbitant prices of buying new seeds every year for Bt Cotton (among other reasons). Seed developers, such as the gargantuan Monsanto Corporation, argue that if farmers save their own seeds from year to year, it would result in seed developers losing the ability to profit from their breeding work.

    There are a number of scientists worldwide, along with organizations such as Greenpeace, who are actively engaged in a struggle calling for a ban on growing GM crops and for further scientific studies to be conducted on GMO effects.

    The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) Scientists from six countries joined forces with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to call for a Europe wide and worldwide ban on growing GM crops at a special briefing in the European Parliament in Brussels on 12 June 2007.

    Further reading:

    Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser

    GMO Food Research

    Warnings Against GMO

    Seeds of Deception

    True Food Network – A project of The Center For Food Safety