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  A brief, commonsense look at the use of
genetically altered plants in our food supply.
December, 1999
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Rather than debate the issue of the inherent safety of direct genetic manipulation
of the plants and animals which constitute our food supply, let's talk about how the few commercialized applications are being used right now. Although many biological "inventions" are in the research and Government approval pipeline,only one, at present, has had a major impact on the foodstuffs we consume every day. 
Simply in terms of millions of tons of basic staple commodities, Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" corn & soybeans now constitute a significant proportion, perhaps a majority, of the corn and soy products in the American food supply  Soy and corn is used to feed all sorts of livestock, and these two commodities are used in some form in virtually all processed and packaged foods.  "Roundup ready" means that the corn or bean plant has been genetically modified to resist the effects of very heavy applications of Roundup, an herbicide available for agriculture and also for consumer use.  Roundup is a product developed by Monsanto.  Monsanto sold the chemicals division that makes roundup and other agricultural herbicides and pesticides, but retains a financial interest in the operation.  The proper chemical name of Roundup is Glyphosate, an Organophosphate.  Some of the strongest and most toxic pesticides are organophosphates.  The point to be made here is that the use of Roundup Ready crops must inevitably result in more of a compound which is at least mildly toxic finding its way into our corn chips, breakfast cereals, pork, chicken, beef, milk, cheese, and so on.  That's all.  It's that simple.
Oh - one other thing: mutated genes have been know to "jump" from one plant (or bacterium) to a genetically unrelated neighbor.  It is not out of the question that the Roundup-resistant gene might find its way into the very weeds the farmer is trying to kill!

Another application of the technology
is the insertion of genes into corn, so that the corn plant will manufacture bacillus thuringiensis (bt) toxins, which can kill cabbage worms, corn borers, and a variety of caterpillar-type pests.  A great advantage of the use of BT is that it is virtually harmless to people, animals, birds, friendly insects, etc.  Unfortunately. it also kills butterfly caterpillars, including everyone's favorite, the Monarch.  There have been some reports that use of bt-modified corn crops will kill Monarchs, possibly in large numbers. 
A reader of this article was kind enough to call to our attention the fact that such an effect is unlikely:
"I am very sorry to see in your discussion on genetically altered plants a statement concerning how the use of BT altered corn causes the death of Monarch butterfly larvae. Monarch butterfly larvae ONLY eat milkweed plants, so the reason they died on the BT altered corn was because they starved to death. It had nothing to do with the effects of the genetically altered corn. This research results has gotten a lot of press; however, it is bogus and insignificant data."  C.S.S., Ph.D., P.E. August 28, 2000, on turnertoys contact form.
    Makes sense to us! It is true that Monarch butterflies eat only milkweed. We will make a few calls and see how this difference of opinion sorts out. Note our next statement...
However, that problem is insignificant, compared to what the planting of such a modified crop could do to the organic agriculture industry.  We surely realize by now that overuse or chronic use of antibiotics has led to resistant bacteria; and that excessive, even reckless use of pesticides has bred all sorts of garden pests that are very hard to kill.  BT is the only real pesticide acceptable for use in organic agriculture.  It is generally used by organic farmers in a targeted fashion.  The application is carefully timed to the emergence of the destructive worms.  If it is in a plant which makes it available all the time, it is very likely that the pest species will become resistant.  If bt-resistant varieties of cabbage worm, for example, evolve and spread, our organic broccoli supply, for one small example, could be threatened.
Of course, nothing could make Monsanto and its peers in Agribusiness happier than to see the market's playing field leveled, from the perspective of consumer choice and perception of quality, by destroying Organic Agriculture as we who rely on it have come to understand it.
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