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Biotech industry pushing genetically engineered crops that they insist aren't genetically engineered


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(NaturalNews) In the face of a growing public sentiment against genetically engineered (GE) crops, the biotechnology industry is pursuing a new strategy: Claiming that new GE technologies are so different from older ones that products produced using them should not be classified as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The industry is now using these techniques to introduce traits like herbicide resistance, pest resistance and altered nutritional content into crops intended for human consumption.

The industry claims that the so-called New Plant Breeding Techniques are essentially the same as conventional breeding, are highly precise, and are unlikely to produce unintended consequences. All these claims were initially made about first-generation genetic engineering, and they are just as false now as they were then.

"You don't have to delve too deep to find that - as in the case of traditional genetic engineering - industry claims simply don't stand up to scrutiny," wrote Friends of the Earth Australia on July 17.

New techniques, old lies

What are the second-generation GE techniques being passed off as New Plant Breeding Techniques? The most popular ones include:

Cell fusion: Creating hybrid cells by fusing the cells from two separate plants, thereby combining their genomes.

Cisgenics and intragenisis: Introducing DNA from the same or a closely related species into the genome of the target organism.

Nuclease-mediated site-directed mutagenesis: Using enzymes to cut DNA at targeted parts of the genome in order to delete genes or replace them with other genes (from the same or another species). Nuclease-mediated techniques may use clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 nucleases, transcription activator-like nucleases (TALEN) or zinc-finger nucleases (ZFN).

Oligo-directed mutagenesis: Introducing oligonucleotide molecules that bind to DNA in specific locations, causing sequence mismatches and allowing a new gene to be spliced into the genome.

While the methods used in these and other techniques may differ from those used to create the first generation of GMOs, these methods certainly meet the most basic definition of genetic engineering: They involve targeted modification of the genome, and therefore produce GMOs as an end-product.

Industry claims that these techniques are more precise than earlier GE methods are also easily disproven. Just months ago, in fact, Chinese scientists published a study admitting that they had used CRISPR/Cas9 techniques to modify the genomes of human embryos. This technique had a very low success rate at actually introducing the desired change, and also introduced an unusually high rate of errors and mutations. The study spurred many scientists to call for a moratorium on using CRISPR/Cas9 methods on human embryos.

"Unfortunately, however, scientists don't seem to have similar qualms about conducting uncontrolled experiments with our staple food crops," Friends of the Earth Australia wrote.

Why GMOs are a dead end

In its report on the false promises of the new wave of GE crops, Friends of the Earth Australia notes that even if industry promises were true, the adoption of crops based on these technologies would still be a bad idea. That's because many of the worst effects of GMO crops come not from the modifications themselves, but from changes to agricultural practices caused by GMO use. For example, a 2012 study found that herbicide use in the United States increased by 239,000 metric tons per year between 1996 and 2011, as a direct result of herbicide-resistant GMOs.

The report notes that the United Nations trade and development body has called upon all governments to move away from industrial monoculture-based agricultural systems, and recommends shifting toward more diverse planting and support for small-scale farmers and local food production and consumption. Further genetic engineering of food crops is completely out of line with these goals.

"We also need a paradigm shift... ," Friends of the Earth Australia writes, "and a move away from the chemical treadmill being foisted on farmers by agrochemical companies such as Bayer, Monsanto and Dow."

(Natural News Science)






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