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================== Electronic Edition ==================
---February 1, 2001---
Environmental Research Foundation
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Biotech: The Basics, Part 2

by Rachel Massey*

In the last issue, we looked at hazards associated with eating genetically engineered foods: unexpected allergic reactions; unexpected toxicity; and the development of antibiotic resistance.[1] It is increasingly clear that genetic engineering is neither precise nor predictable; "genetic engineers" are tampering with the instructions for basic cell functions, without understanding fully how those instructions work.

On the basis of these points, some people would say that genetic engineering is "very different" from conventional breeding, whereas others would say that it is only "somewhat different." Either way, the differences have obvious implications for the ways in which governments should regulate genetically engineered foods. At a minimum, governments should require companies to conduct pre-market safety tests related to the special hazards associated with genetic engineering, and any altered foods allowed onto the market should be labeled.

[To be continued.]

    Rachel Massey is a consultant to Environmental Research Foundation.

  1. For a thorough collection of resources on agricultural biotechnology, see AgBioTech InfoNet, maintained by Benbrook Consulting Services at

  2. Michael K. Hansen, "Genetic Engineering is Not an Extension of Conventional Plant Breeding; How Genetic Engineering Differs from Conventional Breeding, Hybridization, Wide Crosses, and Horizontal Gene Transfer," available at Also see Michael Hansen and Ellen Hickey, "Genetic Engineering: Imprecise and Unpredictable," in Global Pesticide Campaigner, Vol. 10, No. 1, April 2000, available from Pesticide Action Network (415-981-1771;;

  3. Nadia S. Al-Kaff and others, "Plants Rendered Herbicide-Susceptible by Cauliflower Mosaic Virus-Elicited Suppression of a 35S Promoter-Regulated Transgene," Nature Biotechnology Vol. 18 (September 2000), pgs. 995-999.

  4. Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, "Effect of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes Expressing galanthus nivalis Lectin on Rat Small Intestine," The Lancet Vol. 354, No. 9187 (October 16, 1999), pgs. 1353-1354.

  5. Marc A. Lappe and others, "Alterations in Clinically Important Phytoestrogens in Genetically Modified, Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans," Journal of Medicinal Food Vol. 1, No. 4 (July 1999), pgs. 241-245.

  6. Andrew Pollack, "Case Illustrates Risks of Altered Food." New York Times October 14, 2000. Available at

  7. Talya Kunik and others, "Genetic Transformation of HeLa Cells by agrobacterium," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print (January 30, 2001). Full text available for U.S. $5 at

  8. James Meikle, "Soya Gene Find Fuels Doubts on GM Crops," The Guardian (London) (May 31, 2000). Available at,2763,326569,00.html Also see "Monsanto GM Seeds Contain 'Rogue' DNA," Scotland on Sunday (May 30, 2000). Available at


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic version of Rachel's Environment & Health News free of charge even though it costs the organization considerable time and money to produce it. We would like to continue to provide this service free. You could help by making a tax-deductible contribution (anything you can afford, whether $5.00 or $500.00). Please send your tax-deductible contribution to: Environmental Research Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403-7036. Please do not send credit card information via E-mail. For further information about making tax-deductible contributions to E.R.F. by credit card please phone us toll free at 1-888-2RACHEL, or at (410) 263-1584, or fax us at (410) 263-8944.
--Peter Montague, Editor

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