Is Genetic Engineering a variety of breeding?

This is a crucial question. An affirmative answer means that it would not be justified to treat GE-foods differently from most other foods.

The biotechnology industry maintains that Genetic Engineering (GE) is a kind of breeding. They have been successful in persuading governments that it is so. Therefore, very low demands are now put on safety assessment of GE foods.

Below we will explain why liberal safety regulations for GE foods are not scientifically justifiable. They expose people to unnecessary risks because GE foods may contain harmful substances that may be difficult to detect.

For a rapid visual idea of the difference between genetic engineering and mating, see "The difference at a glance", a comprehensive illustration.

Briefly, the most important differences are:

1. Breeding never introduces genes that are foreign to the species. Foreign genes may have unexpected and potentially dangerous effects when placed in a genetic environment that is different from what is natural for them.

2. Breeding doe not involve any artificial manipulation of the genes. The only "manipulation" is that certain parents are selected for mating. The mating occurs naturally, which means a natural combination of the hereditary substance of the father and mother. So the argument of Biotech proponents that we have been manipulating genes for ages in breeding is seriously misleading.

3. In GE, but never in breeding, there occurs an artifcial insertion of a gene, which means a disruption of the orderly sequence of instructions in the hereditary substance. This always results in a loss, to a lesser or greater degree, of the tight genetic control and balanced functioning which is retained through conventional cross breeding. With GE there may occur an unpredictable creation of new molecules that may be toxic, allergenic or may disturb the metabolism of the cell so as to create unexpected toxic or allergenic molecules .

For a brief and simple explanation of genetic engineering, see "What is genetic engineering?".

For more details, see "GE and Traditional Breeding Methods Are Worlds Apart" below.

GE and Traditional Breeding Methods Are Worlds Apart

(Excerpt from "Genetic Engineering and Traditional Breeding Methods: A Technical Perspective""by Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist and scientific expert on genetic engineering)

The proponents of the use of GE in agriculture argue that mankind has been selecting and manipulating plant and animal food stocks for millennia and that this new technology is simply the next stage in this process. However, we have seen:

  • Technically speaking, GE and traditional breeding methods bear no resemblance to each other.
  • GE plants and animals start out life in a laboratory culture dish.
  • GE employs totally artificial units of genetic material which are introduced into plant and animal cells using chemical, mechanical or bacterial methods.
  • GE always results in disruptions to the natural order of genes within the host DNA.
  • GE also brings about combinations of genes that would never occur naturally.

Clearly these procedures are worlds apart when compared to cross fertilisation between closely related species.

The totally artificial nature of GE does not automatically make it dangerous. It is the imprecision in the manner by which genes are combined and the unpredictability in how the introduced gene will interact within it's new environment which results in uncertainty. The balanced gene functions that have evolved together and which are preserved with traditional methods, are lost with GE.

Therefore, from the standpoint of the fundamental principles of genetics and the limitations in the technology, GE is neither more precise nor a natural extension of traditional cross breeding methods. If anything the opposite would appear to be true.

Therefore GE foods possess new and unique safety considerations both in terms of health and to the environment. The availability of safe, sustainable, natural methods of breeding and husbandry utilising the many thousands of different varieties of a any given food crop, makes the risks associated with GE foods simply not worth taking. These risks are even less acceptable when one takes into account the fact that once released into the environment, genetic mistakes/pollution cannot be recalled, cleaned up or allowed to decay like agrochemicals or a BSE epidemic, but will be passed on to all future generations indefinitely.

For you who want more details, we recommend:

  1. The whole article from which this an excerpt:"Genetic Engineering and Traditional Breeding Methods: A Technical Perspective""by Dr Michael Antoniou.
  2. The Difference Between Traditional Breeding Methods and Genetic Engineering. Michael Antoniou, Joe Cummins, John B Fagan, Mae-Wan Ho, Tore Midtvedt
  3. GE Disrupts Host Gene Functions and Possesses Inherent Unpredictability by Michael Antoniou.
  4. Inadequate safety assessment of GE foods . An at a glance summary .
  5. "No safety assessment methods are fully reliable"

"Genetically Engineered Food - Safety Problems"
Published by PSRAST

Siteguide   Starting points   Website search   Site Map   Start page   

News   Introductory articles   Health hazards   Environmental hazards   

Global issues   Safety issues   Alternatives to GE   FAQ   

About us   What You can do   Membership   E-mail   How to sponsor us