By Oduor Ong’wen
Conveniently outshouted by the raging sugar war is a dangerous proposal by the Deputy President William Ruto that Kenya should lift the ban on genetically modified foods. This is tantamount to authorising mass murder.
I return to Obamaâ€™s observation thatâ€œwe have not inherited this land from our forebears, we have borrowed it from our children.â€
The Deputy President is not ignorant. He has degrees in Zoology and Botany, which are studies of life processes and behaviours of living organisms.
Also known as a transgenic organism, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.
Below are ten reasons why the DP and supporters of GMO foods not being honest with Kenyans.
One, GMOs may cause cancer. In an experiment, rats were fed GM potatoes engineered to produce their own insecticide.They developed potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract, inhibited development of their brains, livers and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, enlarged pancreases and intestines and immune system damage.GM foods on the marketâ€”which were created with the same processâ€”have not been subject to such an extensive testing protocol.
Two, GMOs may cause intestinal damage. Mice were fed either GM potatoes engineered to produce the Bt-toxin or natural potatoes spiked with Bt-toxin.Both diets created abnormal and excessive cell growth in the lower part of their small intestines (ileum). Similar damage to the human small intestine might result in flu-like symptoms, and may be precancerous.This study disproves the assumptions that Bt-toxin is destroyed during digestion and is not biologically active in mammals.
Three, GMOs may cause respiratory and skin diseases. In 2003, approximately 100 people living next to a Bt maize plantation in the Philippines developed skin, respiratory, intestinal reactions and other symptoms while the maize was shedding pollen. Blood tests on 39 people showed an antibody response to Bt-toxin, which supports a link.The symptoms reappeared in 2004 in at least four other villages that planted the same maize variety.
Four, twelve dairy cows died on a farm in Hesse Germany after being fed a diet with significant amounts of a single GM corn variety, Bt 176.Other cows in the herd had to be killed due to some mysterious illness.Syngenta, the producers of Bt 176, compensated the farmer for part of his losses, but did not admit responsibility for the cow deaths. In spite of demands by the farmer and even public protests, no detailed autopsy reports were made available.
Five, GMOs may cause infertility. The structure and gene expression pattern of testicle cells of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans changed significantly.The cause for the changes is unknown, but the testicles are sensitive indicators of toxins.Some of the changes might possibly influence adult fertility as well as the health of the offspring.Mouse embryos from GM-fed mothers did show a temporary decrease in gene expression.
Six, GM foods could infect the liver. The livers of rats fed GM canola were 12-16% heavier than those fed non-GM varieties. The liver is a chemical factory and primary detoxifier for the body. Heavier livers may indicate liver disease or inflammation.
Seven, GMO promoter could create genetic mutations. Evidence suggests that the CaMV promoter, used in most GM foods, contains a recombination hotspot.This might result in breakup and recombination of the gene sequence.This instability of the inserted gene material might create unpredicted effects.
Eight, Novel RNA may be harmful to humans and their offspring. Small RNA sequences can regulate gene expression, most commonly by silencing genes. Since RNA is stable, it survives digestion and can impact gene expression in mammals that ingest it. The impact can be passed on to future generations. Genetic modification introduces new DNA combinations and mutations, which increase the likelihood that harmful regulatory RNA will be accidentally produced.
Nine, Gene insertion creates genome-wide changes in gene expression. One study using a micro-array gene chip found that 5% of the host’s genes changed their levels of expression after a single gene was inserted. The changes, which are in addition to the deletions and mutations already discussed, are not predictable and have not been fully investigated in the GM crops on the market. These massive changes may have multiple health-related effects.
Ten, workers exposed to Bt cotton developed allergies. Agricultural laborers in six villages who picked or loaded Bt cotton reported reactions of the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract. Some labourers required hospitalization. Employees at a cotton gin factory take antihistamines everyday. One doctor treated about 250 cotton laborers.
Lastly, genetic engineering is not synonymous with biotechnology. We have had biotech in fruit grafting, hybrid seeds and tissue culture for ages and nobody has complained. And remember, if itâ€™s in the genes, it will be inherited.
Oduor Ong’wen is a Researcher and Executive Director of ODM.