GM Food Concerns

Environmental Concerns About
Genetically Engineered Food Crops

A Gene Ethics Campaign Briefing Paper from the Australian Conservation Foundation

Basic Principle :
The ecosystem is a complex web linking animals, plants and humans. Alter one part and you alter the others - sooner or later.

The food companies who are investing in gene engineering have not done full independent environmental impact assessments.

These companies have been trying to make crops that are insect and weed resistant but this could have far reaching and damaging side effects.

Worldwide concern about the unintended side effects of genetic engineering is growing. Australian doctors, consumer groups, business and green groups are speaking out.

Like cane toads, genetically engineered crops may go feral and once released, they cannot be recalled to the lab.

In summary - the genetically engineered crops pose the risk of new toxins, higher weed killer residues in foods and uncontrollable super weeds.

Food ingredients that could be genetically engineered
  • Soy
  • corn
  • canola oil
  • sugar
  • potato
  • cottonseed oil
Early indications of ecological impacts
  • British research has found that Monarch butterflies die when exposed to pollen from crops producing insect toxins (the so called Bt crops - bacillus Thuringiensis, a soil bacterium).
  • Ladybugs and lace wings also die from eating pest caterpillars which have eaten the insect toxic crops.
  • 60 per cent of genetically engineered crops are herbicide resistant - these are the so-called "Roundup Ready" crops. This allows farmers to spray crops for weeds from the air without the crops dying.
  • Herbicide spraying from planes will increase the level of herbicide and synthetic chemical residues in food. This poses a risk to human health.
  • Weeds that survive the Roundup weed killing spray could become super weeds.
  • Bees and wind transfer pollen from the genetically engineered crops to conventional crops and weeds. This could allow the herbicide resistant gene to be transferred - again the result could be super weeds. This transfer could also contaminate organic crops and endanger the livelihood of organic growers.
  • Soy beans which have more than 0.1 mg of weed killer residue in a kilogram of beans are currently illegal. But the Australian food authority is considering a 200 fold increase in the amount of Roundup weed killing residue allowed in soy beans. This would mean herbicide residues in soy products would rise from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg.
Other concerns
  • The genetic engineering technology is very expensive and highly monopolised, with key chemical companies patenting the genes and processes of production. There is a real threat that worldwide food production could be controlled by about five companies.
  • Governments are providing massive public subsidies for research into gene technology whilst providing little or no support for organic alternatives.
  • Farmers are the meat in the sandwich. They have been given no reassurances about public liability should anything go wrong with these crops. Nor are they given any incentive to look after the environment in food production. Hence the current difficulties with salinity, land degradation and pesticide use.
Australian Conservation Foundation

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