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New concern: genetic modified animals to be a big environmental and health risk

By Bharat Dogra 

As though the havoc created by GM crops was not adequate, several experimental efforts relating to genetically modified or engineered animals are bringing a wide range of new risks and uncertainties. These include health hazards relating to transfer of diseases from genetically engineered animals to normal animals as well as to human beings. In addition there are the additional risks from consuming the food based on or obtained from genetically engineered animals. Then of course there are grave doubts regarding the scientific basis of the technology and to what extent it can actually succeed in achieving its aim regarding transfer of certain genetic traits, quite from the hazards involved in this, as well as the ethics of playing around with an uncertain technology regardless of serious harm that may be caused to the health and welfare of animals in the process.
Some of the earlier efforts in this direction relating to pigs and sheep turned out to be quite disastrous, as is evident from a review published in The Ecologist. In this widely quoted paper titled 'The Biotechnology Bubble' Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (of Bio-Electrodynamics Lab of the Open University in the UK), Joe Cummins (Professor Emeritus of Genetics in Canada) and Hartmut Meyer summarized the results of several experiments, trials and commercial releases of GMOs, with special emphasis on animals. They wrote : "There are many signs of the problems caused in genetic engineering organisms. For every product that reaches the market, there are perhaps 20 or more that fail. It is particularly disastrous for animal welfare.
 The "super-pig" engineered with human growth hormone gene turned out arthritic, ulcerous, blind and impotent.
 The 'super-salmon" engineered, again, to grow as fast as possible, with genes belonging to other fish, ended up with big monstrous heads and died from not being able to see, breathe or feed properly.
 The clones of the transgenic sheep Dolly are abnormal and eight times as likely to die at birth compared with ordinary lambs.
 Even products that reach the market are failing, including crops that have been widely planted.
The authors of this widely quoted paper concluded: "It is important to realize that the failures are not just teething problems. They are very much the result of a reductionist science and a hit or miss technology. The transgenic foods created are unwholesome, because they involve stressing the developmental and metabolic system of organisms out of balance. There are bound to be unintended effects including toxins and allergens, which current risk assessments are designed to conceal rather than reveal. The major problem is the instability of transgenic lines."
In a note on ‘Risks Associated with GM Farm Animals’ the Federation of American Farm Scientists has stated—The genetic engineering of farm animals entails certain risks. It is possible, for example, that the experience of novel proteins can cause allergic reactions to susceptible people. There are also potential risks to the environment and problems relating to lack of transparency.
A research paper prepared by the Humane Society of the USA (HSUSA) and titled ‘Welfare Issues with Genetic Engineering and Cloning of Farm Animals’ has stated—“Developments in biotechnology have raised new concerns about animal welfare as farm animals (may) now have their genomes modified ( genetically engineered ) or copied ( cloned) to propagate certain traits useful to agribusiness such as meat yield or feed conversion. These animals suffer from unusually high rates of birth defects, disabilities and immature deaths.”
Further this paper prepared by the HSUSA reviews the recent research in this area to tell us—“Recent cloning research also reveals high failure rates, premature deaths, and such abnormalities as intestinal blockages, diabetes, shortened tendons, deformed feet, weakened immune systems, dysfunctional hearts, brain, liver and kidneys, respiratory distress and circulatory problems.”
According to a review quoted in this paper, less than 5% of all cloned embryos transferred into recipient cows survived. This paper has lamented the lack of regulations in this work to protect the welfare of animals.
These and related concerns should be raised more and more to prevent the genetic modification of animals from becoming as big an environmental and health risk as the technology of GM crops has become.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food', ‘14 Questions About GM Crops’ and ‘A Day in 2071’

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