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Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit with a few friends who share my interest in healthy food. About half of our group are vegetarians, many of us are able to grow a great deal of our own vegetables and purchase the balance from certified organic sources.

Dependent on the organic food industry for a major part of our food, it shocked us to learn that there was a 1998 USDA proposal to change the definition of organic, which was only narrowly defeated after a massive public outcry.

If this proposal passed, organic food would have included such items as irradiated food, genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), as well as vegetables grown in reprocessed human sewer sludge.

Up until a few years ago, people who have food allergies had only to avoid the specific food they were allergic to. This was not always so easy, especially for those who could not tolerate peanuts. Labeling procedures were improved only after people died from eating products that failed to list a peanut ingredient (such as peanut oil).

In the hopes of protecting the few amongst us that are super sensitive. We have seen schools and airlines become peanut-free zones, while more proteins (the source of allergens) are added to processed foods, food allergies have increased dramatically every year. Anyone, anytime can develop an allergy.

If you have food allergies, read labels and feel you are safe, you have probably not heard much about GEOs. They change forever the way we look at food.

To make genetically engineered organisms, scientists mix and match pieces of genetic information, (genes) from one variety of organism to another. Technically referred to as horizontal gene transfer, it is now possible to cross natural species boundaries and force unrelated genes together into a single living organism. This newly created organism will have traits that would have never occurred in nature.

With our short growing season, it might sound good to have tomato plants that have been genetically engineered by adding an antifreeze protein gene from flounder, that will protect the fruit from frost. The question is, will someone allergic to flounder have a reaction after eating this GEO tomato?

Right now, there are chicken genes in potatoes to help resist disease. Chinese hamster genes increasing sterol production in tobacco plants, trout genes in catfish and two plant viruses and foreign genes are found in canola, cherry tomatoes, papaya and yellow crookneck squash.

According to Natural Foods Merchandiser there are already 3,000 varieties of plants and animals now containing genes from other species. As of 1996, testing was under way for more than 40 different transgenic crops, including vegetables, grains, fruits and flowers.
Today, the farm acreage devoted to GEOs has increased dramatically to 12% of corn, 30% of soybeans and 40% of cotton acreage.

Monsanto, the multibillion dollar agribusiness corporation, which brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and bovine growth hormone is also leading in Transgene research. Roundup, a soybean and corn pesticide that Monsanto developed in 1973 is responsible for 50% of its sales. Recently Monsanto found a way to bioengineer a new soybean with an inherent resistance to the damaging effect of Round-Up.

Farmers planting this new soybean are able to use more and more pesticides without endangering their crops, this could mean doubling, even tripling the residual pesticides in our water and food.

It is estimated that 93% of biotechnology research is devoted to creating plants that can tolerate extensive amounts of pesticides, in producing large crops that can be easily harvested and processed. While only 7% of the research is devoted to improving taste and nutrition.

Some European governments are actually taking action to protect their citizens. Denmark has required labeling since 1996 on all foods items containing GEOs. In 1997 Italy banned all GEO corn crops. That same year France passed legislation that all GEO soybeans be labeled.
Another agribusiness, Novartis, sponsored a 1997 study that showed 93% of Americans favor labeling and 54% prefer organic farming over genetically engineered crops and those that use pesticides.

A few months ago, Cornell entomologist John Losey and a group of scientists, jointly published their shocking study in Nature magazine.
They found that pollen (a product that blows freely in the wind) from genetically engineered corn has disastrous results when it falls on a milkweed plant.

Milkweed is the ONLY food for Monarch butterflies when they are at the larval stage. Caterpillars who ate this particular milkweed had either their growth stunted or died.

If this is an early warning to man, shouldn't we be paying more attention to what goes into our mouths? You never know, allergens can be hiding where you least expect.