Genetically engineered foods
What should we do? 
© Robert Anderson PhD
 First published by DevZone in New Zealand
Like many scientists, I am increasingly concerned about the corporate control of food and the lack of clear labelling of approved genetically engineered (GE) foods/ingredients. Contrary to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) and industry claims, GE foods have never been tested other than by the industries supplying them.
Several NZ scientists have withdrawn from working with genetic engineering technology and many are too nervous to speak out against it. It can be career suicide to do so. Vast sums of money are allocated to smooth the way into the consumer’s confidence; a culture of spin and intimidation far more pervasive than should ever be allowed. The shocking, well-documented treatment of Dr Árpád Pusztai, who produced GE results inconvenient to the biotech industry and the US, was deliberately intended as a warning to others not to step out of line. He was not the last. The result has been a growing, pervasive mistrust of science and scientists.
One thing for sure, virtually all transgenic crops have problems. GE is a seriously flawed technology leading to imprecise results. Thankfully, NZ farmers are able to learn from the sad experiences of others overseas. In the words of the President of the American Corn Growers Association, “We’ve been shafted.” Indeed, and US farmers are not the only ones who have been shafted by this ‘wonder’ technology. There have been massive failures in Bt cotton of up to 100% reported in the three major Indian growing states, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Hot climates have caused 40% crop losses in herbicide-resistant soya beans.[i] There was a dismal failure of Kenya’s experimental GE-sweet potato crop.[ii] Furthermore, the consistent findings of independent research since 1999 are that GE-crops fail to deliver their promised benefits of ‘reduced agri-chemical use’ and ‘significantly increased yields.’
Adverse health effects from ingesting GE foods are ignored or never sought. A recent, secret, industry report showing detrimental effects from feeding GE corn to rats was ignored in getting the product on to the market. GE-food has certainly not “been shown to be as safe as conventional food.” It is untrue that “no adverse consequences have been reported.” The US StarLink corn contamination proved hazardous to those who had allergic reactions after eating it. One consumer (having medical knowledge) offered to demonstrate the severity of his allergic reaction to the EPA investigative committee, but they refused on the grounds that they could not be held responsible for any adverse outcome. Following the introduction of transgenic soy on the UK market, doctors noticed a 50% increase in allergic reactions to soy-based products. The recent “Pharm” corn[iii] which almost got into the US food supply further demonstrates dangers from biotechnology applied to food crops. (‘Pharm’ crops are engineered to produce non-food products: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics, etc.) The developer, ProdiGene, was fined US$3 million for contaminating soybeans with their transgenic corn. Dr Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) got it right: “If genes find their way from ‘pharm’ crops into food crops, we could wind up with drug-laced cornflakes.”
As Margaret Mellon also said: “Virtually none of the biotech food products on the market today in the US delivers price benefits to consumers.[iv] And I would add no additional nutritional benefits either; quite the opposite.” We are often told that millions of Americans are eating GE-food without adverse health effects. However, following their introduction, US food-borne illnesses rose dramatically (two- to 10-fold, 1995-1999).[v] There is no proof that this is due to consuming GE-food, but then no one is looking. In Sweden, where GE foods are virtually non-existent, food-borne illnesses remained largely unchanged for the same period.
If New Zealand is to avoid catastrophes, we must avoid allowing any GE organisms to be grown in our soils. The old adage from proponents that they are merely “maximizing consumer choice” by offering GE foods is seriously misleading. We only have consumer choice if we have the freedom to refuse, and American citizens did not.
GE-crops have cost the US $12 billion in farm subsidies, lost sales and product recalls due to transgenic contamination. There is potential for contamination of the food and farming industry from GE at all levels globally and we should be asking, ‘Who is paying the piper?’ If I were still farming in New Zealand, I’d be listening to independent scientists like Dr Pusztai.
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons), PhD (4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008)
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (now Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility) He authored The Final Pollution: Genetic Apocalypse, Exploding the Myth of Genetic Engineering and several other publications on environmental, health and social justice issues.
View Robert Anderson’s lectures on this site.
Address enquiries for Robert Anderson's publications to

For further information see:

GE Free New Zealand in food and environment

GE Free Northland in food and environment

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility

Sustainability Council of New Zealand

The Soil & Health Association / Organic New Zealand



[i] Monsanto's Modified Soya Beans are Cracking Up in the Heat.
[ii] Monsanto’s showcase project in Africa fails, New Scientist, 181, 2433, 7 Feb. 2004.
[iv] Catalyst Vol1 No 2 fall 2002 Dr M. Mellon p5