Ayurvedic Perspective on Genetically Engineered Foods

An Interview with Laura Ticciati

The debate is on. Are foods that have been genetically altered safe?

Ayurveda recommends foods that are alive with "chetana" — nature's own intelligence. The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians suggests eating foods that are as close to their "natural" state as possible, to benefit from their "chetana" value.

Total Health News recently had the opportunity to speak with Laura Ticciati, the founder and director of Mothers for Natural Law, a nonprofit organization that educates the public on the dangers of genetic engineering. She and her husband, Robin, are authors of the groundbreaking book, Genetically Engineered Foods: Are they Safe? You Decide (Keats/NTC publishing).

Q: What exactly is a genetically engineered food?

A: Genes are the building blocks of all living organisms — they make an apple an apple and a fish a fish. A GE food is created by isolating and cutting out the genes from different organisms and inserting them into a food crop. Using this technology, scientists can combine the genes of two completely unrelated species, such as a fish and a tomato, a virus and a vegetable, a human and an animal. The purpose is to "improve on nature" and transfer a specific characteristic from one species to another. For instance, a cold-water fish gene could make a vegetable more frost-resistant. Unfortunately, genetically engineered crops — now widely used in foods and household products — have not been tested on humans, yet they have been approved by the FDA. This is completely different from hybridization of similar or closely-related species, which relies on nature's own reproductive mechanisms. Genetic engineers cut, splice and recombine genes of completely unrelated species in the laboratory, creating completely new DNA blueprints and new organisms that would never be found in nature.

Q: What are the dangers of eating these foods?

A: GE is an imprecise technology that can damage the functioning of the normal genes of a cell, and can potentially create toxins and allergens in our foods. The nutritional content in foods may also be reduced. In addition, GE foods contain antibiotic-resistant genes that are used as markers to indicate that the organism has been successfully engineered. Doctors warn that this could lead to the creation of super-bacteria, the diminished effectiveness of antibiotics as medicine, and the development of new, antibiotic-resistant strains of infectious diseases such as meningitis. Since these foods are so new, the full range of dangers is as yet unknown.

Q: It seems like these foods could have an impact on the environment as well.

A: Exactly. You probably remember the headlines made when a Cornell research study showed that the larvae of Monarch butterflies died when they were dusted with the pollen of corn that had been genetically modified. This was just one of many unexpected, and obviously unintended, results. Genetically engineered organisms are unknown, unpredictable elements that, when released into the ecosystem, could produce dramatic changes. Scientists warn that GE organisms (GEOs) threaten our wildlife, alter natural habitats, perpetuate our dependence on pesticides and herbicides, and expose the entire ecosystem to irreversible pollution. We simply don't know what long-term effects GEOs will have on the environment. Also, millions of acres of GE crops already planted have an unnatural genetic uniformity. This lack of biological diversity leaves crops highly susceptible to pests, fungus, bacteria or viruses. One pest could literally wipe out crops of entire nations — which challenges the claims made by biotech companies that GE foods are the solution to world hunger.

Q: What foods are currently genetically engineered?

A: In the past four years, over 40 varieties of crops have been genetically engineered, including more than 50% of our soybeans, 50% of our cotton, and 25% of our corn. Because the FDA does not require manufacturers to label products that contain GE foods, you are likely eating GE foods without realizing it. Only foods that are certified organic cannot be made with GEOs. But even organic crops are at risk of being contaminated from cross-pollination with neighboring GE crops. The biotech industry intends to genetically engineer all of our food within the next five to ten years unless we stop them.

Q: What is your organization's message for people who are concerned?

A: At Mothers for Natural Law we feel a great urgency to halt the spread of GE foods and to campaign for their regulation. Genetic pollution is irreversible — it can't be cleaned up or contained. It's forever. At the same time, it's important to recognize that action alone won't solve the problem. When you think about it, GE is a symptom of a society out of tune with natural law. We have to change collective consciousness and stop looking at the laws of nature as individual toys that can be manipulated for our own ends. Instead, we must acknowledge that they are interconnected threads in a profoundly harmonious tapestry called the universe. But in a food safety emergency it's essential to take immediate action. So we urge everyone to get involved. Please call us at 1-800-REALFOOD and we'll send you petitions, postcards, shopping guides and other practical materials to help keep GE out of your community and your kitchen.

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