Top 10 Concerns


In the U.S., where cattle, sheep, deer, and elk have no immunity to the disease, heartwater could wipe out whole herds. Fortunately, the ticks were identified, says Michael J. Burridge, director of the Heartwater Research Project at UF. A quick inspection of Hill's facility revealed that it was crawling with the African ticks--and this was just one of a dozen infestations turned up by Burridge and his colleagues. The tick that spreads heartwater is just the latest in a long list of foreign diseases that threaten ranch and farm economies throughout the world. These illnesses receive little media attention compared with exotic human afflictions such as Hanta virus or Ebola virus. But biologists say that alien animal and plant pests represent a much broader set of dangers than rare human illnesses do. And it's not either/or: In many cases, the animal plagues are closely associated with human illness as well.
Even as Britain struggles with this blight, markets are slamming shut to its exports of hogs, which have been hit with an outbreak of classical swine fever. In Asia, Japan and Korea are battling outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in cattle, which may have slipped in from China.
In Mexico, just 200 miles from the Texas border, nearly 14 million chickens were slaughtered this spring because of a highly contagious virus called Exotic Newcastle Disease. A virus called Nipah has destroyed the Malaysian pork industry and killed 105 people.
In North America, veterinarians are fighting a deadly parasitic disease called leishmaniasis. Rarely before found on these shores, it has has sickened and killed hundreds of foxhounds in 21 states and Canada. Experts blame the spread of these and other pests on an explosion in world trade, business travel, and tourism. Global trade policies aggravate the problem by putting strict limits on countries' abilities to ban animal trade. Meanwhile, in the U.S., years of flat budgets for border inspectors and disease researchers have left populations of animals--and humans--doubly exposed.
Hundreds of common diseases are zoonotic, meaning they affect animals and humans alike. Indeed, scientists estimate that as many as 70% of all pathogens are capable of jumping species. Leishmaniasis and West Nile virus show why this is so frightening. In the U.S., the former has been detected only in hunting dogs. But in countries such as India, the parasite is endemic--and deadly--in humans as well.
Animal researchers have long been tracking prion-linked diseases among wild populations of deer and elk. And in Vermont, the Agriculture Dept. recently ordered the destruction of three small flocks of imported sheep that may be carrying a new form of mad cow disease. Thousands of non-native species have become established in the United States, often causing devastating environmental and economic problems.
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health have funded six projects under the Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) program to study ecological and biological mechanisms that govern relationships between human-induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases, according to a September 14 NSF press release. Bio-invasion is now thought to be the second gravest threat to biodiversity in North America, after habitat destruction and degradation (CEC 2000).
Genetic engineering of food and fiber products is inherently unpredictable and dangerous -- for humans, for animals, the environment, and for the future of sustainable and organic agriculture. As Dr. Michael Antoniou, a British molecular scientist points out, gene-splicing has already resulted in the "unexpected production of toxic substances... in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals with the problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen." The hazards of GE foods and crops fall basically into three categories: human health hazards, environmental hazards, and socioeconomic hazards. A brief look at the already-proven and likely hazards of GE products provides a convincing argument for why we need a global moratorium on all GE foods and crops. There are currently more than four dozen genetically engineered foods and crops being grown or sold in the US. These foods and crops are widely dispersed into the food chain and the environment. Over 70 million acres of GE crops are presently under cultivation in the US, while up to 500,000 dairy cows are being injected regularly with Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Most supermarket processed food items now "test positive" for the presence of GE ingredients. In addition several dozen more GE crops are in the final stages of development and will soon be released into the environment and sold in the marketplace. According to the biotechnology industry almost 100% of US food and fiber will be genetically engineered within 5-10 years. The "hidden menu" of these unlabeled genetically engineered foods and food ingredients in the US now includes soybeans, soy oil, corn, potatoes, squash, canola oil, cotton seed oil, papaya, tomatoes, and dairy products.
Invasive aquatic species are particularly threatening to wetland and freshwater ecosystems (see box below) and can also pose serious health risks. For example, human cholera bacteria were found in ballast tanks and in oyster and fin-fish samples in Mobile, Alabama, in 1991 (ANS 2000). Alien aquatic species are expected to contribute to the extinction of native freshwater species in North America at a rate of 4 per cent a decade over the next century (Ricciardi and Rasmussen 1999). With little or no regulatory restraints, labeling requirements, or scientific protocol, bio-engineers have begun creating hundreds of new GE "Frankenfoods" and crops, oblivious to human and environmental hazards, or negative socioeconomic impacts on the world's several billion farmers and rural villagers. Despite an increasing number of scientists warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude, inexact, and unpredictable -- and therefore inherently dangerous -- pro-biotech governments and regulatory agencies, led by the US, maintain that GE foods and crops are "substantially equivalent" to conventional foods, and therefore require neither mandatory labeling nor pre-market safety-testing. This Brave New World of Frankenfoods is frightening. 
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