Protecting Waukesha County's Natural Resourses since 1978


Representing the Waukesha County community for the protection of Waukesha County's natural resources through dedicated grass-roots participation and action.


Environmental Chemicals and Genetic Engineering

Humans today are exposed to thousands of chemicals, some naturally occurring and many man-made. This exposure comes from the air we breathe (both indoors and outside), the food we eat, the water we drink, and products that are absorbed through our skin. Many of the chemicals in common usage are known to cause cancer, nerve damage, reproductive disorders, birth defects, kidney and liver damage, and respiratory problems. Many of the others are considered probable or possible carcinogens. While what is known is not reassuring, it is important to note that most chemicals have not been tested for toxicity. We have no knowledge of research dealing with the health effects of exposure to multiple chemicals. "Acceptable" levels of dangerous chemicals are based on adult men and do not take into account the fact that children are more susceptible to toxins, and their exposure is often higher than adults (such as eating more fruit in proportion to body weight than adults and thus being exposed to more pesticide residue). Over time, multiple exposures cause these chemicals to build up in our bodies, eroding our general health and making us more vulnerable to disease and illness.

Risks are taken with our health for the sake of economic considerations. "Tolerance levels" of chemicals known to be dangerous are set up based on risk versus benefit. This means that the health of x number of people will be sacrificed for whatever benefits are expects to accrue from having the chemical in the environment. The fact that only 10,000 cases of cancer (or 44 or 2,000) are projected due to a specific substance is of no comfort to the real people or their families who will make up these numbers. In the risk versus benefit scenario, it is often the public who takes the risks while the manufacturers reap substantial benefits.

Aside from the ethical issue of putting money before people, it is, in the long run, economically unsound to allow these chemicals to threaten our health and the health of future generations. As a nation we are paying dearly for health care costs, which continue to escalate. The best approach is to prevent illnesses and disease with a healthier population, and this cannot happen when we are exposed every minute of every day to chemicals that we know can make us sick. Billions of public and private dollars will continue to be spent to clean up contaminated areas. It is safer and cheaper to prevent problems than to correct them later.

It is WEAL’s position that human exposure to dangerous chemicals should be minimized. Where they are present, they should be removed or reduced to the safest known levels. New sources of toxic exposure or efforts to raise legal limits of contaminates will be opposed.

Genetic engineering involves transferring genes within and between species to create entirely new life forms that could never be possible in the natural world. This technology also uses viruses, bacteria, and antbiotic-resistant genes. Genetic engineering creates foods that have never been eaten before. Introducing these

substances into the food supply has the potential to create a health disaster. These new "foods" contain proteins which could cause allergic reactions ranging from mild discomfort to death. Also, the insertion of genes from common allergens (such as nuts) into totally unrelated foods puts people with allergies at serious risk. Without knowing what genes are in what foods, people will have no way of knowing what to avoid or what may have caused a reaction if they have one. Aside from not being able to pinpoint the cause of problems, there would be no way to hold a manufacturer or producer responsible should there be serious consequences to this technology.

Some studies have shown genetically engineered foods to be less nutritious than their traditional counterparts, lacking some naturally occurring chemicals known to protect against certain diseases. Losing naturally occurring nutrients would further damage general health. Another threat to health is the practice of using antibiotic genes as markers in GE foods. This could easily contribute to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. An additional health consideration is that most of the GE crops now being used are engineered to be herbicide resistant. This enables farmers to pour as much herbicide on the crops as they want, without damaging the crop. However, this will increase the amount of herbicide residue on food and in our water.

WEAL supports a worldwide moratorium on development of genetically engineered organisms and their removal from the market until they are proven to be safe for humans and the environment. WEAL supports long-term voluntary human testing as opposed to reliance on animal testing. Until their removal, WEAL advocates that all products containing genetically engineered ingredients be clearly labeled.