GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Fwd: Mother Jones: Flavor Saved?

Forwarded message:
From: (Epstein)
Date: 97-02-01 12:10:55 EST

Mother Jones, Jan-Feb 1997

Flavor Saved?

 Genetically engineered foods are in the supermarket now, and more are
 coming soon. 

 By Susan Benson and Leora Broydo 

 They sound as if they belong in some all-you-can-eat, sci-fi salad
 bar: tomatoes made with flounder genes, melons with virus genes,
 potatoes with chicken genes. Or perhaps they're ingredients in the
 latest culinary horror flick: "Life was normal in this small
 Midwestern farm town until the dark day when the tomatoes took to
 the rivers, the melons got sick, and the potatoes started clucking." 

 Genetically engineered foods are among us already, of course. A few
 are in your grocery store -- though they can be difficult to spot. The
 Food and Drug Administration does not require additional labeling.
 And biotech companies don't have to go out of their way to make
 their products stand out from the real stuff. Calgene did place labels
 on its genetically engineered Flavr Savr tomato. But then there's the
 company's Laurical canola oil, enhanced with genes from the
 California bay tree. The oil is soon to be used in the manufacture of
 chocolate, nondairy creamer, and candy coatings, and already is
 used to make detergents and soap. Only we don't know which ones.
 Calgene just says that "the product is available for use." 

 Proponents say genetic engineering provides affordable, nutritious
 food year-round but goes easy on the environment because the crops
 theoretically reduce reliance on pesticides and other chemicals.
 Critics, mostly consumer and environmental groups, say what goes
 on in the lab and in field trials cannot predict the long-term effects
 on human and ecological health. And, according to a Union of
 Concerned Scientists survey of field-tested food crops, 93 percent
 of genetic alterations are done to make food production and
 processing easier and more profitable. Only 7 percent are
 engineered to improve nutrition or taste. 

 Nonetheless, with the approval of the FDA and support from the
 food industry, more of these brave new creations will be heading
 our way. The question we may find ourselves pondering is not who
 but what is coming to dinner? Here are a few clues: 

    Corn Implanted with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
    bacteria, Ciba-Geigy's Maximizer and Mycogen's NatureGard
    corn both have a built-in pesticide -- one that organic farmers
    have been using topically for years. The first commercial crop
    was harvested in the fall of 1996 and is now available for use in
    corn syrup, cereal, and other processed foods, as well as in
    animal feed.

    Manufacturers claim that Bt corn will reduce the use of
    insecticides. But critics say that in just a few years, insects
    could become resistant to Bt. If that happens, organic farmers
    would lose one of the most effective natural insecticides

    Potatoes Monsanto's NewLeaf potatoes also contain Bt, which
    is toxic to the Colorado potato beetle. As with Bt corn, critics
    say NewLeaf potatoes may wipe out Bt's usefulness to organic
    farmers. These fresh spuds and processed potato products hit the
    shelves last year.

    Yellow crookneck squash First planted for commercial use in
    1995, the Freedom II squash from Asgrow was spliced with
    genes from two plant viruses to build resistance to those viruses
    and increase yields. It was yanked from commercial distribution
    after less-than-splendid field results. Look for a new
    virus-resistant squash in about two years.

    Squash has been under cultivation in many parts of the United
    States for thousands of years and has more wild and weedy
    relatives than other crops, making the risk of genetic transfer
    more likely. As new transgenic plants emerge in the wild, they
    may triumph in the competition for water, light, and soil
    nutrients, resulting in a loss of ecological diversity.

    Soybeans Mated with genes from petunias, bacteria, and
    cauliflower to improve herbicide tolerance, Roundup Ready
    soybeans from Monsanto have caused a stir in Europe, due to
    negative consumer reaction.

    Because soybeans are an ingredient in many processed foods,
    scientists have developed tests to determine the soybean's
    allergenicity, and consumers with soy allergies have learned
    what types of processed food products to avoid. But since
    humans generally don't eat petunias, the FDA does not require
    that the flower gene be tested for allergy problems.

    Tomatoes Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato was enhanced with
    bacteria to toughen it up for shipping and to increase its shelf
    life. Approved for commercial distribution in 1994 and later
    marketed under the homey name "MacGregor's," this was the
    first genetically engineered whole food to hit grocery stores. But
    Calgene removed it from the market after it flopped

    Milk Produced from cows injected with bovine growth hormone
    (BGH), biotech milk has gotten a lot of bad press. Some dairies,
    reacting to the public outcry, have labels assuring that their
    products don't have BGH. Used by Monsanto to increase milk
    production ("enhanced" cows produce from 10 to 15 percent
    more milk per day), the hormone may be related to increased
    health problems in cows. To fight disease, some farmers are
    increasing their use of antibiotics in dairy herds, which has led
    to public health concerns over the development of human
    resistance to the antibiotics.