GENTECH archive 8.96-97
Fwd: Mother Jones: Flavor Saved?
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- Subject: Fwd: Mother Jones: Flavor Saved?
- From: Purefood@aol.com
- Date: Sat, 1 Feb 1997 13:54:26 -0500 (EST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Epstein)
Date: 97-02-01 12:10:55 EST
Mother Jones, Jan-Feb 1997
Genetically engineered foods are in the supermarket now, and more are
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
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.