Food and Health and Manipulation, er, Hope

That phrase (minus the Manipulation) was a part of Monsanto’s promotional materials for a while. It’s since been replaced with “Imagine”. Jeanne d’Arc over at Body and Soul has posted
a story about the AIDS relief bill which was passed by the Senate on May 16, 2003. Apparently “our” representatives in congress continue the push to cram genetically modified food down the throats of people in Africa. She writes:

I’m hardly an expert, so if anyone wants to take exception to this characterization, be my guest, but my impression is that the safety of GM food seems pretty well established, the environmental impact and the effect on the local agriculture (and, long-term, on local economies as a whole) a lot less so. There are reasons to accept GM food and there are reasons to be wary of it (plenty of American farmers are wary), but almost nobody is arguing the case on its merits.

I don’t know that the saftey of GM food has been established. I’m not an “expert” either and I’ve not been keeping up with this for the past year but the last reading I did left plenty of doubt in my mind. A part of the problem with GMOs and food safety is illustrated by the case of “Starlink” corn which was not approved for human consumption. It was approved for feeding animals but it found it’s way into the human food supply in 2001. Our food supply is, apparently, not as organized as it should be. As long as some foods are considered safe for livestock but not humans I think we’ll need better safegaurds to ensure that the two do not mix.

I don’t think we can make blanket statements about the safety of GMO foods. The general attitude of the FDA (and other agencies) has seemingly been that GMO’s are safe until proven guilty. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I’m going to look into it further but my impression is that they’re far more lax about food saftey that we realize.

On the subject of GM, environmental impact and agriculture, the process whereby GM has been introduced is a real mess. Just take a look at how Bovine Growth Hormone, rBGH, was brought into play in the 1990’s. rBGH and GM generally have been adopted too quickly and with little public debate. An interesting sidenote concerning rBGH and the media is the case of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. In many ways it’s a problem with technology generally. It seems to me that any democratic society should rigorously debate the adoption of new technologies, especially ones which could have such far reaching impact as genetic modification. Yet this did not happen in the U.S. The media hardly discussed it. Instead multinationals like Monsanto, Novartis, and DuPont forged ahead and the U.S. regulatory agencies let them. Just as with food safety, the EPA seems to take a stance that genetically modified organisms are innocent until proven guilty. Of course, the problem with this is that once organisms are introduced into the ecosystem they cannot really be contained.

Multinational corporations do not generally function for the benefit of ecosystems or human health. That’s a fundamental flaw of capitalism and unfortunately the flaws of capitalism are not widely discussed in our society. Nor are the intentions of corporations when they push new products and technologies.

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