Editorial; Genetically Engineered Crops

Article excerpt

The announcement by the Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB) last week that genetically modified (GM) beans are used in some 82 percent of all tofu products on the market here has shocked people. It is quite natural people are surprised that they have been unknowingly exposed to GM food whose safety has yet to be confirmed.

The extent of the uneasiness here is reflected in the 80 percent fall in the sales of tofu products since the KCPB announcement last week.

Local civic groups called for the recall of the products because of a possible hazard to people's health, while the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) retorted that the safety of the products is beyond doubt because the same beans have been used in Europe and Japan since 1996.

GM crops are produced under a technology, first developed in the United States in 1986, that enables people to create crops and animals with specific traits, such as resistance to cold or to pesticides, by transplanting genes from unrelated species. Genes from bacteria, insects and animals are added to the plants with the primary purpose of increasing production.

Amid heated debates among scientists over whether they are harmful or not, the number of crops genetically altered mainly to increase their production has been on the rise in recent years. Some 40 GM crops including beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash, are reportedly being marketed across the world at present.

Supporters of GM products hail the technology as having the potential to bring about a revolution in food production to feed the growing world population. They also argue that biotechnology should be further developed as a weapon to fight the food crisis feared to come in the future.

They say fears related to GM crops are overblown and are blocking the development of a technology that could feed the world and offer a host of other benefits.

However, there is also a growing number of voices expressing fears about the safety of the crops and foods made from them. Fears that such crops are unsafe to eat are particularly strong in Europe while in the U.S., where the lion's share of GM crops is produced, controls are relatively lenient. The views on GM plants on the two sides are in direct opposition. The U.S. says they are safe because nothing has proved they are unsafe while the European nations claim that they are unsafe as their safety has yet to be confirmed.

The recent moves by European nations to limit imports of GM crops are feared to touch off trade friction between the two sides.

The voices questioning the safety of the foods picked up momentum last May when scientists at Cornell University reported in the journal Nature that pollen from genetically engineered corn containing a toxin gene called Bt killed 44 percent of monarch butterfly caterpillars fed on milkweed leaves dusted with it. …