Give People Choice on Genetically Engineered Food

Article excerpt

Byline: MEL BANKOFF For The Register-Guard

THE SURVIVAL OF OUR species depends on our ability to create a safe and secure agricultural system. The development of farming based on petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides and other compounds has rapidly transformed agricultural systems. Now the creators of the petrochemical revolution - Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, etc. - have developed a new scheme: genetic engineering. Measure 27 on the November ballot addresses this scheme.

Rachel Carson's landmark book "Silent Spring" exposed the hazards associated with the introduction of man-made chemicals into our ecosystem. Our bodies have become depositories for DDT, dioxin, PCBs and hundreds of other synthetic compounds. What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves - and having become more aware of the consequences of petrochemical-based agriculture, we now must learn about genetically engineered food and crops.

These products made it to market due to the strategic relationship between the Food and Drug Administration and biotechnology companies. Phil Angel, Monsanto's past director of communications, said "Monsanto shouldn't have to vouch for the safety of GE foods. Our interest is in selling as much as possible. Assuring safety is the job of the FDA."

But Dr. Henry Miller, the FDA official responsible for biotechnology issues from 1979 to 1994, said "The U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked us to do and told us to do."

The FDA, which is supposedly responsible for food safety, didn't listen to its own scientists' warnings about unintended consequences of genetically engineered foods, such as new toxins that are unpredictable and difficult to detect (see The lack of consensus among FDA scientists was covered up, making it possible for FDA administrators to represent genetically engineered products as safe - i.e., "substantially equivalent" to other foods - and therefore not requiring any testing.

The British Medical Association and the Canadian Royal Society have voiced strong opposition to genetically engineered foods on the basis of the precautionary principle: We should not introduce anything into the ecosystem unless it is fully tested and safe beyond all doubt.

Without labeling or testing of genetically engineered foods, how can we know if our health has been affected? What about the environment? Just a few areas of serious concern:

Biotech corn is registered as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency - it can be regarded as a living, self-propagating pesticide.

Insects are becoming increasingly more resistant to biotech crops, requiring increased chemical applications - defeating these crops' very purpose.

The overapplication of the herbicide Roundup to Roundup-ready soybeans is creating super-resistant weeds.

The diversity of our global seed bank is being polluted by cross-pollination from genetically engineered plants. …