Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food

Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food

Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food

Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food

Synopsis


More than ten years ago, the first genetically modified foods took their place on the shelves of American supermarkets. But while American consumers remained blissfully unconcerned with the new products that suddenly filled their kitchens, Europeans were much more wary of these "Frankenfoods." When famine struck Africa in 2002, several nations refused shipments of genetically modified foods, fueling a controversy that put the issue on the world's political agenda for good.

In Food Fray, esteemed molecular biologist Dr. Lisa H. Weasel brings readers into the center of this debate, capturing the real-life experiences of the scientists, farmers, policymakers and grassroots activists on the front lines. Here she combines solid scientific knowledge and a gripping narrative to tell the real story behind the headlines and the hype. Seminal and cutting-edge, Food Fray enlightens and informs and will allow readers to make up their own minds about one of the most important issues facing us today.

Excerpt

“Americans just don't care about genetically modified foods….” This phrase haunted the writing of this book, starting with the initial research phase. And to a limited extent, such a statement may hold a grain of truth. For a segment of the U.S. population—weaned on fast food and addicted to industrialized, highly processed ingredients—questions of how their food is made and where it comes from may be overshadowed by more immediate and pressing food-related outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and clogged arteries. As one European consumer quoted in Chapter 3 of this book put it, “If Americans are willing to eat McDonald's special sauce, it's no wonder they don't care if it's genetically modified or not.”

But any good writer does not take such a dismissal at face value, and both the research for this book as well as recent trends and statistics suggest that it is not so much that Americans don't care about genetically modified (GM) food but that they don't know about GM food. The most recent public survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a respected tracker of biotechnology trends, revealed that 60 percent of Americans believe that they have never eaten GM foods, despite the omnipresence of such foods in a majority of supermarket products for nearly a decade. Moreover, only 38 percent of respondents said they would be likely to eat GM food given the choice, while 54 percent said that they would be unlikely to do so. In obtaining information about GM foods, consumers most often look to their family and friends, trusting government, media, food manufacturers, and the biotechnology industry the least. At best, a smokescreen of ignorance and uncertainty cloaks the topic of GM food for most Americans.

At the same time, for a growing segment of the U.S. population, issues of where their food comes from, who controls the food supply, and what choices they make at the supermarket loom larger than ever. The burgeoning explosion of the organic food sector in the United States, which expressly prohibits the presence of more than 5 percent GM content, is testament to the types of food choices Americans are making that steer away from the GM trend. And the recent and repeated mass uprisings from consumers against removing labels from recombinant growth hormone–treated milk in a number of states—discussed in detail in Chapter 8 of this book—suggests that for at least some products, consumers are willing to act against the use of recombinant DNA technology in their food, once they are informed about it.

Ironically, one of the ethical arguments that is often used to sway American consumers in favor of GM foods is not their own self-interest with regard to these products but the premise that GM foods are needed to help solve the world hunger problem and feed the world's ever expanding populous poor. It was this question—a matter of the global ethics of GM food, rather than the global politics—that initially sparked the research for this book. Would GM food, could GM food, be the answer to the persistent scourge of famine that strikes with such severity across broad swathes of the world? And if so, why were opinions so divided and acceptance so controversial in the very places such engineered food might be needed most?

How had Americans and Europeans, despite their common privilege and relative wealth, come to such different conclusions on the suitability of these so-called miracle seeds? And how had the debate created such strange bedfellows? Argentina, for example, joined the United States and Canada in a World Trade Organization (WTO) lawsuit against Europe over the rejection of GM foods there. Suddenly, costume-clad, hippy-hugging protesters were seeing eye-to-eye with a retired director of the American Cancer Society, the beer company Anheuser-Busch, and the Grocery Manufacturers . . .

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