The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution

The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution

The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution

The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution

Synopsis

Few topics have inspired as much international furor and misinformation as the development and distribution of genetically altered foods. For thousands of years, farmers have bred crops for their resistance to disease, productivity, and nutritional value; and over the past century, scientists have used increasingly more sophisticated methods for modifying them at the genetic level. But only since the 1970s have advances in biotechnology (or gene-splicing to be more precise) upped the ante, with the promise of dramatically improved agricultural products--and public resistance far out of synch with the potential risks.

In this provocative and meticulously researched book, Henry Miller and Gregory Conko trace the origins of gene-splicing, its applications, and the backlash from consumer groups and government agencies against so-called Frankenfoods--from America to Zimbabwe. They explain how a happy conspiracy of anti-technology activism, bureaucratic over-reach, and business lobbying has resulted in a regulatory framework in which there is an "inverse" relationship between the degree of product risk and degree of regulatory scrutiny. The net result, they argue, is a combination of public confusion, political manipulation, ill-conceived regulation (from such agencies as the USDA, EPA, and FDA), and ultimately, the obstruction of one of the safest and most promising technologies ever developed--with profoundly negative consequences for the environment and starving people around the world. The authors go on to suggest a way to emerge from this morass, proposing a variety of business and policy reforms that can unlock the potential of this cutting-edge science, while ensuring appropriate safeguards and moving environmentally friendly products into the hands of farmers and consumers. This book is guaranteed to fuel the ongoing debate over the future of biotech and its cultural, economic, and political implications.

Excerpt

Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko have written a brilliant account of how self-interest, bad science, and excessive government regulation have profoundly compromised the potential of the new biotechnology. This book is a call to action to resist a pernicious political process that is currently denying enormous potential benefits to consumers throughout the world.

All of life involves weighing risks against benefits. Through our own experience, and by observing that of others, we assess the risks of familiar activities and, sometimes almost subconsciously, we adapt to them. A child soon learns—sometimes painfully—about the high risk of touching a hot stove. Usually without a great deal of thought, we run the hazard of shark attacks at the beach. Academics and insurance company experts have been able to quantify the risks of, say, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, commuting to work by car, or undergoing cardiac surgery.

Risk is more problematic when we are confronted with unfamiliar activities or products. In the absence of sufficient experience (what scientists would call “data”) to make a confident assessment of risk, we tend to become anxious and to compensate for our lack of knowledge by overestimating the risk.

The authors use an apposite contemporary example to illustrate public policy run amok—the regulation in the United States and abroad of the new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, which has great potential to improve plants and microorganisms for agriculture and food production. Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko make a persuasive case not only that the benefits of the technology far exceed its risk but also that there has been an abject failure in the formulation of public policy. The result has been, they argue correctly, gross overregulation of the technology and its products, disincentives to research and development, and fewer choices and inflated prices for consumers.

As a plant pathologist and breeder, I have seen how the skeptics and critics of the new biotechnology wish to postpone the release of improved crop . . .

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