Genetically-engineered Foods

a large, but normal salmon

I can't say I've had much of an opinion on genetically modified organisms (GMO) or the more recent take on them, genetically engineered (G.E.) foods. After all, goes one argument I've read in a number of places, mankind has been selecting and thus modifying foods/food anmals for certain "desirable" traits for thousands of years, so what's the difference.

Then I read Mark Bittman's Opinionator post in the New York Times online (Feb 15, 2001) and found one crucial difference, honesty. The government has approved three new G.E. foods, one of which becomes hay, another to be used to make fuel (ethanol) and the third a variety of sugar beets. None of them have to be labeled as coming from GMOs.

When I looked at public opinion polls from 1997 to 2010 originating in a number of countries around the globe, people want to know if they're buying G.E. foods. The numbers in favor of labeling are 70-90+%. There's a question of safety in the public's mind, one ABC poll conducted nearly ten years ago had 35% of respondents thinking G.E. foods were safe, 52% voting they were unsafe and 13% without an opinion.

Yet 93%, in the same group polled, thought the federal government should require labeling.

The three G.E. products I'm writing about are alfalfa, corn and sugar beets. The alfalfa could become hay fed to animals, dairy cows for instance, who were supposedly being raised organically, and therefore, strictly speaking, the milk from those cows wouldn't be organic. But we wouldn't know that if the government rules don't require labeling of the alfalfa as G.E.

Now there's a new worry. I printed a copy of a Sep 20, 2010 article titled "Super salmon or 'Frankenfish'? FDA to decide." A Massachusetts company, AquBounty, is producing a G.E. salmon which grows twice as fast as ordinary salmon. The photo of a G.E. AquAdvantage salmon swimming alongside an ordinary salmon of the same age (presumably Photo-shopped together) is striking. I wouldn't have assumed they were the same species.

And the Food and Drug Administration is apparently about to approve the new super fish. Two Alaska Senators and a California Assemblyman have introduced bills to either ban the fish or require its labeling as G.E.

In Europe most foods containing more than 0.9% of GMOs must already be labeled.

The claims in favor of GMO crops are they need less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides and similar sprays. Bittman's column notes these claims aren't verified in many instances and most of the world's farmers can't afford to grow the new GMO species.

I'm personally not very afraid of the G.E. crops and even the salmon. Bittman notes that neither allergic reactions nor transfer to people of antibiotic resistance , major concerns of those against GMO crops/foods, have thus far been shown to be factual problems.

But, the labeling issue is quite another matter. If it's a GMO food product, it ought to say so.

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