Concerned About Frankenfood?
January 8, 2001 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Concerned About Frankenfood? Ralph Nader has some ideas.
posted by snakey (25 comments total)

 
Well, not to worry Ralph! We will have soon even less regulation and control over corporations. Am I a sore loser when I suggest that you have helped in your own small way to bring this about?
posted by Postroad at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2001


As Mr. Nader pointed out, the FDA didn't do the detective work that found StarLink in Taco Bell taco shells. It was a citizens watchdog group. I'd say that if you really want to see action on this issue, you should put aside the finger pointing, and call your representatives and suggest that they support regulations that:

* Halt the release of genetically altered plants into the environment until comprehensive, independent studies are performed as to environmental and food safety risks under a regulatory framework.

* Exempt life forms from the purview of patent laws in order to allow broader research and safety testing opportunities by academia and government.

* Place liability for harm on the owners or licensees of biotechnology patent rights in the event of damages caused by environmental release.

* Label all food containing any genetically altered ingredients.

(suggestions taken from the column)

posted by snakey at 4:47 PM on January 8, 2001


Am I a sore loser when I suggest that you have helped in your own small way to bring this about?
Yes, insofar as there is no evidence that Gore would have reigned in biotech. President Clinton has been Monsanto's bully boy for the last eight years, and his vice-president has no credibility on this particular issue.
I imagine things might actually be better under this administration, as people are likely to be riding it hard on issues such as this. I think Gore would have gotten the free ride Mr. Clinton did.
Am I a sore disinterested party if I say that if you cared about this issue, you should have voted for the candidate who considers it a priority?
posted by thirteen at 5:41 PM on January 8, 2001


I'm strongly in favor of labeling of food containing genetically-altered ingredients. It will make it easier for me to buy it. I can't wait to mutate!
posted by kindall at 6:36 PM on January 8, 2001


Anyone who can call finding genetically altered corn in taco shells a "crisis" is several cards shy of a full deck.
posted by ffmike at 8:57 PM on January 8, 2001


Anyone who doesn't believe there isn't a crisis regarding genetic engineering is several cards shy of a full deck.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 10:15 PM on January 8, 2001


The fact that StarLink corn found its way into the food supply is an embarassment, not an indictment of genetically engineered food in general. As Mr. Nader himself indicates, there are already regulations controlling genetically modified agricultural products--the EPA didn't approve this particular variety of corn because its allergenicity hadn't been tested yet. (Such tests are now underway.)

Also, I don't see why liability for damages caused by transgenic organisms wouldn't aready be covered by existing laws--chemical companies are responsible for environmental damage caused by accidental release, so agrobusiness should be as well. In fact, there's actually already a lawsuit against Aventis because of this incident.
posted by shylock at 10:21 PM on January 8, 2001


ffmike, it's what the event signifies that is so worrying - transgenic product where it's not supposed to be. How did it get there and what's to stop the next incident being something altogether more catastrophic.
It never fails to amaze me how large proportions of the American public can be so laissez-faire about GM food and how the agrobusiness has so little restriction placed on it regarding containment and testing.
posted by Markb at 5:32 AM on January 9, 2001


Anyone who thinks this is the worst thing they're likely to find in their food at Taco Bell is several cards short of a full deck, or else privileged enough never to have worked in fast food...
posted by dagnyscott at 7:37 AM on January 9, 2001


The last time I picked up lunch at Taco Bell, I was eating it in my car when a song from "Sweeney Todd" came on the radio. The one about chopping up annoying people and serving them in meat pies. I just looked at the undifferentiated Meat Product in my taco for a couple of minutes. Haven't been back since.
posted by harmful at 7:42 AM on January 9, 2001


A favorite link on GM food and responsibility, written by Prince Charles. If memory serves, Tony Blair wanted this page removed because it embarrassed him and his Monsanto buddies. I need to find some links, but if anybody remembers anything about Bill Clinton getting Tony to strike down British food law, I would appreciate a hyperlink.
posted by thirteen at 8:42 AM on January 9, 2001


Thirteen, is this the story?
posted by Markb at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2001


Is Starlink just Bt corn? I think it is wrong to dilute the effectiveness of Bt, but I think is dramatically less offensive than any Round-up ready product. No one should get me wrong, I have come to believe that organic farming cannot feed the world, and that we need to explore the natural limits of food production, including some genetic modification. Labeling foods is such a user request, and I would not want to have to be the jerk who has to make sure there is no contamination. The real solution is to make modifications that would not cause people to have valid concerns. A stable genetic hybrid is one thing, a fish tomato is another. Stick with the former, and the complaints will almost vanish.
Nothing to do with GM, but check out fellow MeFi member ffmikes's beautiful chart marking egg production on his farm. Hell, check out all the good stuff he has grown. I am very jealous of the beautiful land he lives on.
posted by thirteen at 9:48 AM on January 9, 2001


Markb: That is very close to the article was looking for. I read a more biased story, that stated Bill Clinton called up Tony Blair, and told him he wanted a British law (regarding GM) changed. The gist was that Clinton was legislating from accross the ocean without being elected, and against popular opinion. I think Bill and Tony getting together and hugging each other in public happened shortly thereafter.
posted by thirteen at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2001


It's a kind of Bt corn, yes. And organic farmers have been using Bt as an insecticide for decades, with no known adverse health effects.

The real solution is to make modifications that would not cause people to have valid concerns. A stable genetic hybrid is one thing, a fish tomato is another. Stick with the former, and the complaints will almost vanish.

I agree, but the distinction you make (stable hybrid vs. fish tomato) isn't really meaningful. The real reason that genetically modified agricultural products are infertile is that they're engineered to be.
posted by shylock at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2001


Shylock: Thanks to you, in a previous thread on the subject, I am far less concerned about terminator gene cross pollination, at least in dissimilar plant types, than I used to be. Nor am I too worried about round up resistant superweeds taking over the earth. I am worried that somebodies fish tomato, planted a couple hundred yards away from my heirloom Mortgage Lifters, might give me something nasty when I plant my seeds next year.

My example might not be so good. I was thinking in particular of the tomato that had fish genes spliced it to protect it from frost, and to allow it to be stored at cooler temperatures without going soft. Maybe it is a neat idea, but putting genetic information where it would have absolutely no natural way of being, seems like it should be thoroughly debugged before unleashing it on the world. I am not very governmental by nature, but it seems like the least we owe each other is not to muck up the genepool with stuff that cannot be undone.
I am kind of a nut however. I believe solar power Tesla coils could solve our ozone problem so obviously my grip on fact is tenuous. I would appreciate some really unbiased information on this subject. If such a thing can exist.
posted by thirteen at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2001


I have come to believe that organic farming cannot feed the world, and that we need to explore the natural limits of food production, including some genetic modification.

Organic farming most likely cannot feed the world, true, but it seems to me that reducing the population of said world is a far better solution than pushing our ecosystem to ever more ridiculous extremes in search of increasingly large amounts of increasingly crappy food.

We wouldn't NEED freakily engineered food if there weren't so goddamned many of us.

All together now: "we have to stop sometime, so why not stop while we still have a reasonably nice planet to live on?"

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2001


All together now: "we have to stop sometime, so why not stop while we still have a reasonably nice planet to live on?"

Good argument, but I can just hear the Christian fundamentalists: "It doesn't matter, because Christ is returning soon."

Sorry, I've been reading too many Jack Chick tracts lately...
posted by daveadams at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2001


Don't worry, a pandemic is just around the corner.
Question though, population growth is not a first world issue is it? I was under the impression that without immigration America and Europe would have declining numbers. Am I wrong?
posted by thirteen at 2:35 PM on January 9, 2001


By America, I meant North America. Sorry Canada.
posted by thirteen at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2001


Thirteen: you're right. Population growth is not an issue in North America and Europe. Some parts of Europe even have a negative population growth. All the figures are available in the Population Data Sheet.
posted by Aaaugh! at 11:40 PM on January 9, 2001


It seems like the least we owe each other is not to muck up the genepool with stuff that cannot be undone.

I completely agree. But this isn't a problem that's specific to gene splicing technologies. It's a problem of ecology that's much much older than our ability to move genes from one species to another. Witness the introduction of killer bees to North America, or the mongoose to Hawaii, or kudzu to the American southeast. One of my concerns is that the hoodoodoo surrounding genetically engineered organisms is obscuring the broader, more important issue of biodiversity--how do we protect an ecosystem from new invasive organisms, natural or man-made?

As for unbiased information, I'm afraid there isn't a whole lot of it out there. Most of the discussion I've seen in the media has come from the agrobusiness companies themselves and environmental activists who, frankly, are exaggerating the risks of this technology. My own opinion is this: More testing needs to get done before GM plants start getting grown on huge scales, and certainly before they enter people's diets. I think you'd find that the scientific community is in consensus on this. But at the same time, the public's fear of genetic engineering is starting to threaten all the research currently being done in biotechnology. As you noted, we're going to have to start relying more on bioengineered crops to feed a growing world population. But this research into the technology to engineer better, hardier, more nutritious crops isn't going to get done without the financial support of these big companies, not since the budget for scientific research was cut in the eighties, and especially not if there's a popular uprising against "Frankenfoods."
posted by shylock at 1:24 AM on January 10, 2001


But at the same time, the public's fear of genetic engineering is starting to threaten all the research currently being done in biotechnology. As you noted, we're going to have to start relying more on bioengineered crops to feed a growing world population.

This is exactly why biotech crop research is such a bad idea! The population problem is already bad enough - why on earth would we want to make it harder to solve? Why make it easier for more people to survive in less space? Why allow people to turn even more margin land into agriculture? In what way can this have any good effects? Why do we even need to find out how to do this?

As far as I can tell genetically modified crops are designed solely to make big agribusiness companies wealthier. There is no ecological benefit, there is no health benefit, there is no benefit to farmers. Why would we want to allow this to happen? Are Monsanto's shareholders really that important?

Yes, let's have a popular uprising against frankenfoods. Whether it's based on rational fears or not, it's at least going to keep one more force in favor of population growth and environment destruction in check.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:18 PM on January 10, 2001


This is exactly why biotech crop research is such a bad idea! The population problem is already bad enough - why on earth would we want to make it harder to solve? Why make it easier for more people to survive in less space?

Because it's better than letting them starve, which appears to be your way of controlling the population, when instead we could be learning how to adapt, even while attempting to keep population in check through humane measures, such as increasing the availability of birth control and so on.

As far as I can tell genetically modified crops are designed solely to make big agribusiness companies wealthier. There is no ecological benefit, there is no health benefit, there is no benefit to farmers.

It benefits farmers quite a bit, especially those whose crops could be wiped out by diseases of some sort. Especially poorer farmers who can't afford tons of preventative measures against every disease or pest in the world.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2001


We do not have a population problem. Nor do we have a food supply problem. There's plenty of food around to feed everyone on Earth. The problem is that the areas with widespread famine are controlled by warlords who either refuse to let food aid in at all, or else let it in, steal it, and sell it to buy weapons. Clinton could send the Marines in tomorrow to feed most of these people if he didn't give a damn about whether the UN would whine about soverignty.
posted by aaron at 3:37 PM on January 10, 2001


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