Ready or not, genetically-engineered food is here. One of the most rapid
changes in our food system is under way. This large-scale experiment in human
feeding raises many questions about our democracy.
The New York Times recently sent 12 common food products to be tested for the
presence of genetically-engineered ingredients. Eleven of the twelve contained
what are called "novel food ingredients." Four infant formulas, four soy-based
meat substitutes, and three popular brands of corn chips tested positive. The
new ingredients were a soybean variety bred to be a sales tool for the toxic
herbicide, Roundup and a corn variety which produces an internal pesticide.
Soybeans are used in over half of the processed foods in this country. Corn is
used to make sweeteners, chips and many other foods. Both are used for animal
feed as well. Although engineered varieties were only a small percentage of US
production last year, these "novel" grains and beans were nevertheless mixed
with the conventional varieties and then processed into thousands of food
At fast food outlets, genetically-engineered potatoes are fried in canola oil
bred to sell herbicide. Beef, chicken and pork come from animals which have
eaten "novel" grains and beans and soda's sweetener is made from
pesticide-producing corn. No tests have ever been conducted on the short-or
long-term effects of eating these foods!
In fact this new kind of food has become so pervasive, so quickly, that the
spokesperson for a leading biotech company believes that the choice to eat or
not to eat genetically-engineered food will become untenable anyway, in five or
10 years. With genetically-engineered corn, canola, soy and other foods coming
on the market, he says that if you try to avoid all genetically-engineered
foods, "you'll be backed into a corner with not a lot of food options." Not
much freedom here. In fact, there are 11 of these new foods on the market right
now (ranging from abalone to tomatoes), and 29 other foods (from apples to
wheat) under development or waiting for approval.
It's amazing how the much-praised bounty and extensive selection of choices in
the US food system seem to be coming down to eating genetically engineered food
or not eating at all. That's one reason many of us work so hard to grow most of
our food in home, community and school gardens, on CSA projects, and on local
small farms. Genetically-engineered varieties are prohibited in certified
Government and industry spokespeople say all this genetic engineering is just
fine. They hide behind self-interested science and regulation carried out by
government and industry's revolving door bureaucrats. Several former high
ranking Clinton administration members now work for Monsanto, one of the
country's leading biotech firms. Its vice president is a likely candidate to
head the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA.
Ninety-five percent of the comments received by the FDA on its novel foods
policy were from consumers who oppose the introduction of these
genetically-engineered varieties. However, a report from a committee
representing USDA's land grant colleges dismisses this as merely a "public
You don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand that it doesn't make sense to
breed our food to be a sales tool for toxic chemicals. That's why the
sycophants of this Frankensteinian technology so often hide behind science. It
puts us regular folks off. The Europeans, however, have been paying enough
attention to make a lot of fuss about US exports of genetically-engineered
foods. In response, the Secretary of Agriculture threatens a trade war and says
their protests are based "phony science."
These "novel" foods raise many concerns about: the safety of the food itself,
the pesticides required, the increasing concentration of control over
agricultural resources and the long-term social and ecological consequences.
This July 4th, government and industry's imperialistic science threatens our
freedoms. If we trust scientists and p.r. people or just don't care, we can do
nothing. However, if we doubt those who claim to have all the answers, and if
we believe in freedom to choose and to know, we should make a big fuss just like
the Europeans. Of course, we can continue to buy organic food and grow our own
as much as possible.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.