Jewish World Review July 16, 2004 / 27 Tamuz 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Biotech foods foolishly feared by Franken-Folk
In contrast with humans throughout history, people in America and Europe now
indulge in the luxury of buying low calorie foods and paying more for less
food value. We have so much food that we've gotten fat phobic, and become
prey to scaremongering.
While many people in the West might benefit by cutting back on food
consumption, poor and hungry people obviously have a different perspective
on the issue. Their health is being adversely affected by the uproar
surrounding the development of genetically modified (GM) foods - while all
of us are harmed to some degree.
Selective breeding of plants to advance productivity and palatability of
food goes back to prehistoric times. Today, plant breeding can include the
use of biological technology, also known as "gene splicing" or genetic
modification (GM), to speed up the production, testing and safety of new
food variations. Some of the resulting crops are more resistant to natural
pests and are cultivated using fewer pesticides. Others can be grown where
no other crops could succeed.
For example, new tomato varieties thrive in water fifty times more salty
than ordinary tomatoes can tolerate. This allows people to grow crops on
otherwise useless wasteland.
In a May 2004 report, the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization
says the use of biotech-enhanced rice could greatly reduce vitamin A
deficiency and save two million children's lives every year.
Although some pharmaceutical drug producers have used gene-splicing for over
25 years, and vaccine manufacturers have also used biotech innovations,
today we are focusing on GM food.
Farmers around the world - except for Europe - already participate in the
bio-pharming revolution. According to Gregory Conko of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute (CEI) "over five million farmers in South Africa,
China, India, the Philippines and elsewhere already happily grow patented GM
varieties because they have higher yields, require fewer inputs and raise
On the other hand, the European Union bans planting these improved crops
because of the political power of European farmers who don't want to see
food productivity increase or cheaper food imported lest they face
competition for their heavily subsidized products.
It's ironic that the FDA doesn't restrict traditional crop cross-breeding
methods while it imposes spider webs of regulations on the much more
precisely-controlled biotech processes. But such facts don't stop the
Food phobics call the new varieties of GM foods, "Frankenfoods," implying
these crops are an out-of-control monster rather than a modern-day miracle
of innovation. "Franken-folks," as we like to call them, are trying to
spread an epidemic of fear that threatens a goose that lays golden eggs.
Greenpeace broadcasts Franken-folk superstitions on its web site with
predictions of universal catastrophe. They write: "The introduction of
genetically engineered (GE) organisms into the complex ecosystems of our
environment is a dangerous global experiment with nature and evolution ...
They pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and have the potential to
threaten biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable forms of agriculture." But
then, creating monsters and raising money to "fight" them seems to be their
Unfortunately, this type of propaganda increases the regulatory delays and
cost of improving our food supply, and has even completely prevented the use
of some innovations. In 2002, for example, leaders in Zambia and Zimbabwe
refused donated corn from the UN because it included some bioengineered
seeds - in the middle of a famine killing millions of their own people.
Norman E. Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace laureate and a professor of
international agriculture at Texas A&M University, wrote in The Wall Street
Journal last year, "Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa says he's been told by
anti-biotechnology groups that donated American corn is 'poison' because it
contains genetically modified kernels. Based on such misinformation, he is
willing to risk thousands of additional starvation deaths rather than
distribute the same corn Americans have been eating for years with no ill
According to Borlaug, environmentalists who scream the loudest about these
innovative foods ignore the twin facts that their increased productivity not
only saves human lives but also diminishes the need to convert millions of
acres of tropical and other habitat to farming.
Franken-folks are terrified of GM foods and are already too successful in
"protecting" us from them. Yet there is no substantial evidence to support
their extreme alarms. All the facts and real-life experience point in the
opposite direction. Genetic engineering has given consumers improved and
palatable foods at better and better prices.
Since the real threat to humans would be to refuse to take advantage of the
many benefits of food biotechnology, we recommend requiring that foods
not using spliced genes carry caution labels. Just kidding, sort of.
Editor's Note: Robert J. Cihak
wrote this week's column.
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute
Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians
and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
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