Jewish World Review July 16, 2004 / 27 Tamuz 5764

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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Consumer Reports


Biotech foods foolishly feared by Franken-Folk


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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.

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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 income."


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 anti-food alarmists.


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 primary vocation.


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 effects."


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. Comment by clicking here.

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