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Dangers of "Stealth" Food, a.k.a. Genetically Engineered Food
by Jason Boehk, co-founder of Protect Organic! Campaign
Theres a dynamic movement forming around the world to preserve democratic access to pure food uncontaminated by genetic tampering. In Karnataka, India, farmers recently burned experimental transgenic crops they say were planted illegally by Monsanto. Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is leading a worldwide fight against Monsantos sterile seed patent, dubbed "Terminator Technology" by critics. Growing resistance in the U.S. includes attempts to secure mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered food, and lawsuits against the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). On December 15, 1998, The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a consumer group, began legal action to ban rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone). CFS is charging that the FDA has ignored evidence of potential health hazards, including breast and prostate cancer in humans who drink the milk.
All of this activity is urgently needed. According to a senior executive of the Monsanto Corporation, the "consolidation" of the entire food chain has been underway for a few years now. Agricultural biotechnology corporations, dominated by chemical manufacturers such as Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, and others, have morphed into "life-sciences" firms and have been given virtual carte blanche from government regulators to alter, reorder, and patentin short, to commodifythe very genetic structure of the food we eat. These experimental foods are "stealth" foods, because they have not been safety-tested, and they are not labeled-- yet theyre found in every grocery store in the U.S., even premium health food stores.
Already, in 1998, 45 million acres of U.S. farmland are planted in genetically altered crops. More than thirty different staple crops, including soy, corn, cotton, canola, tomato, potato, and yellow squash, have been altered at the DNA level with foreign genes from viruses, bacteria, and even animals. Three prime examples include: a tomato with an arctic flounder gene (in order to extend shelf life by resisting frost); Monsanto Roundup Ready Soy®, designed to resist Monsanto Roundup® weedkiller; the "New Leaf®" potato, officially classified as a pesticide by the EPA because its designed to kill any Colorado potato beetle unlucky enough to bite into it.
What does this pesticidal potato do to humans? Well, even though it contains genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)which destroy the intestine of the potato beetle--the FDA considers this potato to be "substantially equivalent" to the original potato. Safety testing involved nothing more than feeding laboratory mice a liquid solution of Bt toxin. The EPA claims the mice "did fine, and had no side effects." No one tested the potato on humans or any other animal. Other stealth foods include milk produced by dairy cows injected with genetically engineered growth hormone. The milk is chemically distinguishable from milk produced without the use of the hormone, and contains higher levels of a known cancer risk factor, IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor-1). Also, some food additives, enzymes, and food supplements are produced by genetic engineering techniques.
In Europe, enormous consumer resistance is partly attributable to the grim spectre of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which some scientists say may claim thousands or possibly even millions more human victims. Some of the same British authorities who said the British beef supply was safe in 1990 now diminish resistance to transgenic food as "fear". According to Professor Richard Lacey, who in 1990 predicted the BSE (mad cow disease) crisis, "it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain, nor is there any valid nutritional or public interest reason for their introduction." Recently Professor Lacey has spoken out strongly against the introduction of genetically altered foods, because of "the essentially unlimited health risks."
What You Can Do
Support the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) or the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG), both in Cambridge. Avoid stealth food by eating only "Certified Organic" food. Volunteer for the Protect Organic! Campaign, or arrange to have a free slide show at your home, office, or school. As attorney Joseph Mendelsohn III says, "it will take the combined will of activists, the public and international policy makers to halt the spread of this dangerous new technology." I believe that the Alliance for Democracy has a significant role to play in this struggle, and am grateful that the local and national chapters are looking at ways in which to participate actively.
--Jason Boehk, co-founder of Protect Organic! Campaign
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