Author finds the concept of patented products difficult to digest.
by Liza Morris
The frequent use of such fearful terms as "Frankenstein foods" and "terminator seeds" to describe the products of the biotechnology industry is a clear sign of the public's growing concern over the proliferation of genetically modified food crops worldwide.
In Brewster Kneen's new book, Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology, the author describes the science behind genetic engineering, the risks involved, the absence of effective regulatory controls, the way in which the public has been kept ill-informed, and the growing international resistance to biotechnology.
Kneen, an internationally recognized expert on the food system, longtime farmer and author of six previous books, including the Rape of Canola and From Land to Mouth: Understanding the Food System, argues that financial gain, rather than world hunger or improved crop yield, is the real motivator behind the dizzying growth of this industry internationally.
According to Kneen, moral blackmail is being used by the bio-tech industry to convince individuals and nations this developing science is the answer to the world's hunger problems.
However, "the bio-tech industry has no intention of feeding anyone who cannot pay well … The hungry and deprived can be used to prey on the guilt of the affluent so the corporations can get their way."
And even more disturbing than this, Kneen ponders just what are the limits to this tinkering with the very building blocks of life?
Instead of respecting the amazingly complex world into which we are born, a belief in the need for progress and improvement leads to increased dissatisfaction with life as it is.
Many questions also remain unanswered on the safety and ethics of "terminator" technology, including the creation of seeds that are engineered to be sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each season rather than save seeds from previous crops. Patents on these newly "created" life forms also cause Kneen a great deal of concern.
Meanwhile, back on the farm in North America, many food producers are cultivating millions of hectares of modified corn, soy beans, and canola. In many countries, food items such as beer and baby food now contain genetically modified ingredients. While Europeans–especially the British–are successfully fighting back, most North Americans are content to let the scientists and corporations tinker with their food.
Kneen warns, "The fact that we do not know what the long-term consequences of genetic engineering will be, and are not prepared to move slowly and take the time to find out, means that a grand experiment is taking place, and the outcome is anybody's guess.
"The Bt potato, Roundup-ready canola, or Liberty-link soy bean might be harmless, or they might breed a disaster. We won't know until it is too late."
* For more information, or to purchase Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology, contact: New Society Publishers, Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC, V0R 1X0; Tel: (250)247-9737; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Concerned About Genetically Engineered Foods?
Greenpeace reports that Canada ranks third (behind the US and Argentina) in production of genetically engineered crops. By 1999, the Canadian government had approved the commercial sale of 42 genetically engineered varieties of whole foods. No labelling or long-term safety tests were required. Approximately 60% of canola crops, 45% of all corn and 30% of all soy beans planted this year were genetically engineered (Canadian Food Inspection Agency).
As the Council of Canadians explains, "There's an important experiment under way … and you're eating it."
What You Can Do
Contact retailers to let them know you do not want to buy these foods. Demand non-genetically engineered options and labelling of all genetically engineered products.
Loblaw's (President's Choice): 1-800-296-2332 www.loblaw.com
Overwaitea: 1-800-242-9299 www.owfg.com
Safeway: 1-800-723-3929 www.safeway.com
- Circulate the "Petition to Stop Genetically Engineered Foods." The petition asks for three things: an immediate moratorium on environmental releases of genetically engineered crops and food products; long-term independent testing; and mandatory labelling of GE foods. For more information contact the Council of Canadians, 502-151 Slater St., Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H3; ph: (800)387-7177.
- Contact government officials and tell them you want genetically engineered crops out of the environment and food supply. Products containing these materials should be labelled.
Some Genetically Engineered Foods
Greenpeace provides this list of processed foods which tested positive in the US for genetically engineered ingredients. The US products tested may or may not have exactly the same ingredients as those sold in Canada.
Frito-Lay Fritos Corn Chips
Bravos Tortilla Chips
Kellogg's Corn Flakes
General Mills Total Corn Flakes Cereal
Post Blueberry Morning Cereal
Heinz 2 Baby Cereal
Enfamil ProSobee Soy Formula
Similac Isomil Soy Formula
Nestle Carnation Alsoy Infant Formula
Quaker Chewy Granola Bars
Nabisco Snackwell's Granola Bars
Ball Park Franks
Duncan Hines Cake Mix
Quick Loaf Bread MixUltra Slim Fast
Quaker Yellow Corn Meal
Light Life Gimme Lean
Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix
Alpo Dry Pet Food
Boca Burger Chef Max's Favorite
Morning Star Farms Better'n Burgers
Green Giant Harvest Burgers
(now called Morningstar Farms)
McDonald's McVeggie Burgers
Ovaltine Malt Powdered Beverage Mix
Betty Crocker Bac-Os Bacon
Old El Paso Taco Shells
Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
* Sources: Genetic ID (an independent testing firm) and Consumer Reports (Sept.1999).
[From WS December 1999/January 2000]