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greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand

Should we just say 'okay' to genetic food modification? Remember DDT?

GREG DUNCAN

We live in a world ruled by science and technology. No sector of our busy lives is untouched by efforts to improve and make things easier for us. Those efforts include research on how to make food taste better, last longer, and cost less.

Unfortunately, innovations in the food industry often leave us unsatisfied and concerned about the nutritional value of what we eat. Safety concerns are many, and in particular it seems that the main concern regarding food safety comes in the form of genetic modification.

Remember how good tomatoes used to taste and how now most store offerings are woody and bland? Especially in winter?

This is the result of genetic modification that allows tomatoes to be shipped in an unripe stage (so as to prolong shelf- and trucking-life) and allows tomatoes to stay riper longer without decaying.

Scientists ultimately rearrange genes of organisms in order to allow greater resistance to insects and undesirable qualities. While this may sound reasonable enough, it leaves the door open for disaster.

Canada approved its first genetically modified food for sale back in 1995 and only recently are safety concerns being raised in the press about this new form of food. We now consume, often unaware, dozens of varieties of genetically altered veggies. These include potatoes, corn, squash, soybean, and flax as well as canola, a major ingredients in processed foods.

The modification of these foods has not gone unnoticed by environmental groups and consumers watchdogs. Canadian scientist David Suzuki raised concerns over the fact that we know far too little about how genes react when mixed up and transferred. The safety issue of genetically altering plants could have a profound effect on the field, yet regulators claim the new foods are safe.

Federal standards of testing call for seven to ten years of research, something that Suzuki says "is not long enough." Nay-sayers are uniting in an effort to halt distribution of these new foods. More than a few major food distributors are calling for a moratorium on the new products until further testing and research is done.

At the very least, consumers have the right to know what they are eating and this raises the issue of labeling. Many products are already on the shelves and without our knowledge. Currently, labeling of genetically altered foods is purely voluntary, although some savvy producers are saying their products are free of genetic modification.

Genetic alteration is not limited to produce as most animals raised for consumption are fed food derived from fields where the possibility of genetic altering is large.These modifications flow through the food chain and inevitably end up in your body.

The feds say there is no difference between genetically modified and conventional foods. While there may be some benefit to insect-resistant produce in the reduction of the amount of chemical pesticides being used in the fields, it is just too soon to tell if there are serious side effects as we support the production of so-called super crops.

Chances are you've already eaten some of these foods. That fact alone should make you concerned about what rights you have as a consumer to control what you eat. At the very least, producers should be forced to label such foods now before it's too late.

Remember DDT?


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