Update on Frankenfoods

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Update on Frankenfoods

We wrote recently about genetically engineered foods which some have dubbed "Frankenfoods" after Dr. Frankenstein's unfortunate creation.  Yesterday Third Age published an update on the subject.  They reported on President Clinton's request for disclosure on these new foods:

"President Clinton is asking the Food and Drug Administration to require companies to notify the government when genetically altered foods are headed for the marketplace. Previously, the process was voluntary.  The government intends to share the information it receives with the public.  Under Clinton's proposals, various agencies will be charged with developing procedures for detecting bio-tinkering and for labeling foods which are free of it."

This sounds like the government is actually doing something about protecting consumers' interest, right?  But that may not entirely be the case.   Other reports today show the Food and Drug Administration has decided NOT to require food labels that disclose genetically engineered ingredients, and instead simply seeks to reassure the public of these foods' safety.  According to Joe Levitt, director of the FDA's Center of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition:

"The scientific evidence does not show that these products are any different from a health and safety standpoint."

This is overstating the case.   It is true that some scientific evidence indicates that assumption, mainly using research from companies and individuals with a stake in producing these foods.  Others, however, have grave reservations about a blanket green light for these additions to our diet.  This is similar to other cases in the past;  it's true that polio vaccines have wiped out this dread disease, saving scores of  lives yearly, eliminating iron lungs and the many thousands of children and adults crippled for life.    Some polio vaccine strains, however, had serious drawbacks and side effects.  Antibiotics were thought to be entirely safe, before overuse of some have led to bigger, more vicious and almost uncontrollable infections in recent years, and a very few have had crippling or fatal side effects.    Could the same thing happen with some genetically engineered foods?   Almost certainly, if one projects backward in the history of scientific discovery and application.

At least the FDA is preparing a review process; it will control safety claims by food companies, and conduct some reviews of data supplied by Biotech companies (talk about setting the fox to watch the chickens!).  It also gives the FDA more power to ban any such items it objects to.

Are most people blasé about eating genetically altered foods?   Probably.  But only because they may lack the knowledge to even question what they're eating, feel they can't do anything about it anyway, or think the government wouldn't allow anything harmful on the market.   But there's plenty of us that would like to know what we are eating, and I think we have the right to be given that knowledge if we want it.

The very fact that companies and the FDA have decided not to label these new foods gives lie to the assumption that people don't care.   Otherwise they wouldn't object to doing so.

Hey!  Food companies!  What are you afraid of?   If people really don't care, or genetically altered foods really are completely safe and wholesome (which, of course, may be the case), why not clearly label them as genetically altered? 

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