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Rogue Seeds & Frankenfoods

greenpeace.jpg (34133 bytes)A news release from Agence France-Presse tells us of an error on a great scale-- at least, one has to assume it's an error.  A Canadian firm sent huge amounts of genetically altered rapeseed or canola, grown for oil production and as a high protein stock food, to Britain, Germany, Sweden and France, where such foods are banned by law.  

Advanta Seeds informed the ministers of agriculture of the affected countries about the mix-up a few weeks ago, and so far authorities haven't decided what to do about these rogue seeds-- or what they can do, in fact, now that the crops are growing. 

Reuters reports on the French government's investigation into the incident in "French minister launches probe of GM rapeseed" by Greg Frost. 

Although the plants were only slightly altered, and probably pose no threat to the environment, this is an example of what can go wrong.  Last fall Time Magazine published an article entitled "Who's Afraid of Frankenfood?" about these crops, nicknamed after Dr. Frankenstein's unhappy monster.  In it, Rebecca Goldburg of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) states:

"As a biologist, I find it hard to oppose genetically engineered crops or foods per se. [But] I also think that there are some genuine food-safety and ecological issues that have to be dealt with."

The CEO of Dupont, Charles Holliday Jr., warns:

"To brush off concern [about g.m. crops] as unfounded is to be arrogant and reckless..."

Regulators are very careful about what additives are approved for our food supply, but much less so in regards to genetically altered foods.  Goldburg of the EDF explains that the proteins produced by new genes are in a sense additives as well, and suggests:

"and while food manufacturers intend food additives to be safe, every now and then they screw up." 

The "screw up" involving the rapeseed, while apparently harmless, certainly offers a current example that proves his statement.

Crop seeds are altered in order to make the plants more resistant to disease, more productive or tolerant of adverse growing conditions (an increasing concern with recent crazy weather patterns), and in some cases, to make them more nutritious.   Certainly not everyone is opposed to them.  Reason Online has an in-depth article that looks at both sides of the controversy with cold logic, with many links to information in its article, "Frankenfood" Frenzy.

There's growing concern that regulatory agencies are approving these altered foods too quickly in the USA and Canada, without proper testing, and many concerned organizations and individuals have called for, if not a ban, at the very least greater controls and, most importantly, labeling of such foods as genetically altered so consumers can decide for themselves if they wish to eat them.  The author of Time's article, Frederic Golden, concludes, although reluctantly;

"There's a downside to such actions, however. By overreacting to fears fanned by well-fed consumers in the industrialized world, food producers might uproot an industry that could someday provide billions of people in the rest of the world with crops they desperately need."






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