Is It Food?

The latest development in this battle is the use of genetically engineered food. It is now possible to take genes from one plant and introduce it to another as a means to enhance production and also to create protection both from disease and the use of pesticides. As quoted in a New York Times article on July 20th "Soybeans that have been modified to tolerate an herbicide have revolutionized one of the world's most important crops."

The article described though the different reaction that countries across the world have had to this phenomena. European countries have been much less willing to accept the notion of genetically altered food. Norway no longer accepts American soybean products and Austria and Luxembourg have totally banned genetically modified food. In England groups of people have actually protested on the sites of this food production and ripped out some of the crop.

The article states that Europeans are much more cautious about any genetic manipulation due to a strong enviromental movement that is traced back to 19th century traditions, the amount of small farms still in existence, and also recent history with the nazis, the holocaust and their attempts at genetic manipulation.

In the USA there are no requirements to label gene-modified food so most people have no idea what they may be eating. It even took a fight to prevent the Agriculture Department from including genetically altered food in the organic food standards. Various organizations are looking for the labeling of gene-modified food.

There has been a similar fight with milk from cows which have been given a growth hormone to increase cow's milk production. Even though the company making the growth hormone have threatened legal action, a number of dairy products are labeled to show that they do not contain rBGH (the growth hormone).

The overall concern is that nobody really knows what is the longterm consequences of this kind of genetic manipulation. The arguement against is that it is fundamentally tampering with nature, with as yet unknown consequences. The arguement for is that we need to develop more efficient means of producing food for a growing world population. Both arguements have validity but where should the line be drawn. Prince Charles said of this matter "That takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and God alone," and that no genetically altered food would ever pass his lips.

Here in San Francisco the Wholefoods Market requires its suppliers to guarantee that none of the products that they sell to their company have gene-altered ingredients. Also Rainbow Foods, on the Corner of Folsom and 14th St sell organic and other quality products which will not have been altered genetically.

The jury may still be out on this issue, but are the potential consequences worth the risk that is being taken?