Re: SOC: Activism and the "Anti-GM" Movement
Tue, 5 Oct 1999 19:55:22 -0700

Greg Burch,, writes:
> Organized groups opposed to rational use of genetic technology have made the
> complete banning of genetically modified food and the use of advanced genetic
> technology in human medical applications a key policy objective.

There is an article about this in today's (Tuesday's) Los Angeles Times, (Unfortunately that link will probably stop working tomorrow.) The opposition to engineered foods has been primarily a European phenomenon but is now coming to the U.S. American growers are being asked to segregate their engineered from non-engineered crops for shipment overseas. As Greg mentions some domestic food companies like makers of baby food and some pet foods are also going on record as not using engineered foods.

The Times points out that most of the early improvements have been directed more towards growers than consumers (although of course benefits to growers trickle down to consumers in the form of lower prices eventually). Resistance to herbicides, and built-in insecticides are two enhancements mentioned. But from the consumer point of view, does he want to eat food which has insecticide engineered into it, or which was sprayed with extra-large doses of herbicide? This is not an appetizing proposition.

Methods to get vaccines into a potato, or improve fruits and vegetables to taste better and be healthier, would be far more appealing politically. Perhaps it will be necessary for the industry to pull back on its initial products and rethink these marketplace issues.

It was especially disturbing to see Greg mention that opponents of engineered foods are also against medical applications of genetic technology. I have heard much about the foods but nothing negative about medicine. This would be a much more ominous development if it should come to pass.

However it is surely easier to raise fears about unnatural foods than to say that someone should be denied a life-saving treatment just because it uses genetic engineering technology. The structural biases of our communications media work in favor of medical technology: stories about people who are dying and need help are easy to sell and will promote support for improved medicines. So I hope that even if the backlash does deal a setback to engineered crops, medical research will proceed apace.