Biotech food debate draws many voices - responses to Darragh (26/2/2006)

BIO's bullsh*t has drawn some powerful responses

Biotech food debate draws many voices
Jim Wasserman
Sacramento Bee, February 26, 2006

Sean Darragh, a representative of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, contended in a Feb. 20 Bee interview that scientists support genetically modified foods.

*Read The Bee's interview with Sean Darragh http://www.sacbee.com/content/business/agriculture/story/14211382p-15037501c.html

The Bee's interview with the biotech industry's Sean Darragh - the excerpts of which were published on Feb. 20 - provoked calls and letters from about two dozen readers.

They scolded The Bee's business staff for publishing Darragh's statements without amplification, and they pummeled Darragh for statements that they said were misleading or false. Today, we give readers an opportunity to discuss genetically modified foods and potential concerns.

Darragh recently took over as food and agriculture chief for the Biotechnology Industry Organization of Washington, D.C. The group, which represents 1,100 biotech firms and academic institutions, says biotech foods have an unblemished safety record.

Darragh and the industry argue that labeling would amount to a "skull and crossbones," frightening consumers.

This statement, along with another in which Darragh said he never met anyone with a Ph.D. in biology who didn't believe in the safety of biotech food, irked readers who thought Darragh's position limited his circle of acquaintances.

Three counties - Marin, Mendocino and Trinity - in California have banned biotech crops. Six years ago, California Sen. Barbara Boxer tried unsuccessfully to get legislation approved to label food produced with genetically modified ingredients.

Similar ideas in the California Legislature have also failed. In 2003, the European Union adopted laws requiring labels that state: "This product is produced from GMOs."

- Jim Wasserman

Readers respond in biotech debate
Subject - easing fears of biotech foods, published Feb. 20:

I have a Ph.D., worked for five years as a reviewer of the safety of genetically engineered crops with the Environmental Protection Agency, was a science adviser to the Food and Drug Administration for three years on GE food safety. I have plenty of objections.

So do many other scientists, as attested by a recent meeting of scientists on this issue convened by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome in October, or many reports by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Academies of Canada and England, as well as many peer-reviewed scientific publications.

I guess the operative phrase from Sean Darragh was that he has not talked to any Ph.D. who has objections or concerns about genetic engineering.

That is not too surprising, given his employer, since no doubt he carefully insulates himself from direct contact with people who have opposing opinions.

- Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Center for Food Safety, Washington, D.C.

Product labeling needed
Subject - easing fears of biotech food:

I simply do not, nor will I ever, have faith in the government or private sector's commitment to my safety versus a chance to improve their political or monetary position. Because of that, I should have the freedom to choose not to buy products created through genetic modification. Product labeling is the only way to ensure I continue to have that right.

- David Houghton, Sacramento

Consumers' right to know

Why is it that we Californians are choosing our destiny when the people of Sonoma County vote to allow the biotech industry into their agricultural realm, but it is "skull and crossbones" when I insist, as an individual, to know what I am about to purchase and consume?

Regular folks like me like to make our own choices, not just take the government's word or the industry's word that a particular substance is safe.

This is my choice and my destiny. If the food product contains hydrogenated fats or high-fructose corn syrup, I have a right to be told. If the food product contains more salt per serving than I wish to consume, I want to know.

I want to know if what I am purchasing is a genetically modified food or an organic one. This is my right to know, my right to choose.

To Sean Darragh, please don't ask me to casually give up that right.

- Marietta Pellicano, Sacramento

Scientists have a lot to say

The interview with Sean Darragh provides a chilling, up-close look at the moral fiber and tactics of the biotechnology industry organization.

His words are categorical lies of great consequence: "Ten years have gone by without one documented case of any problem associated with the technology. ... I've never met anybody with a science degree, who has a Ph.D. in biology, ever, who was not comfortable with the safety of biotechnology. ... There's nobody out there."

Do a little clicking on your computer to read scientific Web sites that hold the truth: 828 scientists from 84 different countries voiced concerns to the U.S. Congress, the World Trade Organization, etc. (See www.i-sis.org.uk/list.php.)

The National Research Council of the Academy of Science and the Union of Concerned Scientists have established proceedings to address effects on the environment. (See www.ucsusa.org/ food_and_environment/ genetic_engineering/environmental-perspectives-on-agricultural-biotechnology.html.)

The Union of Concerned Scientists describes the risks in simple language: www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/genetic_engineering/risks-of-genetic-engineering.html.

There's nobody out there? Hmmm.

- William Now, Sacramento

Studies raise concerns

While long-term tests of genetically modified foods have not been concluded, some researchers have found issues of concern. Among them:

* After a four-day test, researchers at Cornell University discovered that pollen from BT corn could be fatal to the monarch butterfly and other beneficial insects.

(BT corn gets its name from the integration of a gene in a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a protein that kills the larvae of the European corn borer and other pests.)

* A two-year study by the University of Nebraska showed that growing herbicide-resistant soybeans resulted in lower productivity than with conventional soybeans.

Up to 60 percent of processed foods already have some genetically modified ingredients. Rennin, the enzyme to curdle milk into cheese, is now in 65 percent of all U.S. cheese.

The inability of local populations to choose whether or not to consume GM products is one of the central issues of the anti-globalization movement.

Want more information on these complex issues? Read Andrew Kimball's "Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture," Vandana Shiva's "Stolen Harvest, Hijacking of the Global Food Supply," and Dennis Avery's "Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic."

- Brandon Chee, Sacramento

Government taking risks

In your Feb. 20 story, you asked Sean Darragh whether the industry has done any long-term health studies to back up its claims that biotech food is safe.

He didn't answer - because the industry hasn't done any long-term studies, nor have government agencies that supposedly regulate the industry.

As for Darragh's spin on plant modification, biotechnology doesn't just modify plants. It crosses the DNA of separate species, something that never occurs in nature.

Responding to your comment that the government has approved things before that it said were safe and later found to be harmful, Darragh runs on about never talking to a biology Ph.D. who can articulate real concerns with the technology. A better answer would have been, yes, the government has gotten it wrong before and is taking the same chances.

Case in point: When the FDA approved Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy, both knew that the product contained unidentified DNA. Then, when Belgian scientists later made that discovery and called FDA on it, the agency said it had assumed the unidentified DNA was safe.

In Harper's Magazine, Dr. Barry Commoner, senior scientist and emeritus professor at Queens College, City University of New York, has said that unidentified DNA, which never occurs in nature, should have been a huge red flag and was astounded that the FDA had simply assumed it was safe when there is absolutely no scientific basis on which to make such an assumption.

Fears regarding biotech food's safety won't be resolved until there's enough independent, long-term research done to begin answering myriad questions the industry will not or cannot answer.

- Will Stockwin, Colfax

Read 'whole sorry tale'

Sean Darragh lies when he says there is nobody with a Ph.D. who can articulate why they are concerned about the harmful nature of biotech methods and that it is no different than the selective breeding that people have been doing for years.

In Jeffrey M. Smith's "Seeds Of Deception," Darragh can read the whole sorry tale, including the venality of the FDA, the prostitution of science by the biotech companies that profit thereby, and the ignominious methods of the Fox Network to censor, obscure and finally to suppress the facts discovered by its own reporters.

Please don't give a pass to such slick industry spokespersons, and please do give the millions of concerned consumers who do want to make informed choices through labeling the other side of the story.

- David Reed, Nevada City

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