|Montréal, 8 - 21 janv. 2000||
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by Ralph Maddocks
One of the interesting things about the internet is having the ability to read news from both sides of the Atlantic within a few minutes and to compare the two versions of the same event. No better example of this could be found than last October when the BBC and various European newspapers announced that Monsanto, the St. Louis based agribusiness, had given up its plans to introduce its so called
Genetic modification or GM is part of the everyday language of Europeans but to most North Americans the initials GM may evoke General Motors or the abbreviation for the General Manager of some luckless sports team. The difference in awareness between the two continents is quite simply stupendous, although, finally, there are definite signs that the North American population is beginning to wake up to the potential of genetic modification.
|Waking up in a house on fire
These differences between people on either side of the Atlantic Ocean are quite often startling. Protests by Americans have effectively contained any expansion of the nuclear power industry in the USA, whereas similar protests in Europe have been totally ineffective. Almost every household in Europe is aware of GM foods and two major supermarket chains in England, Marks & Spencers and Sainsbury’s have removed all products containing GM ingredients. The ubiquitous McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants have acted similarly and even the former Beatles Paul McCartney has announced that his line of frozen dinners would not contain any soy products made from Monsanto's
Protesters in Europe have, in Luddite fashion, been destroying GM crops and generally waging a
It will be recalled that recently Europe has gone through the traumatic Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis or
Standard scientific testing has not yet confirmed the safety of all this bioengineering and so far seems to rest on the unfounded assumption that traditional breeding and genetic engineering are the same thing. Traditional breeding involves the complete transfer of genes between like species whereas bio-engineers isolate a gene from one species and splice it into the DNA of a dissimilar species. Then, because the transplanted gene is foreign to its new surroundings, it cannot function without an artificial boost. Because this unnatural boosting is continual, the transplanted gene acts independently of the host organism's complicated control system, unlike each native gene.
As Liebe Cavalieri, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York says, it is
Transparency is needed
Bio-engineered crops can spread their traits to their wild relations. For example, because many of these bio-engineered crops are designed to tolerate high dosage rates of herbicides, cross-pollination with their relatives can create so-called
One might have thought that the US Federal Drug Administration, which often seems to spend an inordinate amount of time investigating drugs proven effective in other countries before approving them for use in the United States, would have displayed similar caution in the case of GM foods. The explanation seems to be that the Reagan administration, and the Clinton one, directed that the biotechnology industry be promoted vigorously. This policy has been followed, in spite of the strong and oft-repeated objections of many of the FDA’s own scientists who cautioned that genetically engineered food should undergo toxicological testing. These internal objections were unknown to the public until the Alliance for Bio-Integrity sued the FDA, a suit that obliged FDA bureaucrats to release a mass of memos written by those scientists, all highly critical of the policy
In 1997, Canada's federal government seems to have allowed the sale of some GM Canola seeds which were
In November of last year, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and its Minister of Public Works and Government Services opined that they were
Our political masters would do better to convince us that, labelled or not, genetically modified, environmentally unsafe, products are not being unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Simple labelling alone is more likely to provide a way for the anti-GM activists to frighten people out of buying GM foods that may or may not be toxic. Food is of course an emotional topic and what is needed is a great deal more transparency on the part of all those concerned with the production of GM foods. If matters are left as they are we will never get to learn the truth, until perhaps it is too late. An analogy that springs to mind is the widespread use of DDT, which was a welcome innovation but which, much later, proved to have very undesirable side effects.
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