A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter’s remarkable survey (winner of the 1998 Raymond Clapper Award) of the history, promise, and unknown dangers of genetically modified foods.
According to the vice president of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, “In a grocery, as much as 70 percent of the processed foods might contain GMOs”—that is, genetically modified organisms, which are “what you get when you move genes across the traditional species boundaries.” Americans have shown little interest in the question, though the debate over GMOs rages in Europe, offering high drama and profound global consequences: Modified corn may have eliminated the need to use up to a million gallons of insecticide in 1999, but it was also the reason Kraft recalled 2.5 million boxes of taco shells, possibly tainted by modified corn that had been approved only for animal feed. Modified rice could “save a million kids a year,” according to Time magazine, but modified crops toxic to the corn borer could also wipe out the monarch butterfly, a related species. Lambrecht attempts to present as many viewpoints as possible. In extensive quotes, we hear from scientists employed by industry leader Monsanto, from organic farmers, environmental protesters, and independent farmers in favor of modified crops (including former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who oversaw the release of the USDA’s regulations for organic certification). Lambrecht also reports from 13 countries where GMOs have sparked debate, including India, where thousands of desperate farmers commit suicide every year—some by drinking insecticides that do little to protect their crops—and Panama, where rain forest “bioprospectors,” American companies barely tolerated by the locals, hope to strike it rich not just with disease cures, but with genes that could make plants resistant to a host of ills. The author even plants his own plot of genetically engineered soybeans and, throughout the book, chronicles their growth.
Stunningly comprehensive and intensely absorbing. Should be required reading for anyone who eats.