Washington-based journalist Hart, who has tracked the genetic altering of grains and plants for years, argues that this branch of biotechnology has in effect used American consumers as the subjects of perhaps the biggest food experiment ever.
There may not be too many simple truths about injecting genes from, say, spider venom or alfalfa mold into a soybean or canola seed except that, weird as it sounds, it can work. It has been just this kind of splicing of foreign genes on a mass scale, Hart recounts, that has resulted in corn that generates its own pesticides internally or soybeans that can stand up with no ill effects to regular dousings of the world’s leading herbicide, Monsanto Company’s Roundup. But has it worked so well under tacit encouragement from the US government, she asks, that it now poses a threat to the public? The bias against probing for potential problems is so pronounced at the regulatory level as well as in the scientific establishment, Hart concludes, that some of the simplest questions about gene-altered foods “remain not just unanswered but unasked.” Food products containing bioengineered ingredients are so labeled in every developed country but here, and officials overseas, the author warns, find it increasingly difficult to understand the US government’s assumption that genetic engineering poses no unique risks to the food supply. The occasional “low-probability event,” like the illegal use of gene-altered StarLink corn (approved only as animal food) to make taco shells that apparently made some people sick two years ago, barely dents US public awareness. The bottom line: Even if regulators tighten up and gene splicers back off, contamination of seed stocks by biotech variants is already so pervasive that so-called organic growers in the US can no longer guarantee the purity of their products.
Chillingly evocative of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.