HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Genetically Modified Foods

CrooksandLiars has an interesting post about the new food safety law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, now pending in Congress and some of its implications for the future of genetically modified foods.  The author notes,

There’s been quite a bit of contention erupt over a bill being proposed in the House, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, HR 875: This bill is purportedly to establish a ‘Food Safety Administration’ within the DHHS to regulate food safety, labelling, and regulating the processing, storing, and transport of food from ‘food establishments’, promote food safety research by academic and State institutions. On the face of it, after the recent poison peanut fiasco, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, does it…?

… Except there’s a few problems, as it is a very rare bill that can ever be accepted ‘on the face of it’. The first problem with this bill was that is was introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), whose husband, Stanley Greenburg, works for Monsanto. This may not violate any specific legalities (or maybe it does) but this is the kind of ethical conflict of interest that stinks like a three day old dead genetically modified mackerel. That alone has been enough to raise hackles and suspicions, generating accusations that this bill would in effect criminalize seed banking, impose prison sentences and fines on farmers, require GPS tracking of animals, warrantless government entry onto farm easements, and even allegations of a massive police state plot to incorporate farmland into the hands of industrial giants like Monsanto in a planned elimination of independent farmers altogether.. . .

But beyond the accusations that Monsanto is manoeuvring to impose ‘standardized’ agricultural practices that would allow Monsanto and other GM agribusinesses to control and regulate seeds, pesticides and fertilizer that would, in effect, prohibit organic farming and open the way for unregulated GM food production, there is an underlying question:

Why are we so afraid of genetic modification? We on the left all cheered wildly when Obama lifted the Bush ban on embryonic stem cell research, and genetic modification in medicine has already offered thousands of patients genuine hope for treatment and cures for a variety of deadly illnesses. So just what is it about the science of genetically modified food that makes us so wary? Why is one ‘good science’ and the other ‘bad science’?

It isn’t as if humans haven’t been practicing genetic modification for centuries – farm animals themselves are largely the most obvious result of ‘natural’ selection for certain traits. A domestic pig bears as much resemblance to the wild boar it descended from as a Chihuahua resembles a wolf. Is it ethical to breed pigs that put on meat weight so quickly that they must be slaughtered at eighteen months because beyond that age their bones simply aren’t strong enough to support their own weight and they end up crippled? That has nothing to do with scientists artificially slicing DNA in a test tube somewhere – it’s been going on for the past 9,000 years, all quite ‘naturally’.. . .

When I started researching for this post, I contacted Jill Richardson, founder of La Vida Locavore, and author of the upcoming Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and How We Can Fix It for some background material. Instead of offering a bit of cursory advice, she was kind enough to send me the following detailed and erudite email, which is enough in itself as a post on its own . . .  .

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