Genetically modified foods stir discussion

by Elizabeth Gibson | 11/13/02 6:00am

The regulation of genetically modified organisms and the introduction of GMOs into developing countries were among the topics discussed at a round-table event last night that brought students together with professors involved in the issue.

Regulation of GMOs in the United States is "relatively loose," said environmental studies Professor Konrad von Moltke, who suggested that there should be more government regulation given the frequency with which toxic substances are introduced into food products.

But he also said that certain precautionary measures in regulating development of toxic substances are "fundamentally unscientific."

Von Moltke offered as an example the Delaney Amendment, which requires banning any food found to cause cancer in even a single species. To base such judgment on the outcome of a single test is unreasonable, he argued.

"Science has done a poor job of explaining the benefits and risks of GMOs," biology Professor Thomas Jack said, arguing that the "demonization" of GMOs is unfair.

"It is not the technology that's evil, but what is done with the technology," Jack said. "Just because something is the result of traditional plant breeding, it isn't necessarily safe," he added, suggesting that consumers should not categorically reject all GMOs or accept all traditionally-bred plants.

Jack praised the introduction of "Golden Rice," a GMO fortified to be more nutritionally valuable, as a way of increasing the availability of vitamin A, among other nutrients, in developing nations.

Julie Clemons, a member of the Outdoor Programs Office, however, suggested that because political and economic concerns largely motivated the movement toward GMOs in developing nations, safety concerns are taking a back seat.

Event organizers Susan Dubois '05 and Peter Rapp '03 expressed concerns that many people knew nothing of the issues of GMOs when they organized this discussion. The media presents a biased view of the topic, slanted either toward a very favorable or a very unfavorable view or GMOs, according to Rapp.

An individual desiring unbiased information on the topic is often at a loss, Rapp said. The two hoped that this open forum would provide a method for students to gain a more objective view of the topic by presenting a broad range of opinions on the topic.

EcoPledge, a national organization campaigning for corporate accountability though the increased labeling of food containing GMOs, motivated Dubois and Rapp to encourage discussion of the topic.

EcoPledge sends representatives to campuses nationwide to present information on GMOs and also distributes surveys to the schools to assess how much students known.

EcoPledge is currently attempting to convince Kraft Foods to label its products according to the organisms that it contains.

Convincing large companies to change their policies in the hope that smaller companies will follow suit is one of EcoPledge's main tactics, Rapp explained.

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