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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Engineered Food

This past May the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the genetically engineered “Flavr Savr tomato” by the Calgene Corporation. This tomato, marketed under the brand name “MacGregor’s,” cost $95 million in research and development to isolate and reverse a gene to delay its ripening by five extra days on the vine while maintaining its firmness during shipping.

What!!??, you say. All that money for a delay in ripening? Yes, that is right and there is a reason. Longer shelf life makes it easier for tomato production in Central America where labor is very cheap. The Flavr Savr will be grown in Mexico.

This won’t be an aberration from other forth-coming gene-altered crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that for food related patents, 98 percent of genetic alterations are done to make food production and processing easier and more profitable for the companies. Only two percent have the objective of improved taste or nutrition.

The above information comes from a new Consumer Alert published by the well-regarded Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. CRG was formed in the Eighties as a non-profit association by Boston-area scientists and other professionals to subject the bio-technology industry to more rigorous analysis than the corporate public relations that feeds the media.

The Consumer Alert lists “some potential risks which warrant careful investigation” before the corporations fill the supermarkets with genetically engineered foods that are not even labeled as such for shoppers.

These potential risks include: (1) People who are allergic to proteins may find that new proteins added to altered foods may cause trouble. For example, some individuals are very allergic to peanuts. They can unknowingly eat a tomato with a peanut gene engineered into it and can suffer distress or even fatal shock.

(2) “Marker” genes, that show whether new genes successfully were incorporated into an organism, can increase human resistance to antibiotics such as kanamycin. This can cause problems when you are prescribed these antibiotics.

(3). Toxicants can be produced at unusually high levels from the results of genetic engineering. Nutritional value can be significantly decreased by such genetic alterations without the crop showing any outward signs of such.

(4). When you shop for fruits and vegetables you come to rely on certain features that indicate nutritional quality and flavor. With genetic engineering, you may be misled into buying such produce with the appearance of ripeness but without the usual nutritional quality or flavor.

(5). Then there is the environmental question. Over half of the crops presently under development by the bio-engineering industry are being designed for herbicide resistance. This will allow even more herbicides to be applied to the “weeds,” including, ironically, new strains of “weeds” created by breeding with the newly engineered organism.

Far beyond these concerns are religious and ethical issues, say for consumers who are vegetarians by religious conviction and eat vegetables with animal genes engineered into them.

Consumer groups call for proper labeling. The industry does not want such labeling. So far, the FDA has sided with industry, astonishingly enough.

The giant Monsanto Corporation has gone one step further. It has sued two dairies because these small businesses want to inform customers that their milk comes from cows that are not treated with bovine growth hormone. Monsanto’s move can be called the engineering of censorship– a policy that could cause severe public relations problems for the company.

You may wish to write to the Council for Responsible Genetics (5 Upland Road, Cambridge, MA, 02140) for their publication list.