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Conspiracy or stupidity? You make the call

Watch what you eat

by and


Our food supply is being intentionally contaminated with genetic pollution, forcing genetically engineered crops on Americans and the rest of the world, in the hopes of eventually controlling the world's food supply. Genetic engineering is a breeding process that transfers genes from one species to another in the lab and could never occur in nature.

Does that sound like an off-the-wall conspiracy? Probably. But after the last big biotech booboo, the hope of a well-planned conspiracy may be the only thing that will let you sleep at night.

A conspiracy implies that the corporations and universities promoting GE crops have at least some clue about what they're doing. If not, then some colossally incompetent people are manipulating the genetics of our food supply and are making huge mistakes.

The latest "accident," revealed last week, began back in 2001 when the Swiss corporation Syngenta began selling American farmers corn seeds contaminated with an unapproved GE trait called Bt10. In an unexplained mixup, Syngenta thought the corn contained Bt11, approved by the USDA, EPA, and FDA.

Somehow, the unapproved gene made it into five seed production lines and, over 4 years, grew into an estimated 185,000 tons of corn. Nobody can say for sure where the resulting unapproved and potentially unsafe corn landed, but you can bet if you eat anything with corn byproducts such as the high fructose corn sweeteners in all soft drinks and candy, you and your kids have been eating it.

Don't worry, said Syngenta this week after the mixup was revealed, there is no health threat to the American population; Bt10 corn is identical to Bt11. Guess they should have checked with the lab. Sure enough, a few days after the news and assurances broke, Sarah Hull, a spokeswoman for Syngenta, confirmed that a marker gene that confers resistance to ampicillin, a commonly used antibiotic, was present only in the Bt10 seeds. Don't worry, said Sarah. "This gene would not have been active in the corn plants that grew from the seeds." That makes me feel better.

Don't worry, said the EPA, USDA, and last but not least, the same folks who approved Vioxx for us, the FDA. We "have confirmed the food, feed and environmental safety of Syngenta's Bt10 after its unintended release. All current plantings and seed stock containing this material have been identified and destroyed or otherwise contained."

Otherwise contained? Where, in bags of corn chips?

Don't worry, said the EPA, USDA, and last but not least, the same folks who approved Vioxx for us, the FDA.

Don't worry, Cal Poly isn't. Last year the horticulture and crop science dept. conducted a consumer study to see how farmer's market and grocery store shoppers would react to biotech corn. The corn sold was Syngenta Rogers Attribute, an insect resistant corn containing Bt11. Cal Poly isn't sure if this corn could have been contaminated with the unapproved Bt10 trait and doesn't plan to test the corn, but does plan to grow it again next year. I'll be sure to get some!

Don't worry, the media isn't. If you haven't heard about this, it's because the American media assumes, as does the rest of the world, that Americans are totally complacent about GE crops and foods. Yet, surveys show that almost half of our citizens still don't know about genetic engineering.

Which came first, complacency or lack of reporting? Should you be worried? The rest of the world is. Because of this incident, nations all over the world accuse the U.S. regulatory system of being in "shambles." Our government is accused of not only allowing the whole U.S. food chain to be polluted with GE materials but also, through WTO and foreign aid programs, seeking to extend this policy across the planet.

This is not the first biotech botch, won't be the last, and if you want to get scared, imagine what we'll never find out about. Here are some past "accidents":

Seminis, an Oxnard seed company, sold GE tomato seeds to UC Davis without identifying them. UC Davis, top in the nation for biotech research, sent these GE seeds to researchers worldwide requesting conventional tomato seeds. The mistake went on for seven years before the administrative error was discovered.

Starlink corn, an animal feed planted in 1998, found its way into American food and millions of dollars were lost as corn products had to be recalled. Asia and Europe quit buying our corn. Starlink is still with us; this year Latin American countries condemned the U.S. for trying to pass off unsafe Starlink tainted corn to Guatemala in the World Food Program.

GE contamination has been found in wild corn in Mexico. Ignacio Chapela, a former Berkeley professor, lost his tenure for revealing the contamination even though the Mexican government has substantiated his findings.

Hawaiian farmers have experienced financial disaster with GE papaya, which are very susceptible to a fungus and have to be heavily sprayed. Organic growers have had to destroy their trees because of contamination by GE pollen. In protest, Hawaiian farmers destroyed papayas at the University of Hawaii. Test plots for GE papayas have moved to Florida and the Virgin Islands.

What can you do if you don't want your kids to eat unapproved or even approved GE products? Buy fresh, buy local, and when possible, buy organic. The organic standard requires purity of seeds. Because 75 percent of our processed food contains GE ingredients, it's especially important to support or ask for organic products at your favorite grocery store. If it costs few cents more, smile and remember what a trip to the doctor costs. I know what I'll buy for my family. ³


Teresa Campbell and Mike Zelina can be reached at teresa@slogefree.org

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