Mark Bittman is asking, “What Do You Think About Genetically Engineered Food?”
Specifically, he wants you to answer four questions for a non-scientific poll:
1. Does it bother you that there are genetically engineered ingredients in most of the foods sold in American supermarkets?
2. Do you want the products that contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled “Contains Genetically Engineered Ingredients”?
3. Do you think that government agencies should enact stricter regulations for testing, growing, and marketing of GE crops and other products?
4. If genetically engineered salmon were to come on the market, it would not be labeled according to current policy and would therefore be indistinguishable (visually, at least) from other farm-raised salmon. Would this curb your overall purchasing of salmon?
It probably won’t surprise you that most of people said “yes” to all four questions.
I said “No” to all four.
Gene splicing characteristics is just the latest step in the way we humans have been altering the genetic structures of our food for 10,000 years. It is in many ways safer than natural breeding. After all, natural breeding involves the random mixing of tens of thousands of genes (genes are recipes for proteins) from two parent plants, resulting in entirely new proteins and other plant chemicals never before part of the food supply, but most people find this practice natural and quite acceptable.
Historically, worries about new technology have been wide of the mark. In 1825, Britain’s Quarterly Review howled about “[L]ocomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches!” Some physicians predicted that the incredibly high speeds [nearly 20 miles per hour!] would cause psychological harm. Veterinarians worried that passing trains would cause pregnant mares to spontaneously abort. “We trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour,” the Review admonished.” Can’t be too careful, now can we?
A European Union report put it this way, “[A] genome (e.g., all the genes that make up an organism’s DNA) is not a static entity but a dynamic structure continuously refining its gene pool. So, for a scientist in genetics, the act of splicing to generate a transgenic organism is a modest step when compared to the genomic changes induced by all the ‘crosses’ and breeding events used in agriculture and husbandry.” Now, instead of breeding and repeatedly crossbreeding out unwanted traits, agronomists can place a single trait into a plant.
“[T]he environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” says Stewart Brand, leading environmentalist who authored The Whole Earth Catalog. “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool. In defense of a bizarre idea of what is ‘natural’…we make ourselves look as conspicuously irrational as those who espouse ‘intelligent design’ or ban stem-cell research, and we teach that irrationality to the public and to decision makers.”
Should you wish to vote, you’ll need to register with the New York Time’s site. Bittman’s poll is here: http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/what-do-you-think-about-genetically-engineered-food/#preview