TCS Daily

Un-Happy Halloween! Eco-Scare Tactics Are Designed to Poison Minds

By Duane D. Freese - October 31, 2001 12:00 AM

As if America hasn't had enough real threats of bioterrorism, a few fear-mongering pseudo-ecologists have decided to use Halloween to spread public angst about the safety of their food.

NERage, a group opposed to genetic modifications (GM) designed to improve crop resistance to disease and pests or improve its nutrition or other qualities, plan to go into groceries around New England to slap labels on the foods that may contain them.

They have almost as succinct a message for their mission as the anthrax mailers had for their ugly mission: "You know you don`t want to eat genetically engineered foods... You know that over 70% of processed foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients... You know that in North America these genetically engineered foods are not even labeled, let alone safety tested or publicly approved..."

So goes the warning on their web site. But much like the Taliban's tales of U.S. activities in Afghanistan - including possibly trying to blame America for poisoning food this nation has dropped to starving Afghans in humanitarian missions - the GM ecoscarists are liars.

Now, it's true that genetically engineered ingredients make up a large portion of processed food. And it's impossible to distinguish GM ingredients from so-called "natural" ingredients.

But it just really doesn't matter. And this is where NERage disregards the facts. After all, genetically modified crops -- unlike organic or conventional varieties -- are the only ones safety tested. They've gone through a bevy of studies and tests in the United States - by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration - and abroad. And GM foods are labeled if the modification affects genes to which people might be allergic.

Indeed, in Europe, where nations foolishly imposed a moratorium on GM foods two years ago, a report by the European Commission -- the executive branch of the Brussels-based European Union -- found that 81 European research projects over 15 years have not found "any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding... Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods."

While scientific research has clearly found GM foods generally safe when regulated as they are in the United States, their critics have attempted to exploit ignorance of genetics to spook the public.

The Starlink episode last year, in which GM corn for cattle feed got mixed into human foodstuffs, provides one such example. If Starlink corn had involved conventional breeding technologies, which can result in massive genetic changes in plants, no one would have cared. But because the corn was genetically modified, the government tracked down every potential allergy case involving anyone who might have ingested a kernel of Starlink.

That the results of these studies found nothing didn't surprise scientists, but it did set anti-GM groups, including Friends of the Earth, atwitter. Two weeks ago, Friends of the Earth announced plans to conduct their own studies. No doubt, like the Taliban investigating collateral damage from U.S. bombing, they'll find whatever they want, just as they did when such groups fomented the Alar scare more than a decade ago.

Facts and scientific studies just don't matter to these organizations any more, unless it is something they can twist to frighten people and encourage donations to them.

And that's the danger. In Europe, Green groups and their conventional and organic farming partners have succeeded in their biotechnology terrorism to an alarming degree. Playing on fears raised by Europe`s mad-cow epidemic - which had nothing to do with biotechnology and everything with conventional animal feeding practices in Europe - they've dubbed any GM foods "Frankenfoods," with dangerous effect.

People have become so sold on unproven dangers of GM crops that last year Greenpeace hooligans got a jury to acquit them for illegally destroying test stands of GM crops - thus undermining efforts to assure their safety.

This criminal behavior is actually egged on by some European politicians. Among the most prominent of them is French agricultural minister, Jean Glavany, who co-directs much of the research. His bias was readily displayed in quotes attacking American food "as the worst in the world." He recently told Reuters: "Just look at the obesity level in a certain country and you' ll understand why I want to spare Europeans this."

But all he spares Europeans from is their safety. Attempts to impose food labeling on GM foods as a condition of loosening current restrictions, for example, will raise the price of GM foods so that costlier and likely less safe conventional and organic foods will garner a larger portion of the markets. While people already have the choice of organic food that is labeled as such as an alternative, why impose a bigger tab on consumers for phony protection?

At least one European leader seems to understand this: Tony Blair of Britain. He favors easing restrictions on GM foods but opposes labeling them, saying such a move is economically costly, possibly unworkable and totally unscientific.

If that sensible viewpoint prevails, maybe the benefits that GM promises can come to fruition. And they are enormous. As the World Health Organization's Gro Harlem Bruntland noted in newspaper articles in early October: "GM foods have the potential to bring with them the largest change in food production, since the green revolution of the 1960s. We may see vitamin A and iron deficiencies being drastically reduced through GM crops that are rich in such substances. Iron deficiency might affect four to five billion people worldwide, constituting a public health condition of epidemic proportions. Vitamin A deficiency affects between 100 and 400 million children in the world, leaving 250,000 to 500,000 blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight."

And beyond adding nutrition to existing foods, he says, GM crops might serve as vehicles for key medicines now lacking in poor countries - bio-pharmaceuticals vaccinating populations against many deadly diseases.

Sensible regulation can provide those benefits with safety for all. But if NERage and other anti-GM groups are successful in poisoning people's minds with lies about GM products, that hope will die for billions and cost millions in future generations their lives. By comparison, the anthrax bioterrorists have so far poisoned a few dozen people, and, fortunately, killed not even a handful. Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban are pikers compared to today's Green groups.


TCS Daily Archives