Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods

Daniel A Ashlock danwell at IASTATE.EDU
Fri Jun 25 08:02:52 EST 1993

In article <C95C38.FF0 at>, stcmille at
(Stephen C. Miller) writes:
> In article <C94zzI.KLC at> aad at (Anthony A. Datri)
>>Just to add a little perspective, few people realize that more subtle genetic
>>engineering has been done for thousands of years.  Domestic dogs and cats
>>are good examples of completely artificial species.
>Just about every important species of animal and plant that humans rely
>upon for food has been genetically manipulated - often virtually beyond
>recognition.  Corn is perhaps the best example of this. However any
>plant that is selectively bred is at least somewhat "artificial."
>It's hard for me to understand wht the fuss is about with genetically
>engineered foods, since the genes being introduced are for the most part
>known quantities, as opposed to, say, hybridizing with wild species,
>whose properties may be completely unknown.  it seems to me that
>genetically engineered foods would probably be safer because of this.

   I assume you mean "safer than domestic/wild hybrids" in which case 
I agree. On the other hand I thought the neat thing about genetic 
engineering was that it allowed transfer of genes between spiecies 
that weren't amenable to normal cross breeding.  So while you're 
right that the size and content of the change are more controlled 
with genetic engineering, transfers are occuring that nature has no 
reason to be preadapted to since they don't happen naturally.  Having 
played devils advocate let me then note that the level of natural 
genetic transfer in plants is very high and that food crops usually 
need all sorts of help to survive.  Genetic engineering of food crops
together with normal toxicity testing are likely a whole lot safer to 
the general public than driving cars or living in a big city :).
>Obviously we can't know in advance what all the effects of genetic
>manipulation will be, but considering the amount of chemical
>transformation that occurs in simple acts of cooking, it seems to me
>that much of the noise on this one is hysteria.

   Well, there are people actively encouraging the hysteria, from Jeremy 
Rifkind to the political cartoonist who redrew a scene from "Little Shop
of Horrors" and labled the pot "gene-tinkered tomato".
> I'm not advocating "all science is good - modern living through
> chemicals, etc." but I do think people cringe unnecessarily every time
> they hear words like "genetically altered."

   There is a big backlash against science and technology these days.  It seems
to be as effective at hiding the real weaknesses of science and technology as
unrestrained boosterisim.  "Don't worry, they will solve our problems (1955)"
and "They haven't solved the problems because they are money grubbing
conspirators (1992)" both hide the fact that problem solving is not time-table

Danwell at IASTATE.EDU

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