Message Number: YG4432 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-06-09 03:06:00 UTC
Subject: Re: Bob C: A MAD Look At Genetically Altered Foods

Sukie Crandall wrote:
> Leigh,
> Bob also cross-posted to the Ferret Health List; could you consider
> cross-posting your reply there, please.

I must have missed Leigh's reply (I have clipped it from the bottom of
your post and will reply to it separately). I've been busy trying to
find a single file folder misplaced with a possible 56 boxes of books
and 129 boxes of files (I've finished remodeling my basement, but I
still haven't returned files to their cabinets or books to their
shelves). It's driving me crazy and I've been obsessing in my efforts to
find it. Since my post was supposed to generate some sort of debate on
the subject in the best standards of graduate students sitting around,
overdosing on beer, and discussing a subject into the ground (and
learning the subject better than any instructor could ever teach), I
don't mind honoring your request.

> There are points neither of you covered. The increased risk to those
> with anaphylactic reactions is one. For the population as a whole
> that is a small concern, but for those of us with such reactions it
> could spell death. There has already been at least one such a case
> reported according to a medical newsletter I got. Some other genetic
> material sources can be higher in the population than the 2% for true
> food allergies, for instance tobacco.

It is true I didn't cover anaphylactic reactions, but my post was
already very, very long. While I am not trying to downplay such
reactions (I am NOT), I don't think they are any different than trying
out a new detergent and waking up covered with hives. You simply cannot
predict if such a reaction will take place.

> Neither of you addressed the crashes in the populations of some
> species of lepidoptera which trace back at least partly to altered
> food source, nor the incorporation of compounds into defense,
> coloration, etc which are done by some grazers which might raise
> questions, and so on.

Ah, the infamous corn/butterfly debacle. The sad thing was by the time
it was realized a problem existed, it was too late. I agree that there
are a lot of risks with transgenic plants (and to a lesser degree with
transgenic animals), but the focus of my very long post was if the food
was good or bad to eat. The post was the longest single post I have ever
summated on any mailing list, which is a concern of mine. Things had to
be cut, and I was trying very hard to keep the tone of the piece light.
There was a LOT of stuff I wanted to say, and I hoped they would be
discussed in follow-up posts or a spirited-yet-friendly debate.

> I know a botanist who would really argue with Bob about brushing off
> the competition factor; in the tristate area competition has been one
> of the major causes of extinction or endangerment of some plant
> species according what is now known in the 5th year of a huge
> long-term study, so bringing in yet other alternatives without
> knowing how they'd mesh would raise knowledgeable eyebrows.

I'm not sure I would characterize a lack of discussion as a brushing off
of the competition factor. I said that I considered it to be the most
dangerous aspect of the entire issue. I just didn't discuss it.
Remember, the focus was if genetically-altered foods are dangerous for
ferrets to eat, not on the ethics of transgenic animals or their
introduction into ecosystems.

What worried me about possible attempts to alter cows, sheep or goats to
make them better able to survive marginal environments is that those
attempts almost certainly guarantee that they can out-compete native
animals for food and water (they already can, for the most part). I see
that as a tremendous danger, but it doesn't make the transgenic animals
any less safe to eat.

> Do I think that genetic engineering is basically dangerous? No. Do
> I think that folks should know well what they might affect before
> release? Yes. Do I think that the source of genetic material should
> appear in the ingredients label? Sure do.

And you KNOW why no one wants to label beef as coming from a
gene-altered cow...public fear of the unknown. No one will buy it, which
is why the USA has been working so hard to convince Europeans not to
force us to label the meat as such.

The truth of the matter is, while I do not fear eating these foods, I do
hope we have learned something from our experiences (and deadly
mistakes) with atomic power. Scientists built horrific bombs without an
understanding of what they could do, or their effects on the environment
or living organisms. I think this question is just as profound, with
quite possibly worse consequences. It merits serious debate.

Bob C