Saturday, March 8, 2014
By MIKE BENDZELA
STANDISH - That the Maine Legislature has determined that the bottle of canola oil I buy at Hannaford might soon be labeled a "genetically modified organism" concerns me not at all. Same with the crackers containing soy lecithin, the ketchup sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and the shortening made of soybean oil.
I don't care one way or the other whether foods produced using recombinant DNA technologies are labeled. Part of me secretly wishes it to happen, though, because -- I have to admit -- I like watching clown parades.
What we have in the anti-GMO movement is a dour, fear-entranced Prohibition movement dressed up in the noble finery of "Right To Know."
What everyone has the right to know is that the homeopaths at Natural News, along with their ally Charles, Prince of Wales, want GMOs banned outright. They're unnatural, you know.
These entities and others are convinced that corn genetically engineered to express a bacterial protein to ward off predatory caterpillars will eat holes in your gut if you eat products derived from it. An activist cloaked in a white lab coat published a study in an obscure journal that told us so.
And if you eat anything containing the product of a plant that has been engineered to resist glyphosate herbicide, you will develop huge tumors, like the rats trapped for two years in a laboratory funded by an anti-GMO activist organization.
These are the "studies" that the activists cherry-pick from websites and parade around like placards in order to frighten people into accepting their conspiratorial worldview. In the Maine Legislature, House members even invoked these "studies" to buffalo the credulous into wanting labels.
I want to ask them: Have you actually read these studies? And are you even equipped to evaluate them? I've tried reading a couple, and they're not fun to read. They're barely intelligible to a layperson.
Reading and comprehending such a study is only the beginning of the task. Dr. Harriet Hall, skeptic and retired flight surgeon, cautions us against believing studies: "When encountering a new or questionable claim, always try to find out who disagrees and why." Have the activists done that?
I leave it to the professional scientists and academics whose jobs entail reviewing such material. Some of them, like professor Kevin Folta at the University of Florida, will even talk to you like a human being about genetic modification. Google him.
But "scientific consensus" doesn't matter to these activists. Monsanto wants to take your money and kill you, period, they say.
It doesn't matter that the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have issued statements attesting to the safety of these foods. They've obviously been wined and dined by Monsanto.
Why does the argument always devolve into a tirade against Monsanto? This particular clown in the anti-GMO parade has become rather tiresome.
By all means, label as "GMOs" the boxes of Humulin produced by Lilly USA. After all, in order to make the stuff, they've inserted a human DNA sequence into an E. coli bacterium. Persons with diabetes inject this insulin under their skin in order to stay alive. They don't develop tumors.
And people have the Right To Know that Hawaii's papaya orchards were saved from a devastating virus when one man, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, discovered how to insert a gene from the virus itself into the papaya's genome. As far as we know, no one has developed holes in their guts from eating them.
A business with seven employees, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, recently discovered how to turn off a sequence of genes that code for enzymes that turn apples brown when injured. You might call this apple "self-labeling," because you bite into it and it stays white. Yet this company has decided to issue its apples with prominent "Arctic Apple" sticker labels. But never mind. They're Canadian.
In a remote part of Wyoming, a rather adventurous professor, Randy Lewis, has inserted a spider gene into a goat. Why? So that the goat's milk contains spider silk protein. This can then be harvested from the milk and spun into a material that can be used as suturing in surgery.
This is the fascinating, exciting, hopeful world of GMOs. Label as such.
Mike Bendzela of Standish teaches composition at the University of Southern Maine and co-owns a market farm.