Thursday, October 4, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 31


Terrorism overshadows contamination 

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

-- John Maynard Keynes

We may have been so busy worrying about bio-terrorism lately many of us missed a report on Monday that scientists have found "genetically polluted" corn in Oaxaca,
Mexico, the "center of diversity of maize." No one knows exactly how the contamination occurred, but it has truly terrible biological implications.

Researchers ran tests on 22 samples of natural, traditional varieties of maize grown in the state, and found that 15 of the samples were inexplicably contaminated with
genetically engineered bacillus thuringiensis genes.

Last year, Kraft recalled taco shells that mysteriously contained genetically altered "StarLink" corn, a product of the Aventis SA Corporation that contains the BT gene. The
Oaxaca corn is being pulled from the market as well.

The BT variety of maize has not been approved for human consumption, yet every cell in a contaminated plant contains the toxic pesticide's DNA. Genetic engineering
science is too new to have produced studies on the long-term health effects of such modifications.

Still, it is relatively safe to eat BT corn compared to consuming one of the untold potential novel combinations of genes that may form when genetically engineered
organisms are released into the environment.

There is a more important reason to be concerned about the confirmation of Greenpeace's report -- thousands of natural varieties of corn grown in Mexico could become
contaminated, resulting in less diversity of crops.

The country's secretary of the environment and natural resources, Victor Lichtinger, notes that risking genetic diversity would be "a grave threat for the food security of the

This is shocking as genetically engineered foods are often touted for their potential to increase the food supply, thus helping meet the needs of a world population that is
expected to double in the next 20 years. Ironically, they may be doing just the opposite.

According to Jack Harlan, a pioneering American botanist and plant breeder, it is genetic diversity that "stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot

If genetically engineered foods are decreasing diversity in ways we cannot control, we should consider other options for feeding our future population ­ not to mention the
700 million people currently chronically malnourished across the globe.

But domination of agriculture by corporate interests such as industrial growers and biotechnology companies has mostly focused on the development of "products" they can
sell to solve the world's food supply problems. Different types of research are needed.

Without addressing other reasons for the projected food crisis -- lack of income to buy food, trade policies that disadvantage farmers in the Third World, lack of knowledge of
higher-yield farming practices -- the crisis will only get worse.

The Union of Concerned Scientists urges farmers to consider alternative methods for real sustainable agriculture such as crop rotation and traditional breeding techniques.
This helps to keep pests from flourishing long enough to develop large populations, and controls more than just the one or two varieties genetically engineered foods are
designed to control.

Agricultural scientists in the Philippines recently announced they had used traditional breeding techniques to develop a variety of rice plants that could increase the yield of
this important part of the world's diet by 20 percent -- and all of the rice grains would be approved for human consumption.

We should be alarmed that these alternative farming methods are not being supported. Instead of exploring how truly to increase crop yields, the same corporate drive for
profit that directed much of the foreign policy blamed for creating worldwide anger against the United States is now encroaching on the safety of our food supply with
genetically engineered products.

According to Greenpeace, "Green Revolution" technology has "destroyed crop diversity by supplanting local integral crop systems based on a wide genetic base and
multiple use of crops."

It is time for a different kind of revolution that addresses human need, not corporate greed.

Feltz, a post-baccalaureate education 
student, can be reached at

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