Letters

Genetically engineered foods raise many concerns The Monitor's editorial stance on genetic engineering of plant species contains the same old sleight-of-hand frequently used by Monsanto Co. and the other multinational bioengineers ("Green Genes," June 8). You equate plant breeding with gene splicing as if the two techniques are the same.

You write, "Had agro-Luddites prevailed in previous generations ... hybridization ... would have been banned as being an unnatural intervention of humans in nature's workshop." In fact, hybridization and mutation occur in nature constantly with no human intervention, and are therefore "natural" processes we have put to good use. But fish do not hybridize with fruit (salmon genes introduced into commercial tomatoes). And insects do not mate with leafy plants (firefly genes spliced into tobacco).

Behind the put down of "Luddite" and the claim of "extra cautious" safeguards I hear the voices of earlier technocrats who, before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, insisted that the chances of a nuclear power catastrophe were "less than one in a billion."

When it comes to experimenting with the food supply of an entire population, while promising no ecological catastrophe from introducing manmade organisms into the wider environment, thinking "Luddites" everywhere will pass on playing the odds.

Scott Savage, Barnesville, Ohio

Government officials say transgenic foods are safe, but canola oil, already gene-spliced multiple times, has never been included in any allergy studies. People are e-mailing the Canadian Canola Council Web site complaining about gastrointestinal problems. Where are those studies?

The problem with gene-splicing silkworms into potatoes, fish into strawberries, and viruses and bacteria into various plants is that unknown allergens can be formed.

Colleen Robison, Oak Hill, Va.

On one hand you say that "extra-cautious safeguards should apply before gene-altered plants are used commercially," yet you denounce Prince Charles as a Luddite in spite of the fact that he is calling for exactly the same thing: labeling, independent testing, and scientific caution.

You state that "caution has been used with early lab products such as frost-resistant strawberries." Yet the truth is that not one genetically altered food crop has undergone even a single independent human safety study. The FDA is now being sued over this very issue.

Genetically engineered foods are not created with the same natural breeding techniques of Gregor Mendel and Luther Burbank, where the genome remains whole and undamaged. To use your example, fish genes are now implanted in our strawberries.

Potentially dangerous viruses are implanted in genes. These viruses can jump species barriers, and are retained in every cell of the plants we eat.

Bt-toxin is bred into many genetically altered crops. Accelerated pesticide-resistance to Bt has already been confirmed.

There are religious and ethical conflicts. People who choose to eat Kosher or not to eat meat at all, don't want animal genes in their vegetables.

Genetically altered foods are not labeled, so we can't avoid them if we wanted to. Independent surveys show that the vast majority of people worldwide want them labeled.

Monsanto was the single largest funder of the Clinton campaign. The politics of big money are overriding standard practices of scientific caution and democratic principles.

Charles Behrens, Chelmsford, Mass.

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail, only a selection can be published, and we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number.

Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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