by Kim Todd
It has been a revolution of breathtaking quickness.
In 1995, there were no genetically engineered (GE) crops planted in the United States; in 2000, they covered 100 million acres. Currently, half the soybean crops in the United States are genetically engineered, and more than two-thirds of processed foods contain GE ingredients.
"This is probably the fastest-moving technology we've ever seen," said Laurel Hopwood, chair of the Sierra Club's Genetic Engineering Committee. The drawback to this speed, according to Hopwood, is that the change from traditional crops to those developed through transgenic splicing has occurred with few independent tests of its effects on human health and the environment.
Created by inserting genes from one species into another, GE crops are designed to fend off insect attacks and withstand herbicides. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't view GE plants as "significantly different" from varieties developed through conventional breeding and so doesn't demand the tests and labels it requires for other food additives.
In an effort to halt the production of GE food until more testing is done and to require labeling of products that contain or are produced from GE crops, the Club is pressuring Kraft, a division of Philip Morris, to stop using GE ingredients. The requested moratorium includes GE corn, potatoes and soy, as well as milk from cows injected with r-BGH, a growth hormone.
The United States' largest packaged-food producer, Kraft makes more than 7,000 products, from Oreos to Grape Nuts. Smaller companies, such as Frito-Lay, Gerber and Heinz, have already committed to eliminating GE ingredients.
The Club had singled out Kraft as a good target before the story broke in September that Kraft's Taco Bell brand taco shells sold in grocery stores contained StarLink, corn genetically engineered to resist the European corn borer. Because of concerns that it might trigger allergies, the corn was only approved for animal, not human, consumption. Since then, testing has indicated that StarLink made its way into other brands as well, exposing how easily these technologies can slip out of control.
Aventis, the company producing StarLink, has stopped planting the corn in the United States, but is lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency to approve the corn for human consumption. In response, the Club and 10 other groups wrote to President Clinton saying, "It would be unacceptable to approve this genetically engineered product in the human food supply simply for the convenience of the industry. The industry must not now be rewarded for violating the law by an after-the-fact approval of a potentially dangerous product."
In addition to human-health issues, GE foods have raised serious environmental concerns. Corn spliced with insecticidal bacteria is not only lethal to monarch caterpillars, but other beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, according to recent studies. In addition, wind can carry GE pollen to adjoining crops, tainting corn grown as organic. Some scientists fear that hybrids created when pollen reaches plants at the field edge will become "superweeds" that will be resistant to pesticides and almost impossible to control.
"Genetic material, by its very nature, is able to spread," said Jim Diamond, a member of the Genetic Engineering Committee. "We need to establish more safeguards and put some brakes on the system now."
To Take Action: Write, call or e-mail Kraft Foods and ask the company to remove genetically engineered products from its foods. Be sure to emphasize that:
- Transgenic crops pose environmental risks and shouldn't be in the food supply until better tested and clearly labeled.
- Dairy products made with milk from r-BGH-treated cows are banned in many countries as possibly contributing to cancer.
Contact Betsy Holden, CEO of Kraft Foods, Inc., 3 Lakes Drive, Northfield IL 60093; (800) 847-1997;
For postcards to send to Kraft, contact Laurel Hopwood, Genetic Engineering Committee chair. Write to 2459 Queenston Rd., Cleveland Hts., OH 44118;
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