Thursday, February 7, 2008

GMO News

Two stories pertaining to the issue of genetic modification have surfaced recently that I think deserve some special attention. Both news stories reveal how problematic the issue of GM food continues to be in the U.S., years after it was found by the FDA to be safe and ready for commercial use - there remains a moratorium on GMO food in the E.U., and other countries, such as Japan, have strict food labeling rules.

The first news item involves the infamous biotechnology giant Monsanto. The AP reported on Feb. 5 that Ben & Jerry's is protesting a move by Monsanto that would ban the ice cream maker, along with others, from advertising that their products are hormone free. The back-story is that Monsanto produces a bovine growth hormone (rBST) called Posilac which it hopes to see utilized by farmers the world over. Unfortunately, many countries, including Japan, Canada, and the E.U. have banned the sale of rBST for the sake of the animals. The last thing that Monsanto would want to see is a grassroots movement against rBST in their largest market, the U.S. - sadly, for Monsanto, such a movement is already afoot. So, the best hope this GM giant has is to undermine consumer choice by having the government protect their profits. This point about a sly form of protectionism is what is really interesting about this story. It was highlighted by economist Dean Baker in his blog, Beat the Press. The point Mr. Baker makes, which is very interesting for reasons outside of the GMO debate, is that while we call governments protectionist when they move to protect certain industries against foreign competition, we refuse to label such antics as the ones outlined above protectionist.
The second story has more to do with bread-and-butter GMO objections. A recent study by a research team from the University of Arizona has found that the bollworm insect has become resistant to a toxin produced by a type of genetically modified cotton - incidentally, this cotton is produced by Monsanto and it's called Bollgard. The bollworm can wreak havoc on cotton crops, and so the creation of the bollworm resistant cotton was a godsend for farmers. What Monsanto failed to do was stop evolution, and so slowly, but, as we now see, surely, the bollworm evolved resistance to the toxin. It was really only a matter of time before it happened. Invariably the arms race between man and nature will continue. But these two stories highlight the danger of going nuclear, so to speak.

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