- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2004

Greens and others of like mind repeatedly raised phantom fears about the safety of genetically-engineered (GE) foods, even when it meant pulling food from the mouths of malnourished babes. While it will not stop the scaremongering, a recently published report from the National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine Academy adds much needed perspective. Researchers, charged with assessing the health risks of genetically-modified foods, properly began by declaring that conventional breeding and genetic modification are variations on the same theme. “Hazards associated with genetic modifications, specifically genetic engineering, do not fit into a simple dichotomy of genetic engineering versus nongenetic engineering breeding. Not only are many mechanisms common to both … but also those techniques slightly overlap each other,” the report said. There are good grounds for that statement, since regardless of where they come from, plant genes are made of the same stuff — DNA — and produce similar protein end-products.

Genetic engineering can introduce novel substances, which can cause unexpected, unhealthy effects, but so can conventional breeding. As the brief of the report declared, “Any technique, including genetic engineering, carries the potential to result in unintended changes in the composition of the food.” Since all foods contain potentially harmful substances, researchers recommended that safety assessments be done on a “case-by-case” basis.

Any such assessments should not be roadblocks to sating hungry children. A few days ago on the opposite page, Lauren Bush, an honorary spokesperson for WarOnHunger.org, reminded us that many children in Guatemala suffer malnourishment and, “the ravages of hunger are even more devastating in dozens of African countries, and in Afghanistan and North Korea.”

Some of that hunger has been inflicted by fears of GE foods. Even though nearly half of Angola’s children are malnourished, earlier this year its government banned imports of GE foods, which stopped a shipment of 19,000 tons of U.S. corn from arriving. During a drought last year, Zambia rejected GE food, out of fear that it could lose its trade with Europe if traces of the modifications were found in its agricultural exports.

No hungry child should be denied a mouthful of food, regardless of what the genes of the plant that it came from look like.

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