Consumers Should Dismiss Fearmongering About Genetically Engineered Foods

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An independent consortium of scientists from the American Council on Science and Health has refuted unfounded claims by environmental extremists that genetically engineered foods are a threat to public health.

According to Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH's director of nutrition, "The agricultural products of genetic engineering present no inherent hazards to health and will continue to bring substantial benefits to farmers, food processors, and consumers."

Genetic engineering has improved flavor, nutritional value, resistance to disease and insects, and resistance to bruising in fruit and vegetables. Researchers are developing produce designed to be picked and delivered at peak ripeness and flavor. On the horizon are leaner meats and cooking oils with less saturated fat. New plant varieties will provide more yield with less input crops that will protect the environment even as they reduce costs.

"While traditional methods of plant breeding move thousands of genes simultaneously, the new methods offer important technical refinements that allow more selective and specific choices," says ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

The future of genetic engineering depends on government regulation, private-sector investment, and consumer acceptance. Acting in accordance with (among others) the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, the FDA has focused on regulating the agricultural products of genetic engineering, rather than the method by which they are made. Critics mistakenly emphasize the source instead of the product. According to ACSH scientists, there is no scientific basis for distinguishing between foods produced using traditional methods and those produced through modern genetic techniques.

Genetic engineering allows early detection and treatment of disease in food crops and animals. It also reduces the need for chemical pesticides. Threats of antibiotic and pesticide resistance are misleading and unnecessarily frightening. Resistance may occur after a while, but this applies equally to traditional crop management techniques.

ACSH scientists support the FDA's refusal to give in to those activist groups who have called for special labeling of the genetic engineering products. According to Dr. Whelan, "requiring special labeling for these products could increase costs for farmers and processors. Also, labels might be incorrectly viewed as a warning. If new genetically engineered foods are judged safe by accepted scientific criteria, there is no reason for regulatory procedures that set genetic-engineering foods apart."