GM foods and pesticides pose no danger to health

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In one of his most pompous and slanted columns yet, The New York Times' Mark Bittman alleges that the U.S. government is in cahoots with large agricultural biotech companies that sacrifice the environment for profits. Bittman accuses USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack perhaps under pressure from the president of succumbing to the demands of Monsanto.

The huge ag-biotech company produces a line of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa, as well as the widely used herbicide Roundup. Bitman charges that the USDA, by allowing continued use of these crops despite concerns of cross-pollination with non-GM crops, has kowtowed to corporate interests at the expense of the environment. He also claims that farmers who use Roundup are experiencing problems with superweeds and are concerned about the possible production of "superbugs." Which prompts ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross to pointedly inquire, Is it possible that the farmers in this country and around the world, where GM technology has revolutionized food production, may actually know more about planting crops and the economic and environmental benefits of GM-agriculture than Mr. Bittman? Further, the ag-biotech industry is far from being given carte blanche another of his false accusations; rather, the technology is hamstrung by a thicket of regulations having nothing to do with protecting either the environment or public health.

And, in what serves as a timely riposte to Bittman s latest column, at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, esteemed scientist and ACSH friend Dr. Bruce N. Ames, a professor emeritus of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California at Berkley, spoke of the adverse health effects that unfounded fears of pesticides may have on low-income populations. According to Dr. Ames, many synthetic chemicals and pesticides are inaccurately labeled as hazardous to human health because of the results of high-dose animal studies. To put it in perspective, Dr. Ames explains, the number of chemicals derived from roasting the beans for a single cup of coffee far exceeds the amount of pesticide residues the average person consumes in an entire year. Despite this evidence to the contrary, however, many people especially in low-income populations may hesitate to buy the conventionally grown produce they can actually afford. And, since they can ill-afford expensive organic produce, they may then consume fewer healthful fruits and vegetables, warns Dr. Ames.

Conversely, people in high-income populations may flock to more expensive organic products under the false pretense that, because such products cost more money, they must be better for your health. But according to a new study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, researchers from the Limerick Institute of Technology in Ireland found no basis for concluding that organic foods are in any way superior to their conventionally grown counterparts in terms of health benefits. In addition, blind taste tests have failed to demonstrate that organic food actually tastes better.

The only difference between organic and conventional produce is that the former is more expensive, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. Health-wise, however, they are nutritionally equivalent.