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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Opinion: Gambling with Our Future

If you are reading this, there is a high probability you are a student, a professor or an administrator at UMass Boston. If you are either of the first two, there is an even higher probability that you are broke (Bulger fiddles as UMass burns–let’s see those contracts!)

When in a constant state of being broke, you learn to buy cheap: you take the T; you bring a bag lunch; and who doesn’t grab the generics at the supermarket? But deep inside that Shaw’s brand taco shell, or any of a majority of other processed generic foods, something is terribly wrong. There is a danger in many foods you eat, and if you are only as informed as the average American you are entirely unaware of it.

Generic engineering (GE) is the process through which genes from one species are inserted into another species in order to transfer a desirable trait. For instance, researchers have found that tomatoes of a specific shade of red are more likely to be bought tan tomatoes of a less vibrant color, but nature doesn’t make tomatoes of that shade. Nature does, however, make salmon in that shade. So scientists isolated the gene that makes salmon red, synthesized it and then inserted it into tomatoes, thus creating a redder tomato.

A similar process is also being applied to create a multitude of other “Frakenfoods,” including crops that are more resistant to pesticides–which really only means that we will be spraying even more pesticides than we do now (2 – 5 times more than traditional crops–who had this bright idea?)

Increased pesticide use is just the tip of the iceberg. The real danger lies in the potential unknown results of mixing species that otherwise would be unpredictable and may not even be identifiable by any known tests. The FDA currently asks biotech companies to identify allergens in their GE foods only if they are the genes from one of a handful of the most common food allergens (like nuts or shellfish.) But there are dozens of other foods that are less common allergens, and genes from these foods could be used to produce new, unlabeled GE foods. Also, generic engineering could produce unexpected new allergens with potentially dire consequences for unwitting consumers.

At this point supermarket shelves are crawling with genetically engineered foods. About one-third of all US grown corn is genetically engineered, as is three-fourths of all US soy (the veggie burger you’re eating doesn’t seem so eco-friendly any more, does it?)

Sixty percent of all processed foods on store shelves contain genetically engineered products and, as the final insult, none of it is even labeled. Why isn’t it labeled? Because, Shaw’s says, we, the American consumers, don’t care. Isn’t it nice of them to do all of our thinking for us?

In reality, this is just a bold-faced denial of the truth, as a recent poll has found that ninety percent of the American public wants genetically engineered food labeled, primarily so they can avoid it.

Greenpeace has decided to lend its support to UMB students concerned about this issue. Shaw’s has shown that they are aware of this issue by agreeing to label products that are for sale in England; their failure to extend the same courtesy to the American consumer constitutes a dangerous double standard. The CEO of Shaw’s is a UMass graduate, so an organized cry for accountability from this campus will not go unnoticed.

As a look into the motivation of the industries producing these risky foods, I will let Monsanto’s (the company that has a virtual monopoly on genetically engineered seed) public relations man, Phil Angell, speak for the industry: “Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.”

You may see Greenpeace and UMass students tabling and collecting signatures to let Shaw’s know that we are aware that they are gambling with our future. If you want to get directly involved with this campaign, please talk with the person at the table or send me an email so we can talk further. Even if you can’t get personally involved please sign one of the pledges to show you care about the issue.

Peter King, [email protected] ’06