By Robert Schlesinger |
Genetically modified wheat that had not been approved for public consumption was recently found in a farmer's field in Oregon, setting off a firestorm of controversy that resulted in two countries halting U.S. imports of the crop. Japan, the largest importer of U.S. wheat, canceled a major purchase last week.
The wheat was grown from seeds created by the agriculture giant Monsanto, which tested the variety of the plant between 1998 and 2005 before ultimately abandoning it. The strain was meant to resist certain herbicides. A Kansas farmer is now suing Monsanto, claiming that the discovery of the company's "rogue wheat" is hurting all wheat growers.
"This will have an impact worldwide, because our trading partners do not want genetically modified wheat," said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the Consumers Union. "This crop may be safe to eat, or it may not be. We don't know because we haven't done the proper scrutiny." Other countries, including the European Union, regulate genetically modified food far more tightly than does the U.S., claiming that there are health risks involved in consuming it.
Connecticut this week became the first state to pass a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods, but it will not go into effect until surrounding states take their own respective steps to do the same. More than 20 states are currently considering labeling laws. But many argue that the jury is still out regarding whether there is anything harmful about genetically modified food.
"I think that using genetic engineering to improve our crops can help move us towards more productive, healthier, and yes, more sustainable farming practices. Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation standing in the way of public acceptance of this technology," Kevin Bonham writes at Scientific American. "There is nothing inherently wrong with genetically modified crops. Humans have been genetically altering foodstuffs for millennia," adds the Washington Post editorial board. "Genetic engineering won't solve every agricultural problem here or elsewhere, but it's one tool humanity must not discard."
So should consumers be worried about genetically modified foods? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Robert Lawrence Professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health