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Field of Genes

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Field of Genes

Itâ??s been only three years since the first large-scale commercial harvest of genetically engineered (GE) food crops in the United States. Now GE crops cover one fourth of US agricultural land-more than 90 million acres. The Canadian agricultural industry is predictably lagging behind, but puffing hard to catch up..

It’s been only three years since the first large-scale commercial harvest of genetically engineered (GE) food crops in the United States. Now GE crops cover one fourth of US agricultural land–more than 90 million acres.

The Canadian agricultural industry is predictably lagging behind, but puffing hard to catch up. Ontario has turned over most of its corn crops to genetically altered seed. Prince Edward Island, the potato province, grew the gene-altered variety until McCain Foods--the French fry people–buckled to consumer protest. Now PEI potato growers are stuck with genetically altered crops and no market! Half the canola grown in Saskatchewan is now genetically engineered but the bottom has fallen out of that market too.

Genes are segments of DNA. The altering of specific genes allows scientists to create or "engineer" new species. The possibilities are endless. It’s a process that enables technicians to splice plant or animal genes that have particular or desirable traits into the DNA of other organisms. Corn, potatoes and cotton, for instance, have a pesticide spliced into the gene so that the plant can "bite back" when insects threaten damage. Soybeans, corn, canola and cotton have been programmed to withstand chemicals that kill weeds. The 21st century farmer can spray his herbicide without killing his crop.

The concept sounds ideal. But it was pitched to farmers, not consumers. Farmers were sold on a procedure that spelled less work and more profit and no one asked consumers if they wanted to eat the resulting crops. Since farmers were assured the GE foods were "substantially equivalent," the consumer was expected to go along for the uncertain ride. Consumer revolt was a surprise to both farmers and the chemical industry.

Western agriculture is in a state of serious flux, not knowing which way to turn. The US biotech companies are determined to push Frankenstein foods down our throats–and make us like it. The strategy is to offer "vitamin-enhanced" vegetables. Vitamins and minerals originally came from fruit and vegetables but farm chemicals robbed the soil of these nutrients so vitamins and minerals were deficient in the plants. Thus, the necessary (and lucrative) "dietary supplement" industry was born. We ate the vitamin-deficient food crops and got our nutrients from pills!

Global food biotechnology is being engineered by a handful of multinational corporations: Astra-Zeneca. DuPont, Aventis, Monsanto and Novartis. They started out as pharmaceutical companies, then reinvented themselves as "life science" corporations–forming alliances with food and seed producers in the expectation of taking the consumer from "seed to supper."

We, as consumers, need to care about the future of food–especially when we learn that pollen from some genetically engineered corn has killed the larvae of the Monarch butterfly in lab experiments. (This research was done by entomologists at the Iowa State University after the GE corn seed was released for sale.)

Canadian farmers are our food producers and they’re caught in the middle of a global food fight: persistent propaganda from international "life science" companies on one side and an increasingly skeptical consumer on the other. As consumers, we have to make the farmers’ choice clear. Revolt. Refuse to buy genetically engineered food. Farmers will not grow what they cannot sell-no matter what Monsanto and DuPont promise, or threaten!

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