Archived news articles - 2008

The Straits Times (Online Forum), 20 May 2008

GM food should remain in the grocery store

By Teng Fook Yeng

I REFER to the letter, 'Don't be too quick to endorse GM foods' by Mr Richard Seah (April 9).

Not all genetic modifications of foods are bad per se. In the last few years, there has been an attempt by scientists to combine animal genes to produce more Omega-3 rich steak, pork and other meats. This will be especially important in the future, as cold-water fish (typically the best source of Omega-3) becomes increasingly laced with mercury and other heavy metals.

And it may not be too far off either. Last year, it was reported that a study showed meat from cloned animals (cloning is a form of genetic engineering) to be virtually identical to meat from the parent animal. According to the source, the FDA will soon release guidelines on the sale and production of such meat, which means they may be on the market soon. And if that parent animal is a 'new, improved' version they have tinkered with to make healthier, they may all soon be living longer by eating species they have developed themselves.

However, it seems not everyone is as open-minded.

According to some recent Cornell University research, the general public's opinion about GM (genetically modified) food may be less than enthusiastic - and trending downward. The study, summarised at the recent gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, reported the results of three different annual surveys of more than 500 New York residents between 2003 and 2005. Among their conclusions:

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents perceived GM foods as 'high risk' in 2005 - up from just 27 per cent in 2003.

On average, women are more wary of GM foods than men, and minorities tend to lend less support to GM food than Caucasians.

Many respondents reported feeling that biotechnology like genetic modification has negative effects on the environment, and on health.

Assuming these surveys of New Yorkers echo the sentiments of America as a whole, the future success of GM may face some challenges.

However, this perception might change - or it might not - if people knew just how much of what they are already eating is genetically modified. According to a FoodNavigator article summarising this research, it is estimated that as much as two-thirds of the food in the US (mostly corn, soyabean and canola products) contains at least an element of some genetically engineered crop.

Therefore, it is quite understandable for some folks' wariness about GM foods. If we open the Pandora's box of genetic engineering, we have to make sure we do not end up on a continent of Dr Moreau.

We also have to know where to draw the line - like with our children. The temptation to start genetically modifying humans already beckons some, without any doubt. Therefore, the potential for abuse of the power of science needs to be kept closely in check, especially with gene-technology. Meanwhile, GM food should remain in the grocery store.

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