Should We Fear Our Food?
Genetically Engineered Corn continued...
Biotech defenders say there's no cause for concern. To date, not one
confirmed food safety incident related to bioengineered food has occurred
anywhere in the world, says Michael Phillips, Ph.D., vice president for food
and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group that
promotes the industry. In fact, he says, research now under way will more
likely make natural allergies to foods a thing of the past — by engineering
known problem proteins out of plants.
Should You Worry?
The argument that bioengineered food raises allergy risks is plausible, but
even critics concede there's no evidence of a real threat. Still, they argue
that the government isn't looking hard enough for problems. FDA officials say
they thoroughly review industry data and evaluate potential allergy risks
before food products are marketed. Says Laura Tarantino, Ph.D., director of the
FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety: "We rely on the best science
available, and I'm confident that foods made with genetically modified crops
Viruses in Cold Cuts
In 2006, the FDA gave the green light to spraying foods like deli meats and
hot dogs with bacteriakilling viruses to protect against listeria, bacteria
that affect some 2,500 people a year, a third of them pregnant women, and kill
as many as 500 people a year. The viruses — known as bacteriophages, or phages
— would glom on to highly targeted strains of listeria that could infest meats
after they've been cooked and destroy them before you open the package.
The Potential Danger
This technology is so new — it's several years from hitting shelves — that
advocacy groups haven't weighed in, and they may not, as the process seems to
be safe. "In Russia, phages have long been used instead of
antibiotics," says Randall Huffman, Ph.D., vice president of scientific
affairs at the American Meat Institute Foundation in Washington, D.C. Still,
there's an "ick" factor in deliberately coating food with viruses, and
some bloggers have speculated that phages could cause illness.
Should You Worry?
The question isn't whether bacteriophage treatment is safe, but whether
it's palatable to consumers. Because phages would be considered a food
additive, their use would be strictly regulated, and treated products would be
labeled. "Bacteriophages are harmful only to the specific bacteria that
nature designed them to kill," says Huffman. "But it'll take a lot to
convince industry and consumers that they're a feasible food