Mutant Meals - Suicide Seeds -
The Terminator - Frankenfoods
By Carol Harrington
The Canadian Press
CALGARY (CP) -- Mutant meals. Suicide seeds. The Terminator. Frankenfood.
Terms for bioengineered foods are understood by many Europeans, but genetically altered food doesn't seem to be on the minds of most Canadians, even though it has found its way to many stomachs.
To digest the issue the University of Calgary is sponsoring a three-day conference starting today called Designer Genes at the Dinner Table.
"Many of the biotechnology products are now coming on the market, but most Canadians don't realize what they are eating because the food doesn't require to be labelled as such," said conference director Edna Einsiedel, a communications professor at the university.
"What we want to know is: what are the risks of consuming biotechnical food versus conventional food?"
That has been a loaded question in Britain where there are widespread protests, boycotts and demand for clear labelling when Mother Nature's foods are manipulated.
Even Charles, the Prince of Wales, has jumped into the frying pan.
"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment of genetically modified crops," he said last summer.
"If something does go badly wrong, we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done."
Proponents of agricultural biotechnology argue the advanced science will address world hunger, result in less pesticide use, boost the nutritional content of foods and lead to more sustainable farming.
Critics fear the technology will create super weeds and hyper-resistant pests, disrupt global food systems, destroy ecological diversity, damage small farm incomes and cause unforeseen long-term environmental problems.
A panel of 15 volunteers from Western Canada will tackle these issues by questioning experts from both sides of the table.
Panel members, with ages ranging from 17 to 59, were selected from 350 applicants last September to ensure diversity and objectivity. The panel will pick the brains of farmers, government officials, industry representatives and anti-biotech groups before it presents a report on Sunday.
One international anti-biotech group have brought the word Terminator into the debate because the technology allows scientists to restrict plant seeds to one use before their fertility is terminated by soaking them in an antibiotic bath.
Corinne Eisler of the Vancouver Food Policy Organization said she is appalled that Canada doesn't require specific labelling for genetically engineered food.
"Consumers have a right to know what is in their food," said Eisler, a dietician who will be at the conference.
There are about 225 biotechnology companies in Canada. In 1988 the first 14 tests of genetically engineered crops were conducted. By 1994 more than 700 field tests of such plants were under way.
There are 31 genetically altered plants available on Canadian supermarket shelves, including corn, soybeans, tomatoes, wheat and potatoes.
Eisler's group is lobbying the government for clear answers.
"We feel the full impacts of engineered foods is not fully explored or explained," she said.
"We want accountability."