Almost 1,000 demonstrators gathered in San Diego on June 24 to protest the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference. Protesters donned colorful costumes such as genetically modified ears of corn and tomatoes; others wore signs with statements including "Am I a Genetic Experiment?" The protesters listened to speeches, performed street theater and chanted. The protest was peaceful, but police arrested two individuals they suspected of carrying weapons.
The protest organizers had expected a higher turnout and blamed low numbers on police presence and news coverage. The San Diego police said they did not want a repeat of the protests of the 1999 World Trade Organization in Seattle, when more than 600 people were arrested and there was $2.5 million in damages.
ABC Airs Pro Genetic Engineering Message
Television commentator John Stossel and ABC News aired a segment, "Tampering With Nature," that extolled the virtues of scientific manipulation while vilifying environmentalists, organic advocates, and, rather controversially, grade school teachers and their students.
The one-hour segment, which ran on a Friday evening during prime time in late June, began with a monologue by Stossel championing the advances of science and explaining that tampering with nature "is a good thing." The same television personality who last year raised the ire of industry advocates with his attack on organic agriculture practices proceeded to defend the idea that greenhouse gasses and global warming are beneficial for people living in colder climates, such as Siberia. Through the course of the show, he also suggested that environmental causes were bad because they hurt the economy, and he decried opposition to genetic engineering as an example of the citizens of wealthy countries working to keep technology out of the hands of farmers and starving people in Third World locales.
Controversy followed Stossel's earlier report on organics in February 2000. Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association, said quotes she gave in an interview for the piece were lifted out of context. And scientific studies cited during the show that supported the journalist's opinion were falsified. The network responded by publicly apologizing for and reprimanding its employee.
The latest segment was controversial as well. Stossel interviewed children at a grade school in southern California. Parents were present, but when they later realized why Stossel asked leading questions and got their children to answer in unison (he purports that children are being brainwashed by environmental messages), they asked the network not to use the interviews.
The parents' unusual request and Stossel's track record raised anticipation of the program the week before the show aired. According to ABC News, the one-hour segment was the most-watched television show nationwide during that time slot.
Americans More Aware Of GM Foods
Americans are more aware of genetically modified food than they were six months ago, but confidence in the government's ability to manage these products is mixed, according to a recent Zogby International poll released by Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
Fifty-five percent of respondents reported they had heard a "great deal" or "some" about GM foods, a notable increase of 11 percent in the nation's GMO awareness compared with a study published six months earlier.
The poll also suggested that consumers may be more likely to hear generally negative information concerning genetically modified food, such as product recalls, than supportive studies, according to the PIFB news release. The January poll found that 57 percent of people surveyed had heard about the Starlink corn recall. In contrast, only a little more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents had heard about the recent Centers for Disease Control report finding no evidence that Starlink corn caused allergic reactions in the 28 cases it had investigated.
White Corn Products May Contain StarLink
The Food and Drug administration recently discovered genetic material from StarLink corn in Kash n' Karry brand white tortilla chips. On July 3, the Kash n' Carry and Food Lion grocery chains pulled all the potentially contaminated product from store shelves, although the FDA had not ordered a recall. The FDA's investigation was prompted by a complaint from a Florida consumer.
It is the first time that StarLink has been found in white corn chips, and to many food industry and health officials, the discovery confirms how GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops.
The presence of StarLink in yellow corn products prompted national product recalls last fall. StarLink corn was genetically modified by Aventis CropSciences to contain a pesticide protein, but the corn was never approved for human consumption because it may cause severe allergic reactions.
According to the Washington Post, an FDA spokesman said the agency was "continuing to follow up" but did not elaborate.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 8/p. 5