Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Vol. IV, No. 37 October 17 - 23, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
Modified Food, Anyone?
review of Eat Your Genes: How
Genetically Modified Food is Entering Our Diet By Stephen Nottingham
in the UK by Zed Books and in the Philippines by IBON Books
Eat Your Genes: How Genetically
Modified Food is Entering Our Diet
is not easy reading for those who do not have a background in the natural
sciences. The book however is a must-read for health activists,
environmentalists and others who are concerned with health and the food
they and their loved ones eat.
ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
you have a healthy diet? One needs to read the book to find out.
1997, people in many industrialized countries had eaten food produced
using genetic engineering,” biologist Stephen Nottingham says in his
book Eat Your Genes: How Genetically
Modified Food is Entering Our Diet. The same is increasingly becoming
true in the Third World, he adds.
the book, Nottingham, who briefly worked as a foreign research associate
at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, starts with a brief history of
genetic improvement in agriculture, tracing the practice to Austrian monk
and pioneer geneticist Gregor Mendel who formulated the scientific laws of
inheritance after a series of experiments in 1866.
then describes the technology behind genetic engineering, as well as the
various forms of the practice: the engineering of the Bovine Growth
Hormone from cattle into bacteria “to produce commercial quantities of
this hormone” and its injection in this form into cows to increase milk
yields (milk pharming); the modification of crops to make them resistant
to herbicides and insecticides; and the development of transgenic crops
with disease resistance.
book carries particular relevance for Filipinos.
agricultural agencies under the Ferdinand Marcos administration
(1965-1986) are known to have experimented with transgenic rice under the
auspices of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), as
Nottingham himself notes. The experiment has been criticized by peasant
groups like the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine
Peasant Movement) as costly for farmers, the hybrid rice varieties being
dependent on expensive imported fertilizers and pesticides.
Philippines has also been an importer of pharmed milk from First World
countries like the U.S. for more than 20 years, and a laboratory for
modified crops like Monsanto’s Bt corn since the late 1990s.
devotes a chapter each to the various forms of food genetic engineering.
He describes the practices in extensive detail, in some cases complete
with blow-by-blow “accounts” of the particular processes.
the first few chapters, one may get the impression that the book is
nothing but a manual on food and genetic engineering. But the reader would
realize the political significance of the book in the later chapters.
author talks about the ecological and health risks of genetic engineering
in food, particularly the spread of transgenes to other crops (and their
subsequent contamination by these), as well as the carcinogenic and
allergenic potentials of certain genetically-engineered food varieties
like pharmed milk and Bt corn.
one chapter, Nottingham tackles the ethical dimensions of genetic
engineering. He does this by taking into consideration the stand of animal
rights advocates and the moral dimensions of the patenting of life, the
latter being an argument against having intellectual property rights on
seeds and other life forms.
crops...have been developed amidst promises that they will help the Third
World feed itself,” Nottingham points out, “although this claim seems
to ignore the complex social and political factors that contribute to
hunger.” This argument is presented in the context of the massive hunger
in the Third World.
to Nottingham, “World food production has been rising by around (one)
percent per annum over recent decades, but the number of people with
insufficient food is also growing. Hunger is the result not of
insufficient food being grown, but of people being excluded from access to
author relates hunger to poverty as he explains, “The conditions under
which widespread poverty in the Third World became established were
created during the colonial era. These conditions have been maintained in
the post-colonial era by Third World debt, by free trade agreements, by
industrial agriculture, which has concentrated on the growing of
monocultures of export crops, and by a number of other factors.”
knows whereof he speaks, having worked in the belly of the beast. His
analyses cannot be dismissed as rants of a left-leaning individual, as
what proselytizers of globalization and genetic engineering are wont to do
when confronted with views like his.
Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food is Entering Our Diet is not easy reading due to the author’s extensive use of jargon. Nevertheless, the book is a must-read for those who are concerned with health and the food they and their loved ones eat. Bulatlat