Questions About Gene-Modified Foods

August 24, 2011

Editor’s note: William Y. Brown responds to Nina V. Fedoroff’s op-ed “Engineering Food for All” in a letter to the editor on the New York Time‘s website regarding genetically modified foods.

Nina V. Fedoroff is right that genetic engineering offers incalculable potential for humankind. Crops are being altered to resist drought and floods, grow in poor soils, make vitamins for people without pharmacies, and last longer on the shelf. Bacteria have been modified to make insulin and to digest hazardous waste. The list goes on.

Ms. Fedoroff is also right that current federal regulation hurts progress on genetic modification. In fact, it’s a trip down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. But there are risks if modified life forms escape from controls, reproduce and spread, and the federal government recently announced that some modified organisms are beyond its control.

We need a new transparent, understandable law. Public support for transgenics will come from knowledge and participation. The Clinton administration was working on such a law when its term expired. Now is a good time to take that off the shelf and move forward.