How to Confine the Plants of the Future?
By DENISE CARUSO
A NEW generation of genetically engineered crops that produce drugs and chemicals is fast approaching the market — bringing with it a new wave of concerns about the safety of the global food and feed supply.
The plants produce medicinal substances like insulin, anticoagulants and blood substitutes. They produce vaccine proteins for diseases like cholera, as well as antibodies against tooth decay and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Enzymes and other chemicals from the plants can be used for a range of industrial processes.
As in past debates over genetically modified crops, biotech developers say that the benefits outweigh the risks, and that the risks are manageable. Critics question the benefits, and say the risk of a contaminated and potentially toxic food supply is untenable.
In the middle, balancing economic benefit and public safety, are our appointed arbiters of risk, the government regulators.
Controversies over biotech risk are caused by a crisis in “official scientific expertise,” according to Jerome Ravetz, an associate fellow at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization at the University of Oxford.
The crisis, he said, stems from the conflicting roles of government. On one side, businesses provide regulators with scientific evidence about the risk and safety of their product innovations. On the other, suspicious citizens demand that regulators challenge that evidence.
The side whose expertise is accepted as “official” calls the shots.
So far, the business sector has tipped the scales in its favor. Despite science-based concerns voiced by farmers, environmentalists and even its own researchers ...full text