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Why Do G.M.O.'s Need Protection?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it. Excluding, of course, those who've made money from it, appropriately represented in the public's mind by Monsanto. That corporation, or at least its friends, recently managed to have an outrageous rider slipped into the 587-page funding bill Congress sent to President Obama.

The rider essentially prohibits the Department of Agriculture from stopping production of any genetically engineered crop once it's in the ground, even if there is evidence that it is harmful.

That's a pre-emptive Congressional override of the judicial system, since it is the courts that are most likely to ask the U.S.D.A. to halt planting or harvest of a particular crop. President Obama signed the bill last week (he kind of had to, to prevent a government shutdown) without mentioning the offensive rider (he might have), despite the gathering of more than 250,000 signatures protesting the rider by the organization Food Democracy Now!

The override is unnecessary as well as disgraceful, because the U.S.D.A. is already overly supportive of genetically engineered crops. When a court tried to stop the planting of genetically engineered beets a couple of years ago pending adequate study, the U.S.D.A. allowed it. And the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack - who, in fairness, does not seem happy about the rider but was powerless to stop it - was quoted in this (excellent) Politico piece as saying, "With the seed genetics today that we're seeing, miracles are occurring every single growing season."

True enough. But "seed genetics" refers not only to genetically engineered seeds but to seeds whose genetics have been altered by conventional means, like classical breeding. In fact, as I said up top, genetic engineering, or, more properly, transgenic engineering - in which a gene, usually from another species of plant, bacterium or animal, is inserted into a plant in the hope of positively changing its nature - has been disappointing.


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