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Rabbis and Religious Leaders Join Federal Lawsuit
to Require Labeling & Safety-Testing of GE foods


NEW YORK POST, SUNDAY, MAY 23, 1999

Fooling with food leaves bad taste

Experts' alarm at "designer genes"

By JESSE ANGELO

You are an unwitting lab rat in the biggest scientific experiment ever.

Every day you are eating unlabeled genetically modified foods and
ingesting proteins that have never before been in the human food supply.

And nobody knows if they're making you sick.

"It's ludicrous that the agencies in our government responsible for food
safety are allowing us to be experimented on," said Joe Mendelson, legal
director of the Center for Food Safety.

"The jury is still out scientifically so, at a minimum, we should have
labeling so people can decide for themselves if they want to be a guinea
pig."

Religious leaders, scientists and some health experts are demanding
stricter labeling and further research on the increasingly widespread
practice of injecting genes from bacteria and viruses into fruits and
vegetables.

Among the widely distributed genetically modified foods are corn,
potatoes, tomatoes, sugar beets, yellow squash, papaya and radicchio.

Most are unlabeled, since companies are required to label modified foods
only if they have a different nutritional content than the original or
contain new toxins, antibiotic-resistant genes or known food allergens
such as nuts, shellfish, eggs or milk.

No product with known allergens is on the market, but food companies hope
to fortify vegetables with genes from a wide variety of animals, fish and
insects.

Researchers have put flounder genes into tomatoes and moth genes into
potatoes, but these hybrids have yet to hit supermarket shelves.

The biggest genetically altered crop in the country by far is the
soybean, which is in almost every processed food from ice cream to baby
formula.

While an estimated 55 percent of this year's crop has been altered with
DNA from bactiera and viruses, the percentage of foods containing the
modified soybeans is actually higher because they are routinely mixed
with unaltered beans before being sold to processors.

"Virtually all processed food in theis country that isn't organic
probably contains at least a little bit of genetically modified food,"
said Rebecca Goldburg, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense
Fund.

An FDA spokesman said the agency's studies show that all transgenic crops
on the market are safe.

"All of the proteins introduced to date by genetic engineering have been
shown not to have any similarities to known allergens, to be very rapidly
digestible, and to be present in very low amounts," said Dr. Jim
Maryanski, biotechnology coordinator for the FDA.

Maryanski admitted that companies producing new genetically modified
foods don't have to show their safety tests to the agency or even test
them at all.

But most do, Maryanski said, because the companies are liable if somebody
gets sick or dies from their products.

A University of Nebraska study published in the New England Journal of
Medicine in 1996 showed that if you are allergic to a certain food and
its genes are put into another species, you can have an allergic reaction
to the new hybrid.

That's why transgenic foods have some allergy sufferers eating in fear.

One of them is Sheila Slade, a grandmother from Marlboro, N.J. who is
extremely allergic to potatoes, beets, carrots and cinnamon and could die
if she ate them.

Under present law, a grower would not have to label a tomato that
contains potato genes since potatoes are not considered a "known
allergen."

"I eat with a lot of trepidation these days," she said. "I read
everything I buy to know what's inside it, but if it's not genetically
altered and not labeled, I can't do that."

Then there's the possibility of an allergic reaction to things people
don't usually consume, such as proteins from bacteria and viruses
inserted into plants to make them resistant to insects or pesticides.

About 25 percent of the current corn crop has genes from a bacteria
called Bt inserted into its DNA to make it resistant to pests.

A study published in the magazine Nature this week showed that pollen
from Bt corn kills or seriously stunts the development of Monarch
butterfly caterpillars.

The study does not suggest that Bt corn is toxic to humans but this kind
of unintended consequence from gentic manipulation is what has some
scientists worried.

"We're eating large quantities of chemicals that come from a species we
don't normally eat and we could have an allergic response to that," said
Dr. Philip Regal, professor of biological science at the University of
Minnesota.

"Have we already seen effects? There's no real way of knowing. It's going
to be a matter of luck whether we catch some of these allergies," he
said.

Regal said combining DNA from different species can result in toxic
byproducts.

He and many other scientists believe byproducts in a genetically
engineered food supplement called L-tryptophan killed 37 people and made
thousands sick in the late 1980s.

He has joined a lawsuit with the Center for Food Safety that demands the
FDA classify genes used to alter food as additives and test them more
rigorously.

Seven Christian clergymen, three rabbis, a Hindu group and a Buddhist
group have also joined the federal court suit.

They claim their religious freedom has been trampled because they have no
way of knowing if they are eating foods banned by the faiths.

One of the plaintiffs, Lubavitcher Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski of Crown
Heights, said he has stopped eating tomatoes and only eats potatoes he
knows are organic.

The rabbi said he fears that genes from non-kosher foods - such as pigs
or insects - could be implanted in vegetables and Jews may unwittingly
break kosher laws by eating them.

Serebryanski said putting genes from one species into another is
"destructive to nature, to the world, to health, to the balance of energy
in people who eat it."

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