For the first time in this weblog, we'll talk about biotechnology today. And more specifically, about genetically engineered food.
This subject came to my mind two days ago when I heard that about two thirds of the corn and the cotton produced in the U.S. were genetically altered. It cam as a surprise to me. I didn't know that this percentage was so high.
As a coincidence, two recently published stories are tackling related subjects.
Justin Willis wrote one of these stories. Here is how his article starts.
Milk from cloned cows and meat from the offspring of cloned cows and pigs could show up on grocery shelves as early as next year under the plans of livestock breeders who are already raising scores of clones on American farmsteads.
A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's top scientific body, has given fresh impetus to the effort to turn cloning into a routine tool of U.S. agricultural production.
The cloned food products that could hit the market in small quantities next year include milk from cloned Holstein dairy cows and, potentially, veal from their first-generation offspring. Pigs would likely not be far behind, with some first-generation offspring probably being butchered for food in 2004 or 2005, animal breeders said.
Some cloning companies are already pouring out milk from clones. By this spring, farmers in scattered spots around the country will face the choice of selling milk from their clones or dumping it back on their fields. If the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will let them, they plan to sell it.
So far, it seems that because cloning techniques are expensive, they are exclusively used for *elite* farm animals.
Greg Wiles, proprietor of a dairy farm in Williamsport, Md., knows the pressures firsthand. His family once owned the top-ranked Holstein in the country -- Con Acres HS Zita-ET, registered Holstein No. 14411844. Zita, worth as much as $150,000 in her prime, died last year -- but not before Wiles, with help from a company in Massachusetts, spent some $70,000 to create two clones, Genesis and Cyagra.
Anyway, is there a risk for us?
One concern for the FDA is that breeders going to the expense of cloning may also attempt genetic modification of the animals, perhaps to make them leaner or improve milk production. Such genetic manipulation poses far more potential problems than mere cloning does, and the FDA would likely require extensive proof that the gene-altered animals are safe to eat.
Paul Elias is not looking at milk or fish: he is concerned by fish. The title of his story is Frankenfish shunned.
About 200 restaurants, grocers and seafood distributors pledged Wednesday not to buy, serve or sell fish created by biotechnology, joining some environmental groups and fishermen in opposing genetically engineered seafood.
Among those signing the pledge were a dozen Alaskan seafood distributors and two dozen organic-food-oriented grocery stores and chains, including Whole Foods Market, which has more than 130 stores. Others included restaurants from Berkeley's Chez Panisse to Washington, D.C.'s Citronelle and celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller of Yountville's French Laundry and David Pasternack of New York's Esca.
An FDA-commissioned study issued last month concluded that engineered fish could pose significant environmental issues if they are released into the wild and breed with native species.
This engineered salmon was *created* by Aqua Bounty Farms of Waltham, Mass. Their executives are saying that attacks against them are unfair.
Aqua Bounty has developed an Atlantic salmon spliced with genes from Chinook salmon and a fish known as the ocean pout. The engineered fish produce growth hormones year-round instead of just the summer months.
Aqua Bounty vice president Joseph McGonigle said the company's lab-grown salmon all will be infertile females, eliminating the risk of escaped fish crossbreeding with native species.
Should we believe these people? As we say here in France, "Bon appétit."
Sources: Justin Gillis, The Washington Post, September 16, 2002; Paul Elias, Associated Press, September 19, 2002
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