Volume 92, Issue 11

Monday, September 22, 1998

temper temper


Altered food may alter human health

By Ian C. Robertson
Gazette Staff

A former Western professor is urging you to watch out for killer foods.

Joe Cummins, a retired Western genetics professor, is concerned foods which are altered using biotechnology may in the long term be harmful, if not deadly, to humans.

"The development of biotechnology is more important than the discovery of nuclear energy because it deals with the basic elements of life," Cummins said.

According to Cummins, there are concerns in two key places – the ignorance of government officials in charge of regulation who are not properly educated about the consequences of genetic alteration and the threat of biotechnology in the hands of corporations who are more concerned about money than human health.

The greatest consequences Cummins sees stemming from genetic alterations is the transferring of diseases and allergies from one plant to another. This occurs because scientists cannot accurately predict what harmful traits may be passed along with the desired ones. Potentially deadly traits like a peanut allergy could be placed in another plant, unknown to a vulnerable consumer, he said.

Steven Yarrow, a biotechnology advisor with the Canadian Food Inspection Association, said to ensure the safety of genetically altered plants, CFIA assesses the impact to humans, animals and the environment by continued evaluation of the plants after they are released from a controlled environmental setting.

While Western has no official position on the development of biotechnical and genetic alterations, Bill Bridger, VP-research, said the university is supportive of all legitimate scientific progress and says a lack of general understanding is a major cause of the fear of genetic engineering.

"Home gardeners are wrong to assume that their plants are free of genetic alterations," Bridger said. While home plants randomly drift for thousands of years selecting beneficial qualities, biotechnology is simply speeding up the the natural process of selection, he said.

The CFIA is aware of the concerns many people have about the increased speed of breeding and rapid transmission of traits, Yarrow said.

The key to defending humans against dangerously altered genetic foods is to educate people about what these foods could potentially contain in addition to creating a regulating body separate from the government that would oversee the developments of biotechnology made by private corporations, Cummins added.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998