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item Carter Jr, Thomas

Submitted to: Crop Science
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/6/2005
Publication Date: 10/27/2005
Citation: Carter Jr, T.E. 2005. The Frankenfood Myth. How protest and politics threaten the biotech revolution. Crop Science, doi:10.2135/cropsci2005.0011br.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The authors are sounding the alarm. Gene splicing in agriculture is under full-scale global attack and the outcome of the battle is in doubt. Anti-biotechnology activists and government regulators, with tacit approval of moderate agribusiness leaders, have formed a battle line to push back gene-spliced agricultural crops from the market place. At present, momentum is on the side of the attackers. This is the central message of The Frankenfood Myth. Fear of gene-spliced crops, embodied in the derogatory pseudonym Frankenfood, has led to over-regulation of gene-spliced crops and slowed their release to a trickle. According to the authors, the real Frankenstein’s monster wreaking havoc in the countryside is the regulatory one, not gene-spliced crops. They argue that the growth of regulation has been driven by politics and self interest more than science. Agribusiness has supported regulation in the hope of allaying the public’s fears over safety of gene-spliced products. Anti-biotechnology activists have pushed for regulation because of their social values. Bureaucrats have welcomed regulation because of the prestige that goes with increased staff and program size. The authors claim that with no effective counterbalance to these forces, regulation has escalated needlessly. The result is a cost of tens of millions of dollars to approve each gene-spliced crop. Such costs now effectively block all but the very largest of agribusinesses from bringing a gene-spliced crop to market. The authors feel, and rightly so, that biotechnology has more to offer agriculture than is being utilized. To explain how the U.S. regulatory system for gene-spliced crops evolved, Miller (M.D. and research fellow at Stanford University) and Conko (Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.) analyze, in detail, relevant events, commission reports, and public policies over the past three decades (the first five chapters). At the heart of this analysis is the question: “Are the molecular techniques of recombinant DNA a straightforward extension of older genetic methods, or are they sufficiently different that they are likely to create novel and unfamiliar risks?” The answer has profound implications. The FDA, USDA, and EPA, regulators of gene-splicing technology, all say yes, gene splicing does bring with it novel risks, and have devised separate regulatory rules for gene-spliced vs. conventionally-derived crops. Miller and Conko take the opposite view and state unequivocally that gene splicing does not bring novel risks to agriculture. They argue that gene-spliced and conventionally-derived crops should be regulated by the same rules, and that regulations should focus on specific traits in the crop rather than on the technique by which the crop was developed. It should be the product, not the process,that is the driver. The authors devote considerable effort in their book to debunking specific claims of harm from gene-spliced crops, including the well publicized ‘Monarch butterfly’ and Starlink controversies. The authors state that “no responsible person would contend that gene-spliced organisms pose no risk”, but they argue that these risks are the same kind as conventional plant breeders have managed for decades. The authors cite examples of conventionally derived varieties posing analogous risks to gene-spliced products. Keeping safe Canola separate from toxic rapeseed in Canadian markets is one such example. The authors also cover in great detail the use of the ‘precautionary principle’ in regulation of gene-spliced crops. The precautionary principle is defined by the authors as ‘the idea that regulatory measures should be taken to prevent … actions that raise even conjectural risks, even though scientific evidence … is incomplete or inconclusive.” The authors argue that because we have no examples of harm from gene-spli