Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods and Genetically Modified Diplomacy: The Global Politics of Agricultural Biotechnology and the Environment

Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods
Jeffrey Smith
Fairfield, Iowa: Yes! Books
2007, 318 pages.

AND

Genetically Modified Diplomacy: The Global Politics of Agricultural Biotechnology and the Environment
Peter Andre?e
Vancouver: UBC Press
2007, 336 pages.

That the genetically modified supplement L-Tryptophan killed about 100 people and caused over 5 0 0 0    more to become ill or disabled in the 1980s is a little known fact. Even fewer people are aware that there are no special safeguards to prevent the recurrence of such an epidemic. With facts such as these, Jeffrey Smith’s new book Genetic Roulette cannot fail to engage and alarm anyone who … well, eats food.

Smith, a science writer and author of the best-selling expose? Seeds of Deception, presents his meticulous research on the documented health risks of genetically modified (GM) foods in a series of easy- to-read two-page spreads. The left-hand side of each spread outlines a major health risk and summarizes related studies using bulleted points, quotes and illustrations. On the facing page, Smith presents comprehensive, but accessible details and references on the topic.

Based on his analysis of dozens of studies, reports and personal accounts, Smith reveals shocking instances when governments and corporations misled, lied and covered up evidence about the health and safety risks of GM foods. These deceptions allowed the products to be fast-tracked to the market, thereby externalizing the costs of this infant science.

The case of Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a biologist from the Rowett Institute in Scotland, is one of the examples that Smith describes. While conducting long- term safety tests, Pusztai and his colleagues found that when fed to young rats, genetically modified potatoes “adversely affected virtually every organ system” in the rodents. His study raised questions about all GM products on the market. When Pusztai spoke out publicly, however, he was fired from the job he had held for 35 years and silenced with the threat of a lawsuit. His research team was disbanded and the project was terminated.

Smith supplements chilling scientific evidence with a discussion of the politics of regulation and a handy guide on how to avoid eating GM foods. He also effectively shatters the argument of substantial equivalence put forward by industry – theideathataGMfoodisassafeasan existing food with similar characteristics and, hence, does not require special testing or labelling. His final section on why GM crops are not needed to feed the world incisively debunks the case frequently presented by GM companies to justify development and commercialization of their crops.

Genetic Roulette should be mandatory reading for politicians, farmers, civil servants, consumers, teachers and everyone working in the food industry. This landmark book has the potential to refocus the debate on GM foods.

Written for an academic audience interested in the politics of international relations and the way it applies to food safety, Peter Andre?e’s Genetically Modified Diplomacy demonstrates that there is some, albeit limited, progress. A professor of political science at Carleton University, Andre?e uncovers the negotiation process that led to the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement to protect biological diversity from the risks posed by genetic modification. He examines how each participating nation’s domestic policy and subsequent relationship with the agricultural-biotechnology industry markedly affected the positions that they took at these negotiations.

Andre?e deconstructs the different priorities of state and non-state actors, and examines how both were willing to compromise during the negotiations in order to reach a consensus. He convincingly demonstrates that as a result of the protocol, the international discourse on genetically modified organisms moved from one of risk management to one of precaution. This shift has had wide-ranging impacts on international trade and domestic policies of countries around the world.

Given Smith’s analysis of the profound health risks of GM foods, one could argue that a precautionary approach is nothing less than essential to protect both the environment and public health.

Andre?e’s theoretical approach, technical detail and dense language may make the book inaccessible for general readers. As a result, it will be mostly enjoyed by students and researchers seeking an in-depth evaluation of the negotiation process of the Cartagena Protocol, as well as its implications for future policy.

J. Michael Smith is a community organizer, freelance writer and organic farmer in Southern Ontario. He has a BA in Political Science from McMaster University, where he researched issues related to food security.

Originally published in Alternatives Journal’s Subscribe to Alternatives Today!

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