Ann Fonfa's Letter


Subject: Congratulations and a complaint

Dear People:

Looking over your website I am very pleased with most of what you advocate. As a cancer patient and advocate, I completely agree with your demands for a 'tax' on junk food. I personally would support advertising bans for a year to see what happens.

But I am gravely concerned over the position you took on GM/GE foods. Again, as a cancer patient who uses natural therapies and runs a popular website offering information, advice, education and advocacy, I am concerned.

There is NO long-term evidence and precious little short-term evidence that GM/GE foods are indeed safe. I am especially concerned for children. I would be really glad to receive some information as to why you have taken the position of supporting these foods and products.

Thank you for responding.

Ann Fonfa, Not a born cynic Founder The Annie Appleseed Project CAM for cancer patients, family and friends Make fully informed treatment decisions

Thanks for your email. Our Biotechnology Project Director responds to your concerns as follows:

In our article, we tried to give a brief summary of a number of issues regarding GE foods, pro and con. There are many reasons to be concerned about the potential of GE foods to adversely impact human health and the environment.

However, several groups of independent (or mostly independent) scientists have considered those issues and have not concluded that the current foods present a human health concern. These groups include the National Academy of Sciences (in a report on EPA GE regulations published last year) as well as several groups of independent experts on the EPA's Scientific Advisory Panels over the last two years (, look for the reports on GE issues in 1999, 2000, and 2001).

We have reviewed those reports and others as well as many of the original sources of data. Those and other groups of scientists have often been critical of current tests and requirements for GE safety, as is CSPI (we are probably typically more critical), but the data and other scientific evidence suggests that for the current foods, there is minimal risk.

In that we are generally in agreement with several other consumer organizations, such as Consumer's Union (who remark that there is no evidence that current GE foods are unsafe in a 1999 article) or Union of Conserved Scientists (see interview with Margaret Mellon of UCS in April 2001 issue of Scientific American).

However, that does not mean that there is no risk. Especially in the case of long term testing, the current data are not what they should be. However, that must be put in the context of current foods, both conventional and organic, where potentially adverse changes due to conventional plant breeding can and have occurred.

Two examples of that were given in our article. Currently, it is unknown whether those kinds of unanticipated effects occur more or less frequently in GE than conventional foods (where the latter currently do not require any testing), and there need to be studies to examine that.

In addition, most scientists agree that long term testing of the protein that the GE gene produces is not always necessary. In particular, in cases where the protein is readily broken down in the stomach, the possibility that the protein will be toxic, short or long term, is extremely unlikely (because it never reaches the intestines where it could be absorbed to do possible harm).

The digestive stability of current GE foods has been tested, and all have been found to be unstable except for StarLink, which was removed for commercial production.

In general, GE technology is in a very early stage of development, similar to computers 20 years ago. Whether they are developed for the general good of society or cause more harm than good will largely depend on making sure they are well regulated, and increasing the amount of independent research looking at risks and determining the most productive uses of the technology (i.e. using it to help with really important social problems).

Right now, there is too much control of the technology by large corporations and not enough independent government research, as well as inadequate regulations, and all of these things need to change. However, while GE is no panacea, with increasing world population, we need all of the tools we can get to make sure that food is abundant, inexpensive, and causes minimal environmental harm. That is why we believe that GE should be carefully developed.

Doug Gurian-Sherman Co-Director, Biotechnology Project

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