(Genetically Modified) Food for Health

(Genetically Modified) Food for Health

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted July 18, 2007 in Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms

Favorite foods are featured at this week’s medical blog carnival Grand Rounds, Volume 3, Number 43 hosted by vitum medicinus. (My favorite food, in case you’re interested, is hamburger.)

Speaking of food, AgBioWorld experts have assumed the helm of GMO Food for Thought. Lead blogger and AgBioWorld founder, Dr. CS Prakash, is a figure of controversy for his strong support of genetically modified organisms and agricultural biotechnology. GM Watch claims that Dr. Prakash has spread misinformation and hidden affiliations; one of the strangest incidents:

AgBioWorld’s press releases have often aroused controversy. In one instance, a press release issued by Prakash and Conko appeared to imply anti-GM activists had killed 10,000 people in the Indian state of Orissa through their opposition to GM contamination of food aid, when, in fact, those who died were victims of a cyclone. Although the Indian trade and policy analyst Devinder Sharma publicly remonstrated with Prakash over ‘the obviously fabricated and mischievous’ implications of his press release, no attempt was made to correct the impression it created. (GM food and Orissa – the real story)

I don’t know what’s real and what’s not here but I must profess to being biased towards GM foods rather than against.

In March of this year, the Department of Agriculture approved the planting of GM rice in Kansas by Ventria Bioscience. The rice would be genetically engineered to produce lactoferrin and lysozyme that are used in the treatment of diarrhea, dehydration, and other related illnesses, which disproportionately affect children.

rice fieldRegardless of the contributions GM rice could make to improving public health, there are still concerns. Objections were raised regarding crossbreeding between natural strains of rice and GM rice although there are currently no commercial rice crops in Kansas. However, within the rice genus Oryza, there are two cultivated and 22 wild species of wild rice. Is it possible for GM rice to crossbreed with a different species? And what would happen if they did?

Maybe nothing. Maybe something. No one knows. FYI, there are an estimated 1.6 to 2.4 million deaths from diarrhea each year. GM rice may be used to save some of these people now but the rice may end up harming their descendents’ future. It’s an ethics call I’m glad I don’t have to make.

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Comment by ramunas

well, i generally don’t support idea of growing GM plants in an open-field – one side is crossbreeding and other more social implication – an impact on organic farmers (which i support very much). If we cross transspecies barriers it’s better to cultivate these organisms under controlled environment, eg in bio-reactors – which is really great. Have you heard about “smart breeding”? http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001097.html
I think its better application of GE tools inside one species barrier.

Comment by Hsien

Smart breeding sounds like traditional cross breeding but with specific DNA knowledge? Farming is fascinating.

Comment by ramunas

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