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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Food fright food fight

There was a standoff in Chicago when activists worried about genetically altered foods went face-to-face with spokespeople for the industries who produce them at the first round of U.S. Food and Drug Administration hearings. At issue is whether the government should regulate biotech foods differently from conventional foods.

What's happening now is nothing new, proponents claim. Protesters say health studies haven't been done on the techniques that genetically alter foods. Yet consumers have no way of knowing whether the soft drinks they slurp down and the cheeseburgers they bite into are genetically altered.

It's a big deal: U.S. crops engineered to be resistant to herbicides or insect pests add up to two-thirds of the soybeans and one-third of the corn grown last year.

But is it dangerous? Sandra LaBlanc, ELCA director for rural ministry, thinks so. People who want to know more can call her at (800) 638-3522, Ext. 6556, or E-mail to sandra.lablanc@elca.org.

"What's different now," she says, "is we're selecting out genes from one organism — including viruses and bacteria — and artificially introducing them into different organisms."

Many farmers like the economy of using Roundup Ready soybeans because the gene introduced into the seed protects the plant from herbicides. Problem 1: "We don't know the effect of ingesting the soybeans with this artificial gene," LaBlanc says. But now there's Problem 2: "The European Union won't buy Roundup Ready soybeans, so in 1999 Archer Daniels Midland (a food ingredient supplier) refused to accept them, and farmers have had all their crops turned away at the elevators."

But most of all LaBlanc sees the issue through the lens of faith. "We're manipulating God's creation, using it as a lab," she says. "Isn't that Martin Luther's understanding of original sin: the desire to be like God? And we don't have a clue about what will happen."


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September issue

SEPTEMBER issue:

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