In August of 2006, then Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced that the U.S. commercial rice supply had been tainted with an experimental, genetically modified variety unapproved for human consumption. The experimental rice supposedly posed no threat to human health, according to both the USDA and Bayer CropScience, the company that created it. However, the European Union subsequently banned imports of American rice, a move that drastically affected the domestic market. Now, 14 months later, in absence of any evidence one way or another as to how this contamination occurred, Bayer CropScience has been cleared from any governmental enforcement action, and the investigation has officially been closed.
Anti-GMO folks are predictably up in arms. From yesterday's Washington Post:
Critics assailed the report as yet more evidence that the nation's regulatory system for gene-altered crops is broken.
"This underlines the anxiety people have about more such incidents occurring," said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based advocacy group that has called for a more rigorous approval process for biotech crops. "After all this investigation, there is no reason to think there are not more of these genes out there just waiting to be discovered."
The main problem here isn't necessarily the dangers of GMOs themselves, but the lack of governmental regulation of the industry. Some GMOs are probably perfectly safe, while others are likely not. But without a system of testing and labeling in place, dangerous outcomes like the one above are sure to continue. A few years ago the documentary The Future of Food detailed many of the issues involved (from a decidedly anti-GMO angle). Earlier this year the FDA ruled that meat from cloned animals is fit for human consumption.
Where do you stand on genetically modified foods? Evil act of corporate hubris, or revolutionary scientific breakthrough with the potential to help feed untold numbers of hungry people?