Gene regulation hard to swallow

Sounding like an Arnie-style cyborg heavy, the gene technology regulator is potentially more scary, more real, and far more our problem than any wired-up Hollywood freak.

Announced quietly last week, the GTR is the Federal government’s regulatory attempt to appease the concerns of many scientists, doctors, farmers, fisherfolk and other food eaters about genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

GMOs, or gene foods, can include those with enhancing additives like GM rice with extra vitamin A, or processed foods containing GMOs such as GM grains in packaged cereals, or whole foods greatly modified by gene technology such as GM tomatoes – which are a startling blend of animal and vegetable genes – so much for switching to vegetarianism.

The immediate reality is that eating gene food could change DNA, the most basic structure of the human body, in ways even sci-fi freaks have not imagined.

Experts admit they do not yet understand all the consequences of gene food on the human genetic code, on us now or on our children and children’s children.

Gene technology in itself is not evil, any more than nuclear fission is evil; how it is used determines its good or evil outcomes.

This is the growing fear from ordinary people, particularly in Europe and Japan, where comprehensive bans on gene foods are occurring – that our governments and bureaucrats might roll over for the biotech industry which stands to gain megabucks through gene foods.

With a growing distrust of government and their short-term profit-oriented decision making, some Australians viewed with cynicism the announcement that the GTR would ensure only safe uses of gene technology would be permitted in our clean and green land. You can almost hear the “trust us” phrase sliding off the lips of the GTR bureaucrats.

The fears are sharply focussed on the labeling of food – do we have the right to know if the food we are eating contains GMOs?

The GTR seems say: “only sometimes – not when the GMO is either a small proportion of the food, or the GMO additive is only one of many additives in the food”.

Does this mean, to use an unfair and highly emotional example because this is a very very serious issue, that it is okay to sell boxes of cereal with only a small number or proportion

of ingredients that could cause malformed foetuses or leukemia and not tell us on the packet?

The Feds also praise the GTR as a one stop shop for regulating gene technology. In a climate of public distrust and lack of faith in fair or open government, establishing one all-powerful government agency increases the fear that short-term decisions will prevail.

Sometimes a temporary halt to progress is preferable to bad progress.

l Ann Macbeth is a futurist and principal of Annimac Consultants.

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