G.E. or g.e.

Herd About It?

by Ana Grarian

In NY State there are two super-fund sites related to General Electric (G.E.) One on the Hudson River and another at the northern end of Cayuga Lake near Auburn, NY. One involves massive pollution of the Hudson River from industrial effluent that was pumped directly into the river and has been found to be still leaking from old storage caches. The other is from a smaller facility in Auburn NY that contaminated ground water sending an underground plume that contaminated private and municipal wells in neighboring communities.

I just read an essay by Michael Pollan on a genetically engineered (ge) potato. The potato has been engineered to produce an insecticide, a bacterial toxin called Bt. Are we surprised to hear this is a project of Monsanto?

What I find most appalling about this is that we are not allowed to know what potatoes or potato products we may buy contain this insecticide, and the manipulations Monsanto has gone through to make sure their product is not under the scrutiny of various government agencies that we assume are there to protect the public.

For instance. The Bt potato itself has been classified as a pesticide. Yes – that french fry you are eating has been made from insecticide. This eliminated the product being tested by the FDA because it contained a food additive, and being labeled as such. Even though the FDA generally leaves it up to the company to decide if the additive is generally regarded as safe (GRAS). {Hey – US gov’t – can I start doing my own car inspections?}

Now the EPA does have jurisdiction. The EPA normally sets and tests for a level of pesticide that is safe for human consumption. But in this case since potatoes are safe, and the Bt pesticide in use has been determined to be safe to use, therefore the Bt potato must be safe (right)? But the Bt pesticide you can buy to use in your garden carries a lengthy safety label. The potato is not and can not be labeled as containing Bt. Why? The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act bars the F.D.A. from including any information about pesticides on its food labels.

I may be naive, but I don’t think that in either case GE decided to purposely contaminate water to kill or injure people. Monsanto most likely is not intent on making consumers sick. But can’t we learn from past experience? Haven’t we found that the things we do, the chemicals we make often have unexpected consequences? Once a problem is found corporations have tended to hide or dismiss the evidence, but we’re going to let them self regulate? What happens if we find this insecticide tends to accumulate in kidneys, or liver or the brain?

There is more to say about this but right now I need to go shopping – for potatoes – hopefully they won’t be insecticides.