Prolonging the EU Biotech Dance


I look forward to a time when EU decisions regarding biotech foods are everyday events rather than headline news. Apparently, that time is not quite here.

After five years of delay, deferment, duplicity, along with postponement and procrastination, the European Union, at long last on December 8, took a vote on the approval of a new biotech crop. Guess what – no surprises – the 3 “D’s” and the 2 “P’s” won once again. A committee of experts, by a 6 to 6 vote with three abstentions, left it hanging.

For the record, that’s closer than usual to approval. But, that tie vote sends the controversy directly to the EU’s Farm Ministers for a political vote within 90 days. And who knows, they may decide to their own version of the “3 D’s and 2 P’s dance”.

The crop in question is a biotech enhanced sweet corn that fends off pests and resists herbicides. All the science-based testing and retesting that’s been done shows it to be safe.

Ironically, this decision to delay follows a separate decision a few days earlier in which an EU food-safety panel determined that a type of biotech field corn is “as safe as conventional maize.” Science and reason are on our side. There isn’t a scrap of evidence suggesting that genetically enhanced food is anything but perfectly safe to eat.

I’ve been saying that for years, and I fully expect to keep on saying it. The evidence keeps pouring in.

My favorite recent example concerns the case of a fellow named Keith A. Finger. Three years ago, he was one of the dozen or so voices denouncing StarLink because he claimed an allergic reaction. Starlink was a biotech enhanced corn that had found its way into taco shells. It had not yet been cleared for human consumption although approval had been granted for non-food uses.

The enemies of biotechnology seized upon this incident with a ruthless passion. They attempted to turn the incident into a major public-relations fiasco for biologically enhanced foods. They didn’t succeed, though they did land a few good blows with their fundamentally bogus claims and it affected corn exports for a little while.

One of their leading allegations was that biotech crops could trigger allergic reactions in some people. Of course, there was no actual confirmation of this ever occurring. In fact, just the opposite is happening. Science is getting ever closer to eliminating food allergens by using biotechnology.

Yet a handful of complainers insisted that they were victims and sued the maker of StarLink. Today, however, we have smoking-gun proof that StarLink didn’t cause so much as a sneeze.

According to a report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Keith Finger is not allergic to StarLink corn.

I’ll give the guy credit for agreeing to be tested at a hospital in Cincinnati. Over the course of several days, he was fed StarLink corn, another kind of corn, and a placebo. Neither the doctors nor their patient knew which food came on which day. Finger was thoroughly examined for signs of an allergic reaction–and none was found.

Finger certainly believed he was allergic. He just happened to be totally wrong. Now he owes everybody an apology for raising such a stink over nothing. Of course, I haven’t heard him make one. In fact, he continues to insist that he’s allergic to StarLink.

It only goes to show that some people refuse to be convinced of certain things. It’s very hard to persuade the unpersuadeable. Changing their minds would require them to renounce firmly but wrongly held beliefs. That’s a tough thing to do–but sometimes it simply must be done, such as when evidence demonstrated beyond all doubt that the Earth wasn’t flat and the planets revolved around the Sun.

I think Europe may be going through this difficult mental process right now. The continent is waking up to the realization that it ought to reject its know-nothing posture of the last several years, but it hasn’t really embraced this idea as fully as it must.

This will take time–and probably more time than it should. But at least it would be a start. As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Dean Kleckner

Dean Kleckner

Deceased (1932-2015)

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