The Daily Grist: Feb. 24

GM: Unsafe for Any Seed
Much of U.S. Food Supply Contaminated With Genetically Engineered DNA

Most ordinary crop seeds in the U.S. are contaminated with strands of genetically modified DNA, and unless federal regulations and farm practices are tightened considerably, the entire U.S. food supply will soon contain GM elements, says a report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Currently, the foreign DNA come from organisms ruled safe by federal regulators and occur at low levels. However, the report warns that the trend poses several dangers. If the U.S. supply is widely perceived as thoroughly contaminated, exports to GM-hostile countries (see: most of Europe) could be hurt, as could the burgeoning domestic market for organic food. More worrying, once GM organisms designed for pharmaceutical or industrial products become common, the contamination could pose a more serious health risk. As Margaret Mellon of UCS put it, "No one wants drugs or plastics in our cornflakes." Representatives of the Biotechnology Industry Association said, in so many words, that genetic contamination is inevitable and other countries should get over it.

Bad Crops, Bad Crops, Whatcha Gonna Do?
International Battle Over GM Food Continues

In other genetic modification news, skirmishes over the safety and labeling of GM foods are erupting this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as delegates from around the world convene to discuss the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The U.N. accord, which went into force last September, governs cross-border trade in GM foods, with strict requirements on shipment labeling and legal liability. The U.S., by far the world's largest producer of GM crops, has refused to sign the protocol and has appealed to the World Trade Organization to take action against European countries with extremely restrictive import controls on GM food. U.S. intransigence on labeling was among the targets of a report from Friends of the Earth, which claimed that after 10 years, GM food has not proven safer or cheaper than ordinary crops and has not solved hunger problems even in countries where it is common. Meanwhile, GM opponents were dismayed at the announcement on Monday that China will allow imports of GM crops.

Wham, Bam, Thank You, Dam
Embrey Dam Removal Heralds Larger Trend

The Army Corps of Engineers blew up the Embrey Dam in Fredericksburg, Va., yesterday, allowing the Rappahannock River to flow unmolested from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay for the first time since 1910 -- and making it the longest free-flowing river feeding into the Chesapeake, a renewed migration route for fish that live in the bay but swim upriver to freshwater to spawn. The dam was originally used to generate power, and then to create a drinking-water reservoir, but for the past five years has been essentially useless. The multiyear community movement to remove the dam, led by local environmental groups, is part of a trend that has given some in the Corps a new sense of purpose. "We're not only restoring fish runs, but also restoring the entire habitat" in areas where dams are being removed, said Beverley Getzen, chief of the Office of Environmental Policy at the Corps. Several dams in California are scheduled for demolition in coming years.

For more environmental news and humor visit Grist Magazine

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