Are gen. mod. foods more risky than a newly discovered natural edible?

There’s lots of people concerned about the unknown effects of genetically modified food, but I wonder, is a genetically modified crop any more dangerous than a newly discovered natural edible?

For example, suppose a vegetable or nut is found, say in a rainforest or something, that as far as one knows hasn’t been a food source for any people.

It’s determined that the food doesn’t cause any immediate bad effects, like sickness or diarrhea (or death). At this point, would you consider this food more or less of a health risk than GM corn or rice?

Wow! interesting point. I’ve never felt outraged or threatened by GMO foods. I have nothing really to add but i’d definitely love to see if someone could defend an affirmative to that question.

"is a genetically modified crop any more dangerous than a newly discovered natural edible? "
A yes answer could be defended on the basis of the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” In other words, people will not have their guard up over a new super-cantelope, while they might cast a leery eye at a funny star shaped fruit that they’ve never seen before. If it turns out that there’s something wrong with the cantelope or the star-fruit, more people will be harmed by the cantelope.
The Tryptophan incident, bears out this scenario of presumed safety in genetically modified foods.

(Yes, the link’s to a natural law party website, and they probably have an axe to grind, but still, it gives a pretty good summary of the facts of the matter)

But, on the other hand, we’ve been genetically modifying foods for years, doing it the slow way. As I understand it, when Europeans first came to the Americas, tomatoes were a lot closer to tomatillos. Growers bred for characteristics such as size and shape (and tastlessness?;)) to get the tomatoes we have today. By only allowing the genes of certain plants to continue, doesn’t that qualify as genetic modification?

CJ

Sure, in the same way as a candle and a laser are both light sources. Causing a plant or animal to specifically overproduce a single protein, or other chemical, places stresses on metabolism that are not necessarily matched by a process that combines portions of two metabolically competent progenitors.

I don’t see how a “Tryptophan incident” isn’t as likely in a newly discovered food. Why would a toxin be more likely to occur in GM? Nature is full of naturally occuring poisons.

Besides, I don’t think anybody nowadays is saying a GM food shouldn’t be tested. They bypassed the testing phase in the Tryptophan incident, which I should think (or hope) wouldn’t happen today.

Testing is the key word here. I personally am more accepting of food marked as GM than I am of food that have been bred the old fashioned way.
A GM crop that has been modified (as an example) to be more resistant to bugs or disease gets tested thoroughly before being certified for consumption (or even planting.) On top of this, the people doing the modification have at least some idea of why the plants are more resistant to bugs. They must first determine what improvement to bring about, and how to do it before they can start modifying genes. They will know before hand, for example, if the plants a more resistant to bugs because they are producing a pesticide. Think of the controversy about the GM corn (Starlight, I think) and the Monarch butterflies. It was known before the corn was even planted for the first time that it was producing a pesticide, and that it could be detrimental to the butterflies.
If you are breeding plants the old fashioned way, you simply watch for plants with the desired characteristic and plant more of them from the seeds you get from those plants. You don’t know why the plants are more resistant to bugs, just that they are. How do you know that the plant isn’t producing a pesticide that is also harmful to people? You don’t know, and you don’t have to prove it, and you don’t have to test it. You just go out and sell your bug resistant corn. Oh, well. I guess that would be fine, though. The pesticide produced by the plants is natural, and by definition safe.:rolleyes:

(It’s Starlink corn)

I could wave my hands about and spew forth something about more toxins being produced under stressful conditions, but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. I only brought up tryptophan as a case to show that genetic modifications really can and do have unintended consequences. A new foodstuff might be just as likely to poison people, but it’s not nearly as likely to slip unnoticed into millions of taco shells nationwide as did Starlink corn. In that particular case, no harm was done, but that’s no thanks to the vigilance of the Starlink people, the farmers, or the food handlers. Had it been toxic, thousands could have been made ill.
That said, I went out specifically looking for Taco Bell brand taco shells at the time. Figured the mutant genes might add a little extra zip :smiley:

Thanks, Squink.

It’s the reverse transcription polymerase that gives it that sweet zing!

I have no problem with GMO food as long as it has been tested to be safe. Just treat it like any other new food and test it out. I DO have a problem with companies suing farmers because the companies corn pollen is pollenating the farmers crop, but that is another thread.

Sorry Squink, but The Tryptophan Incident is red herring that has more to do with manufacturing and quality control than the inherent evils of GMOs. The Tryptophan incident arose because the nutritional supplements industry are not bound by the strict regulations that, say, the pharmaceutical industry must conform to. Said regulations, protocols and SOPs (standard operating procedures) would have flagged the “toxins” (a less inflamatory and more appropriate term would be “by product,” or “contaminant”) long before the final product got to supermarket shelves.

I am a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences, and while I intellectually believe that there is little to fear from GMOs, I still have my doubts.

However, one should not assume that something that is “organic” is inherently safe, either. As a counterpoint, (ok…I cannot provide a cite, and a down and dirty google search of “New Zealand cucumber Organic” came up dry, but I swear )I remember reading a thread on sci.chem about New Zealand organic farmers who were growing a crop of cucumbers. There was a problem with heavy insect infestation that year, and because no insecticides were applied, the cucumbers did what they were naturally programmed to do…they started cranking out phytochemicals which act as natural insecticides. Unfortunately, consumers of these non-GMO, organic produce became ill after ingesting these “toxins.”

I swear I will track this down and provide a cite.

In what way is it a red herring? You take an organism, modify it to produce large amounts of a foodstuff, and that modification also causes a toxin to co-purify with the foodstuff. SOPs and QC and GLP and cGMP and ISO-9000 etc. would only have caught it if the people who wrote the protocols were already aware of the potential problem, or had placed what would likely be economically suicidal purity requirements on the manufacturing process.
Besides, I didn’t use it as an example of “the inherent evils of GMOs”, I used it to show that familiar food products, produced in a new way, slip into the food supply more readily than entirely new food items.

If a chemical kills people, it’s perfectly reasonable to call it a toxin. I’m sorry that you find the word overly harsh. I’m sure the people who died from eating the stuff also would have preferred a gentler fate.

I love GMOs. They’ve saved me money on fuel, pesticide, and increased the profitability of farming soybeans and cotton. Of course the price of cotton was so low last year that I wasn’t able to make a profit off of it. Another advantage is that I was able to employ low tillage methods which helps conserve topsoil.

I will concede that there are valid concerns over GMO foods and crops. Unfortunately most of the concerns I’ve heard voiced have been based on irrational fears by people who don’t understand farming.

Marc

Unfortunately, most Americans feel the same way as you: “There is a definite possibility that GMO foods could be a problem, but as long as they’re saving me money right now, I’m prepared to look the other way.”

I wonder if people who are all for GMO foods, if given the change, would defend genetic manipulation of human embryos? It’s essentailly the same thing, and if more people made that connection, I’m sure that they would start paying more attention to the GMO debate.

-TGD

Imagine that, most Americans aren’t afraid of science and progress. Woo hoo! I hear there were some people who thought that tractors were a bad idea. After all horses were good enough for centuries. I wonder if anyone got upset over steel plows replacing iron ones. After all iron plows were all the rage for centuries. Or what about pesticides? We lived with the ravages of insects for thousands of years so why would we need to kill bugs all of the sudden.

Bah! If it was good enough for my grandfather it was good enough for me. We don’t need no stinking progress.

Marc

Genetically modification of plants and genetic modification of people are not comparable.
After a plant has been modified, it is tested for safety and to see if the intended modification was successful. If either condition is not met, the modified plant is destroyed and a new attempt is made.
If you modify a person’s DNA, and the child you get is somehow defective, you cannot simply destroy it.
Saying that genetic modification of plants and humans are essentially the same thing is true. You still can’t compare humans and plants, though.
When was the last time you saw a farmer driving a combine through the fields harvesting humans?

Genetic modification of plants and genetic modification of people are not comparable.
After a plant has been modified, it is tested for safety and to see if the intended modification was successful. If either condition is not met, the modified plant is destroyed and a new attempt is made.
If you modify a person’s DNA, and the child you get is somehow defective, you cannot simply destroy it.
Saying that genetic modification of plants and humans are essentially the same thing is true. You still can’t compare humans and plants, though.
When was the last time you saw a farmer driving a combine through the fields harvesting humans?

I can’t imagine that it’s news to anyone that plants aren’t the only form of life that can be genetically manipulated. And I honestly don’t get why having this perspective would make anyone more irrationally fearful of GM foods – the hysteria level is already pretty damned high.

And, to answer the hijack: I don’t see anything wrong with reasonable manipulation of the human genome. If, for example, my spouse and have a bad gene between us (for, say, childhood diabetes) that we could avoid passing on to our offspring through genetic manipulation, why would doing so be a bad thing? Obviously there is a potential for abuse in many ways, but there is much potential for good as well.
[/hijack]

Well, if we raise the alarms everytime somebody does something stupid, we should ban life, since it has a 100% probablility of resulting in death…

To get rid of genetically inheritete diseases? You’d bet i’d gen-mod my kids!!! I’m not gonna make them grand aryan specimens or fish people, and neither will any sensible person. (granted, there are a lot of morons out their with test tubes, but they are gonna make trouble anyway, so stop lumping them into the “science is evil” category)