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Pandora’s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods

by Alan McHughen

Raise the subject of genetically modified foods and you may hear horror stories about tomatoes with eternal life, lettuce made from pig genes, and fish that can do everything but coat themselves with flavoured breadcrumbs en route from the pond to the plate. Has it really come to this? Must we fear our food?

Not according to Alan McHughen, a professor in the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture. In this balanced, rational, and extensive guide, McHughen makes a convincing argument that genetically modified foods are neither different from nor more threatening than what humans have been ingesting for thousands of years. As he points out, in the last few years alone, newspapers have reported stories of people who died after eating food contaminated with such naturally occurring organisms as E. coli – yet no one has died from eating genetically modified food.

At times it may seem that McHughen dismisses concerns about contamination. But he doesn’t really; he just provides a rational argument that all foods are contaminated, no matter what their genetic background. Between cross-pollination and natural selection, plants have been mutating on their own since long before we learned to isolate their genes. And scientists have long been cross-breeding in their labs, so we’ve actually been consuming mutated foods for years.

This isn’t the right book for someone looking for a brief and simple introduction to the issue – often dense and dry, Pandora’s Picnic Basket is not exactly light reading. But that’s largely because it doesn’t stint on content. The book is stuffed with useful information, and McHughen has a gift for making complicated concepts comprehensible. His book is the full-meal deal.