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Unnatural Harvest: How Corporate Science Is Secretly Altering Our Food

by Ingeborg Boyens

Given the lack of North American news coverage about food production, one could be excused for imagining that genetically engineered food is still science fiction, or that it is subject to strict controls and safeguards, or that it is benefiting starving millions in famine-stricken countries.

But as Ingeborg Boyens, a documentary producer on food issues for Country Canada, shows, Canada and the U.S. have plunged recklessly into the development and use of genetically altered plants and animals.

Boyens’ focus is not so much the science of genetic engineering, but the ethical, practical, and social ramifications of biotechnology, here and in Europe, where governmental restrictions in a post-Mad Cow world have been strict. Public reaction in Europe has included blockades of biotech soybeans and sabotage of test crops.

In Canada and the U.S., however, which boast the developed world’s lowest food prices, there has been almost no public dialogue on the ethics of biotechnology. Governmental agencies require no testing or labelling of genetically altered foodstuffs, and let the developers police themselves. Not surprisingly, the development of biotech, or “novel,” food is thriving here.

Currently, about 60% of all manufactured food products, including canola, potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans, and derivatives like soy lecithin, contain some genetically modified content. And there is evidence that such foods can be harmful. Boyens notes that there have been 37 deaths linked to L-Tryptophan supplements sold in the U.S. in the late 1980s; the substance also left 1,535 people permanently disabled. The manufacturer destroyed all evidence, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration kept the biotech angle quiet as long as it could.

This is an important book for anyone who cares about what they eat and the future of the planet.