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Hot Topics - Biotechnology

Consumer Reports ® says, "Go to the supermarket with Tracy Samuel and you'll see she's an avid label reader. 'I think it's important to know what's in the food we eat,' she says. There she is, checking the sodium content of a can of vegetable soup and scanning a bag of corn chips for the sodium content of a can of vegetable soup and scanning a bag of corn chips for fat and calories. Yet ask her about the revolution occurring in the global food supply--the harvesting of millions of acres of genetically engineered crops--and Samuel draws a blank. She doesn't know that the tortilla chips she just put in her shopping cart may have been made from corn whose genes were manipulated to kill insects." [From "Seeds of change", September 1999].

"Biotech reporting mimics Hollywood rumor mill" - Steve Milloy writes in Investor's Business Daily(Oct. 8), "A few years ago, the mainstream press started reporting what the gossip sheets were saying about celebrities. The "real" press would never stoop to reporting such unsubstantiated allegations themselves, but it became OK to report on what the scandal rags were saying. The same thing is going on with the reporting of biotechnology, a serious scientific topic that deserves serious explanatory journalism. Instead of digging out the facts, the mainstream press is reporting that Europeans are in a panic because of the British tabloids' propensity to stir the pot. Then they cite the same handful of claims, factoids and scientific snippets that appear in the British press. These little myths take on epic status when reporters are unwilling to provide background. Just this week Time, Newsweek and The New York Times recited the litany, following on the heels of Consumer Reports' biased report a week earlier. U.S. News & World Report scooped everyone a few weeks earlier by being the first to click off the unchallenged activist line. Here are the key ingredients for a biotech story written the way today's reporters do it. I've added some balancing information you probably haven't heard."

"Consumer Reports Biotech Bashing Falls Flat" - Michael Fumento writes (Aug. 31), "But like Darth Vader, Consumer Reports embraces the dark side. It repeats false claims about biotech foods, says biotech development doesn't have nearly enough safeguards and recommends mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients... What the public really needs is a label on all the scientifically inaccurate articles and press releases on biotech food. Perhaps something like: "The following piece contains 5 percent half-truths, 10 percent obfuscation and 85 percent rubbish."

"The World Is Still Safe for Butterflies" - Michael Fumento writes in the Wall Street Journal (June 25), "Until now, the U.S. has been relatively immune to the hysteria over bioengineered crops that has swept Europe, where many stores refuse to carry what are popularly called "Frankenfoods." Suddenly, though, the heretofore weak American antibiotech movement has a powerful rallying symbol: the monarch butterfly. It began with a letter to the British science journal Nature describing a study concerning monarch larvae (caterpillars). They had been fed corn pollen that had spliced into it a gene from the insect-killing soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which allows the corn to kill insect predators. About a fourth of the nation's corn crops are Bt-engineered, allowing them to kill pests and obviating the need for insecticide sprays... The study proved little more than that caterpillars force-fed Bt corn pollen may get sick and die. In truth, it's hardly clear that Bt corn poses any danger to the monarch butterfly. Numerous entomologists and botanists I've interviewed say that Mr. Losey's lab conditions were so artificial as to have little in common with those in the great outdoors."

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