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Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone
Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone
Mark L. Winston
Harvard University Press, 2002
288 pp., $44.50

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by Eric Miller


How we've gone from raising crops to worrying about them.

Does the thought of eating cloned pork turn your stomach?Do you find yourself steering clear of "farmed" salmon?Is "organic" an ever-more appealing adjective?

You're not alone. Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, a reliable barometer of matters political and cultural, catches the mood: in an age when "storybook children who used to visit grandparents on their farms now visit them at golf course condos," she writes, "freedom from the farm is starting to feel like disconnection. … We've gone from raising crops to worrying about them."

It's a worry that seems altogether rational. "Industrial fishing practices have decimated every one of the world's biggest and most economically important species of fish," reports the Washington Post's Rick Weiss. The Scripps Howard News Service warns that due to the heavy use of pesticides consumers should "thoroughly wash produce" and "peel fruits and vegetables like cucumbers and apples whenever possible." Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report warning about the dangers of genetically modified organisms and calling for more effective "bioconfinement strategies." A study issued in February by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that crops of maize, soybeans, and canola have been "pervasively contaminated with DNA sequences from GM [genetically modified] varieties." A U.S. Department of Agriculture study discovered that "60 percent of the 35 major beef slaughtering and processing plants fail to meet federal standards for preventing E. coli," leading annually to an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths. Speaking of beef, how many Mad Cows are being "processed" at this moment?

To be sure, in terms of food production the 20th century figures as the most remarkable in history, when the triune juggernaut of science, government, and commerce carried agronomic expertise and abundant grain to hungry people everywhere. Experts judge that world famine was averted due to these ...

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