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The Biotech Debate

June 04, 1992|DANIEL P. PUZO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FDA's Flamm said the agency is still reviewing the status of APH. He said that kanamycin is a rarely used antibiotic and that neomycin is not a concern because it is used mostly as a topical agent for cuts and is not ingested. However, the Environmental Defense Fund has petitioned FDA to treat APH like a food additive and require that it undergo animal testing and other safety reviews.

"This (Calgene) process makes plants that produce an enzyme that inactivates kanamycin and other antibiotics," said Goldburg. "People receive these antibiotics for good medical reasons."

Calgene's Wagster does not anticipate any problems with APH.

"We have demonstrated with safety data that the kanamycin select marker posed no health risk of any kind," he said. "It is just another protein and when consumed is broken down in the gut like any other nutrient."

Another critic of biotechnology, Joan Gussow, professor of nutrition and education, Teachers College, Columbia University, said the process may initially yield beneficial results but that there are still some important uncertainties.

"In a culinary sense, biotechnology may actually make something taste better because we will have things like real vanilla grown in a test tube," she said. "And biotechnology may actually make tomatoes that are so durable they they sit around and never get old.

"But biotechnology is also being developed and promoted to make money," she said.

Gussow claims that in order for agriculture biotechnology to be economically viable it must develop patented seeds or plants that cannot be duplicated by any other means. As a result, farmers will become dependent upon the companies that market seeds for the genetically designed crops.

"These companies want to sell (seeds or plants to growers) every year and sell as much as possible and put the special genes into as many crops as possible," Gussow said. "It is dangerous and is now in the hands of people who have not shown much ecological wisdom or concern."

Similar environmental concerns were expressed by Wes Jackson, founder and president of the Land Institute in Salina, KA.

"I want to know what the assumptions are of the biotech people that allows them to believe that an ozone hole equivalent isn't in the cards in the aftermath of all this genetic manipulation," he said. "These guys are operating as if we have repealed Murphy's law and I don't believe we have repealed it."

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