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Optimism Called Real Risk with 'Frankenfood'

Stanislaus DundonPollyanna has entered the “frankenfood” debate. And a Sac State researcher worries Pollyanna is winning—potentially at the risk of our health.

Philosophy professor Stanislaus Dundon says the biggest danger posed by genetically engineered foods may be “irrational exuberance” on the part of its supporters. The veteran educator on ethical issues fears the unbridled push toward genetic engineering is drowning out discussion of risks.

Dundon has carried out extensive interviews with researchers on both sides of the issue as well as industry representatives. He has testified before the California Legislature about genetically engineered foods. He was also interviewed by National Public Radio and spoke to the American Chemical Association on the topic.

“The enthusiasm has gotten to the point you can only say positive things to avoid looking hostile,” he says. “There is a tendency to not want to be seen as an activist.” Dundon says he is often labeled “anti” genetic engineering because of his calls for caution.

That characterization is cause for concern, he says. “If we have publicly funded universities in favor of genetic engineering without critical voices, we will be in major trouble.”

Part of the problem lies in with the federal government, Dundon says. The FDA promotes the principle of ‘substan- tial equivalence,’ which says genetic engineering is essentially the same as standard breeding. “Even though,” Dundon says, “it’s easy to imagine a scenario where the manipulation of the genes may make the product hazardous to humans.”

Dundon says the risks are not a deep secret. “The concern is that if something bad happens with the bioengineered food, what happens next? What is the responsibility? This is something they’re trying to feed us.”

He says universities should have independent institutes conduct risk/benefit analysis on genetically engineered food products.



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