Hippocrates Reloaded

“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food.” Hippocrates offered that wisdom over two thousand years ago. Tried and tested though it is, it’s an old maxim and one with which the public is perhaps too familiar. Luckily, the good people in the life sciences have decided that to reboot the Hippocratic franchise, with new characters and better marketing.

Specifically, the genetically modified crop industry is rolling out the next generation of products. Bruised by (accurate) criticism that its first generation of crops were a trick to update its pesticide sales line, the new generation of crops now have added consumer-friendly traits, like extra vitamins, fatty acids (omega 3s) and amino acids. So what’s the problem with these Nutritionally Enhanced Plants? Well, that’s the problem. We’ll never know.

Although the government can require testing of food additives, and the testing of substantially modified GM crops, minor tinkering with plant genes manages to limbo underneath the (very high) regulatory bar. Alright, maybe not limbo. Stroll. Stroll under the regulatory bar. As David Schubert at the Salk Institute points out,

To date, the FDA has not disallowed a single favorable biotech industry safety determination in over 100 completed applications.

But there’s reason to think that Nutritionally Enhanced Plants deserve scrutiny, and the application of the precautionary principle. See his paper in the Journal of Medicinal Food, and then
1. boggle at the idea that such a journal exists
2. hope that, although the precautionary principle foundered with the first round of genetically modified crops, it might prevail with Nutritionally Enhanced Plants and
3. wonder whether that thundery sound is the laughter of the gods.

One Reply to “Hippocrates Reloaded”

  1. http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/emerging-biotechnologies

    See above link regarding Nuffield Council on Bioethics emerging technologies consultation (deadline 15 June). The Council need to know that the public are fully aware that adequate safety measures are not in place with regard to GM crops, especially in the US. Hopefully if enough people make a fuss then there will be less and hopefully no investment in unsafe and unethical technologies.

    The precautionary principle is discussed in the consultation paper.

    “Emerging biotechnologies such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology have the potential to provide benefits for health, the environment and the economy, but they also raise concerns.

    This Working Party is considering the common ethical issues raised by such technologies, both past and present, and the implications for policy, governance and public engagement.”

    Not so sure the Nuffield Council are right in what they say above – what are the benefits of these new technologies? The Nuffield Council appear to promote the idea that the public need informing – I think it is the other way round. In any event I think the consultation is a genuine attempt to get some important and vital feedback.

    Regulation – William Engdahl has some interesting things to say about deregulation in his book Seeds of Destruction.

    More on deregulation:
    “On May 26, 1992, George Bush’s Vice-President, Dan Quayle, proclaimed the Bush administration’s new policy on bioengineered food. “The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors and farmers,” Mr. Quayle told a crowd of executives and reporters in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. “We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation.””

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