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.