Today's topics in Agbioview:
* A Texas-Sized Herd of Monarchs
* Commentary: Mandatory Labeling of GMOs
A Texas-Sized Herd of Monarchs
September 24, 2001
Authorities in Texas, through which the monarch butterfly migration makes its way every year, say they expect three to six times more of the butterflies than usual. If they are on the mark, it would be a spectacular number indeed. It would also be good news after what appears to have been an overblown panic over the reported effect of biotech corn on the monarch.
That would amount to 150 million to 300 million of the fluttering orange-and-black beauties, enough to draw the attention of even the most unaware Texan. They usually migrate through that state in late September or early October on the way to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.
Monarchs are the only butterflies that migrate, a mystery through and through. A butterfly seen heading south this month isn't the butterfly that will reach Mexico - this butterfly dies, that one is hatched en route. And the same happens on the migration north. The mystery is: How do insects pass on, from generation to generation, the knowledge of where to go in Mexico, when no one butterfly ever makes the entire trip?
They don't carry maps, that's for sure. Nor do they use the Global Positioning System. It's one of those minor miracles of nature that the human animal hasn't yet figured out.
Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the sight. Not everyone is privileged to see the migration, with its clouds and swirls and streams of flittery, fantastic wings. But anyone can sit still for a while in the back yard, the park or the countryside, and see one, single, perfect monarch. And that's a spectacle in itself.
Commentary: Mandatory Labeling of GMOs
September 26, 2001
Rapid advances in genetic engineering technology have enabled us to give birth
to innovative creations with desired or predetermined characteristics by
altering their genetic structures. Perhaps the most common commercial
application of genetic engineering is in the production of "supercrops," which
are not only are highly resistant to pests and diseases, but also yield
significantly larger harvests compared to conventional crops. In fact, the
United States currently produces about 50 percent of its soybeans and 25
percent of its corn using this new technology. Such genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) also account for an increasing proportion of the Korean
people's diet. The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB) estimates that 25-40
percent of all imported soybeans and corn is genetically altered. Genetic
engineers and their proponents insist that GMOs can and are making numerous
significant contributions to mankind. They proclaim that GMOs may be able to
solve the world's food shortage problem since higher volumes of food crops can
be produced with less land and lower costs. On the other hand, many civic
organizations and environmental groups are warning that GMOs threaten to
disrupt the entire global ecosystem and have many negative side effects on
human health since potentially harmful substances may unexpectedly appear in
the course of genetic engineering.
Even among different countries, lines have been drawn between advocates and
opponents of GMOs. Major producers and exporters of genetically engineered
products such as the United States have relatively lax regulations on these
types of crops, allowing foodstuffs with GMO substances to be sold without any
special labeling. The U.S.F.D.A. has concluded that products that contain GMOs
are no different from their conventional counterparts. Many other countries,
however, are moving to limit the import of genetically engineered crops, citing
their possible environmental and health risks. The European Union, for example,
passed a set of regulations in 1997 that requires special labeling for
genetically engineered soybean and corn products.
In Korea, regulations concerning GMOs have been legislated only recently. The
Korean government has announced that genetically modified agricultural products
such as soybeans, corn, and bean sprouts, as well as processed foods containing
GMOs like crackers and tofu, must carry labels indicating so. Such mandatory
labeling of GMOs went into effect this July and those who violate the
regulation are now subject to a fine of up to 10 million won.
Foreign-invested companies in Korea that import soybeans, corn, and bean
sprouts seem to be perplexed by the Korean government's new policy. At present,
the biggest problem with the GMO product market in Korea is that the Korea Food
& Drug Administration (KFDA) as well as the nation's test laboratories lack the
required technology to accurately inspect such GMO products and, hence, are
unable to issue certification. Nonetheless, the government now requires proper
labeling of genetically engineered products. Moreover, those importing
agricultural products must show whether or not their goods contain GMOs, and
are thus forced to obtain the appropriate certificates issued by relevant
authorities abroad. As the importers are now required to properly label every
shipment of corn, soybeans and bean sprouts, they are faced with a tremendous
time and cost burden.
Furthermore, as such certificates issued from abroad are widely admitted
without being adequately scrutinized by the Korean authorities, there is a
mounting debate over the credibility of the testing results. Of course, the
importing companies would like for the labeling of GMO products to be only a
recommended measure rather than a requirement. If proper labeling does remain
mandatory, they are hoping for an extension of the probationary period so that
the necessary in-house measures may be implemented to ensure timely receipt of
certification and thus protect their bottom lines from sinking.
So far, there is no hard evidence that GMO products are indeed harmful. But at
the same time, no proof exists that these products are safe to ingest. As a
result, the debate on whether the GMO product labeling system is warranted or
not continues to be rather ambiguous. In any event, the government must make an
immediate effort to establish a proper labeling system. In particular, the most
urgent task is the creation of its own GMO testing system in order to quell the
controversy surrounding the existing authentication procedure. Moreover, the
government must also devise appropriate measures in response to GMO-producing
countries' claims that mandatory labeling of imported agricultural products is
a non-tariff barrier since it may induce the use of non-GMO products while
obstructing the export of GMOs to Korea.