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Organic Food May Be More Risky Than Biofoods - Cargill
By Julie Vorman
WASHINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) - While some American consumers are raising
concerns about genetically modified foods, they are ignoring the safety
risks of organically grown corn, soybeans and other grains, the chairman of
Cargill Inc said on Monday.
Cargill, the world' biggest grain exporter, said gene-spliced food is
crucial to feed a fast-growing population in the developing world and that
the debate over the safety of biofoods has been dominated by "anti-science"
activists in wealthy nations.
Organic farming, which some environmental groups have suggested as an
alternative to biofoods, is not a "panacea" to solve the world's hunger,
Ernest Micek said in a speech at a globalization conference sponsored by
the Economic Strategy Institute.
"There is some evidence that food grown organically is not as healthy as
food grown using conventional, high-yield agriculture, including
biotechnology," he said.
"Organic fields suffer higher levels of rodent and pest damage, which
create openings for fungi to attack the grains," Micek said. "Fungi produce
toxins, including aflatoxin, one of the most potent of carcinogens."
Organic farmers typically shun most chemicals, preferring to use animal
manure for fertiliser and insect predators to control pests. They contend
their methods are safer, more natural and preserve the fertility of the
At most, organically-grown crops can feed 4 billion people, or two-thirds
of the current global population, Micek said.
"There is nothing romantic about keeping people poor and undernourished,"
he said. "An anti-science sentiment has been allowed to dominate the
While Micek defended biofoods as necessary to help feed poor nations, other
countries have made it clear that gene-altered crops are not welcome in
their ports or food plants.
The European Union banned some genetically modified varieties of grains,
responding to consumers who are worried about long-term effects on human
health and the environment.
Many Japanese foodmakers have refused to buy biotech varieties since the
government said it would require labels next year on foods containing
genetically altered ingredients. South Korea also plans to begin labelling
biofoods in 2001.
Micek said there was no need for U.S. regulators to require labels on snack
foods, puddings, salad dressings, and other foods made with gene-spliced
ingredients. Labels already carry more information than consumers can
digest, he said.
"I don't see where that's going to help," Micek told reporters after his
speech. "We support the action the Food and Drug Administration has taken."
The FDA recently said it planned to make some changes in the approval
procedures for new biofoods, but declined requests from green groups to
require safety testing or labels.
Linda Horton, the FDA's director of international agreements, said the
agency based its actions on science.
"What we try to do is have requirements for scientific assessments that are
rigorous and transparent," Horton told the conference. "It's going to be
very important for consumers to see the benefits of genetically modified
Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist with Environmental Defence, said
agribusinesses' rush to embrace biotechnology as a way to feed the
developing world ignored other, complicated issues.
Biofoods "might be some small part of the solution," she told the
conference, but nations must still address food distribution systems, water
scarcity, population growth and infrastructure. "Many of the benefits of
the technology -- while they may be there -- are often overblown, Goldburg