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GMOs Next Global Lightning Rod Issue
Description: Our ability to tinker with nature has outstripped our ability to regulate what we create, says Yves Tiberghien, a political scientist who specializes in global regulatory mechanisms for technology and trade.
Date: 06 July 2007
Author: Lorraine Chan
Source: UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 7 | Jul 5, 2007
Our ability to tinker with nature has outstripped our ability to regulate what we create, says Yves Tiberghien, a political scientist who specializes in global regulatory mechanisms for technology and trade.

Consider that almost 70 per cent of the products we buy at the grocery store contain genetically engineered food. Yet we don’t know their long-term impact on our health, the environment, or how they may tip the future balance of power in the global economy.

”Corn and soy are the two main culprits since nearly all processed foods uses ingredients such as corn syrup, corn starch or soy lecithin,“ says Tiberghien.

GMO corn and soy first entered into the human food supply in 1996.

”It’s a very big experiment -- 11 years of genetically engineered corn and soy thus far,“ observes Tiberghien. ”What does this mean? No one really knows.“

Asst. Prof. Tiberghien teaches in the Dept. of Political Science and also heads a Liu Institute for Global Issues research initiative that looks at the global battle over the governance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Between 2004 and 2006, he conducted 200 interviews with policy makers in Europe, Japan, Korea, and international organization bureaucrats. With further funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Tiberghien is extending this research to Canada and China.

To date, studies conducted on GMOs have found no proof of harm, but the amount of independent data is extremely limited. Tiberghien explains that GMO toxicology testing is carried out by industry, which generally does only what is required to get approval.

Overseeing the companies and labs that produce GMO seeds are national regulatory agencies and international bodies such as the World Trade Organization, the UN, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The present framework is outmoded and rickety, says Tiberghien, with a decision-making process that’s ”essentially dominated by industry, the bureaucratic elite and scientific experts without citizens’ participation.“

He says as a society we are making decisions that are irreversible and far reaching, and we are doing it in a way that weakens democracy rather than strengthens it.

”Yes, we want wealth,“ says Tiberghien, ”but not at any cost. We don’t want to cross red lines where we endanger our health or the environment forever. We also want transparency and accountability.“

Other common GMO foods found at North American stores include canola oil, papayas and soon, rice. But even the most conscientious label-reading shopper wouldn’t be able to detect GMO products. Seed producers argued against mandatory labeling, insisting there was ”substantial equivalence,“ which means that GMOs provide the same nutrients as conventional crops and shouldn’t be treated differently.

”Industry pushed for this and governments acquiesced,“ says Tiberghien.

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