Symposium sparks GMO protest

Wendy Weiskircher

Some ISU students, alumni and staff launched a protest against biotechnical agriculture and genetically engineered crops Monday morning outside the Scheman Building in response to an ISU symposium on biotechnical education.

Although limited research has been conducted on the effects of biotechnical agriculture, most processed foods on the market today contain some sort of chemically engineered products, said Amy Best, a coordinator of the protest.

“There has been no long-term human health effect testing,” said Best, graduate student in interdisciplinary graduate studies. “There are many unanswered questions about human and environmental health effects.”

Best spoke at the symposium, “Engaged Institutions’ Role in Biotechnology Education,” Monday afternoon after the protest, which drew about 10 protesters.

“People were really receptive to it, and we had a lot of good discussion tonight at the meeting,” she said. “I’m really pleased to see that people are beginning to talk more about these issues. More and more consumers are becoming aware of it.”

While many benefits of genetically modified crops have been investigated, more research is needed about the possible adverse effects of the crops, said Katie Theisen, who attended the protest.

“We were there to try to raise a little awareness that the other side of the issue needs to be presented,” said Theisen, senior in environmental science. “We feel that more testing needs to be done before something is accepted to be true.”

Genetically engineered products already have created a stir in the food industry, Best said. At the end of September, the Kraft food company recalled Taco Bell taco shells that contained StarLink corn, a genetically engineered corn. The corn had been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as animal feed, but not for human consumption, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists Web page.

“Things not fit for human consumption are getting into our food supply,” Best said. “It’s an unproven science the university is promoting. They’re also promoting education and outreach around the issue that is very pro-biotechnical agriculture and not a very good discussion of ethics around it.”

While genetically engineered crops have been considered a possible way to thwart world hunger, Best said it is not an issue.

“That’s a very common argument, but hunger isn’t caused by not having enough food,” she said. “Hunger is political. It is used as a tool.”

Traditional farming methods are producing enough food to feed the world, Theisen said.

“There are a lot of people that believe what [genetically modified organisms] has been doing is a miracle that will stop world hunger,” she said. “We’re looking for technology fixes when we currently have the capability to take care of the issues.”

Traditional crops are being affected by genetically engineered corn, Best said, because of a drift between fields.

“Corn is an open-air pollinator, and you know how hard the wind blows around here,” she said. “Traditional crops are showing traits of [genetically engineered] crops.”

Legislation has been proposed in Congress at the state and national levels about the labeling of genetically modified crops and products, according to the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods Web site.

“It’s a really, really big issue,” Best said. “[Genetically engineered crops] are grown on millions of acres worldwide, and we don’t know how it is going to affect our bodies or the environment.”

For more information about the risks of biotechnical agriculture and genetically engineered crops, visit the Campaign Web site at and the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site at