Counterpoint

The recent column extolling the virtue of genetically modified foods ("'Genetically modified' isn't evil," August 22) contained omissions and contradictions.

In one paragraph, the author praised the extra gene conferring resistance to certain insects, thus requiring much less pesticide, clearly pointing out the deleterious effect pesticides have in adding poison to the rivers, lakes and oceans.

In the very next paragraph, she commended the development of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant soybeans.

The benefit of these crops was to allow farmers to spray greater amount of broad spectrum herbicides (or a different kind of poison to our environment), which are designed to kill anything green.

The giant chemical companies that produce the seeds also sell the herbicides, thus insuring a neat circle of profit.

There are several simple protections that the industry could embrace or the Environmental Protection Agency could require.

First would be labeling. Consumers ought to be able to decide whether or not they want GE (genetically engineered) food.

The labeling of milk from cows not treated with bovine growth hormone and the popularity of this product, particularly in Minnesota, shows the effect of consumer choice.

Next is protection of such non-GE crops as organic crops. This would require testing to see that there is no cross-pollination and that buffer strips are planted between adjacent fields -- organic non-GE farmers should be compensated for pollution.

An adequate risk assessment will look at exposure to allergens and the dispersal of antibiotic resistant genes. We also want to look at the possible creation of genetically engineered superweeds or superpests.

Finally, all genetically engineered plants are patented and engineered so that farmers cannot save seed to replant but must pay the manufacturers' price year after year. This would be a danger to family and indigenous farmers, if GE crops totally control the market.

Increased supervision from the EPA is necessary to assure that an assumed "track record of safety" is indeed legitimate.

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Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat, represents Minneapolis in the Minnesota House.