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Book Review:"Eating in the Dark: America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food"

  • Subject: [cg] Book Review:"Eating in the Dark: America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food"
  • From: Alliums garlicgrower@earthlink.net
  • Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 16:15:00 -0500

Hi, Folks!

Here's my latest book review. I retain copywrite so if you'd like to publish it somewhere, let me know.  What with the drought all summer, then 5 1/2 inches of rain in October, I need to make some cash somehow because it won't be from growing anything! ;-)


Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460


Eating in the Dark:  America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food by Kathleen Hart, Pantheon Books, 2002, ISBN: 0-375-42070-3, $25.00.

A more accurate subtitle for this book would be “A History of Genetically Engineered Food from May 1997 through 2001.” Hart, a reporter for Food Chemical News, has complied a detailed history of genetically engineered foods from their initial hope as profit centers for the biotechnology industry to the current storm in the marketplace over whether such food should be there at all.  When your children take college classes in late 20th/early 21st century history, you’ll probably find this book on their reading list.

All the players (Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, Dennis Avery, Ronnie Cummins, Dan Glickman, the EPA, the FDA, etc) and all the events (NewLeaf potatoes uprooted in Ireland, Bt corn pollen killing Monarch butterfly larvae, the Terminator Technology uproar, the meltdown that was the WTO meeting in Seattle, and of course, StarLink corn in the food supply) are laid out in chronological order for the reader with plenty of space for quotes from official documents and interviews with those most involved in the technologies.  Like the reporter she is, Hart does not take sides, but simply gives everyone the room to explain themselves as fully as they wish, so that readers can make their own decisions about both technology and participants.

Those who have kept track of what’s happening with genetically modified foods (For instance, through Biodemocracy News, the Organic Consumers Association monthly e-mail newsletter on biotechnology; sign up available at http://listsrv.organicconsumers.org/mailman/listinfo/biodemocracy) will not find any players or events they haven’t read about before.  However, the advantage of this book is that Hart is able to give entire chapters to scientists such as Arpad Pusztai (whose findings that genetically modified potatoes caused immune system damage in rats caused a global controversy) and John Losey (the first to find that Bt corn pollen could kill Monarch butterfly larvae) so that they can explain (and defend) their research in their own words.  As a science and food writer herself, Hart is also able to prod government officials and industry management into explaining their decisions with greater clarity because she knows the right questions to ask them.

Each chapter is meticulously documented with additional technical information, but since footnote numbers do not appear in the chapter text, you‘ll have to keep your finger in the “Notes” section, then match each chapter’s page with sentence fragments to find the reference information.   Numbered notes in the text that correspond with the documentation in the Notes section would have been a lot easier -- hopefully, this “no footnote numbers in the text” is a publishing trend that ends with this book.

If you just want to learn what genetic engineering is and why folks have concerns about it, read Genetic Engineering, Food and Our Environment by Luke Anderson (ISBN: 1-890132-55-1) .  It’s quick, clear, concise and three years after its publication date, still completely on target.  If you prefer the full background on how genetically engineered food has developed into a global issue, featuring the words and documents of those who influenced and lived this history, pick up Eating in the Dark.

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

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