A Brief Review of
Food Fray: Inside the Controversy Over Genetically Modified Food
by Lisa Weasel.
Hardback: AMACOM, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Lisa Weasel’s recent book Food Fray is a great introduction to the recent controversies over genetically modified (GM) foods. Weasel, a molecular biologist, and a member of an Oregon task force “on developing public policy for bio-pharmaceutical crops,” approaches her task not only with a deep knowledge of the material but also with a scientist’s fierce commitment to objectivity. Though generally critical of GM foods and the mega-corporations that engineer them (e.g., Monsanto), in the end she is optimistic that GM foods in a much narrower role (“more as a condiment than as a main course”, 201) can ultimately be beneficial to humanity. Weasel offers over the course of the book a concise history of the development of (and the resistance to) GM foods. The resistance movements that she highlights include those in Europe, where one finds the broadest and staunchest opposition to GM foods and those of Vandana Shiva and other Indian anti-biotech activists. She also explores the use of GM processes in Africa, in the search for a more nutritionally-complex rice plant (Asia primarily) and in the dairy systems of North America. One of Weasel’s main thrusts in Food Fray is deflating the myth that widespread GM food technology can solve world hunger problems. There is much to appreciate in the international broadness of her approach to the controversy about GM foods. However, despite her adamant critiques of corporate greed, Weasel is driven by a sort of scientific optimism and repeatedly insists that GM technology has the potential to benefit humanity. Although my sentiments lie more with the anti-biotech activists (see my 2008 review of Craig Holdredge and Steve Talbott’s book BEYOND BIOTECHNOLOGY), Lisa Weasel has offered us here an excellent introduction to the history and ethics of GM foods, and I would recommend it for anyone seeking to understand what GM foods are and why the struggle over them is significant.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com