LaDuke: U food research troubling

Jeremy Eiden

Two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke targeted the University on Tuesday during a speech about food genetic engineering.

She told a crowd of 200 at Willey Hall that the University’s research and altering of the wild rice genome is particularly troubling, adding that the institution has been “messing around” with wild rice since the 1960s.

“We are concerned with the University of Minnesota’s past and present practices,” LaDuke said.

Cara Saunders, a North Country Cooperative volunteer coordinator on the West Bank, said the co-op invited LaDuke to campus to help educate people about American Indian styles of food harvesting.

LaDuke said wild rice genome mapping and patenting, which she refers to as “bio-piracy,” “is the latest form of colonialism. Everything has been claimed and privatized.”

But Dan O’Sullivan, food biotechnology professor, said food genetic engineering as it’s practiced now is not harmful to the environment or humans, and he said “every food product that people eat has genetic modification.”

“Genetically modified plants have been grown in the United States since 1994, and there has not been one case of adverse effects,” he said.

Genetically modified farming is “more in line with” organic farming, O’Sullivan said, because it is environmentally friendly. He said plants can be modified to make natural insecticides and increase yield, which would reduce harm to the land.

“There is a lot of scaremongering that goes on in new technologies,” he said.

Advertising freshman Rebecca Broughton said the biological alteration of foods worries her.

“We’re just told it’s OK, but the FDA keeps recalling foods, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few years,” she said.

Family social science junior Jennifer Barnett said he agreed, citing concerns about genetic patenting by private corporations and universities.

“The goal of the researchers should be to benefit people all over the world, not just private companies,” she said.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Ken Pentel said opposition to genetic coding and modification is a part of his platform.

“Are we going to allow genetic patents to drift into this state’s resources, then we find out 50 to 100 years later that it is a huge problem that we can’t control?” he said.

“I do not want to introduce genetic engineering into this state,” Pentel said.

Raised in Los Angeles, LaDuke moved to the White Earth Reservation – located in Minnesota’s Manhnomen, Becker and Clearwater counties – after graduating from Harvard University in 1982. Her father is of White Earth Ojibwe descent.

She is the founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, dedicated to restoring the White Earth’s Reservation’s original land.

LaDuke said she and several community members are examining legal and procedural challenges to genetic patents.

“We are concerned about contaminating our natural wild rice stands,” she said. “They are messing around with what the Creator gave us.”

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