History of the Week Dan Quayle Couldn’t Spell Potato, But He Made Sure They’d Be Genetically Engineered

How Monsanto Got Their Permit to Poison Us

On May 26, 1992, George Bush’s Vice-President, Dan Quayle, proclaimed the Bush administration’s new policy on bioengineered food.

‘€œThe reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors and farmers,’€ Mr. Quayle told a crowd of executives and reporters in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. ‘€œWe will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation.’€

‘€œWe will not compromise safety one bit.’€ Mr. Quayle told his audience.

In the F.D.A.’s nearby offices, not everyone was so sure. Among them was Dr. Louis J. Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists working on a policy for genetically engineered food. Dr. Pribyl knew from studies that toxins could be unintentionally created when new genes were introduced into a plant’s cells. But under the new edict, the government was dismissing that risk and any other possible risk as no different from those of conventionally derived food. That meant biotechnology companies would not need government approval to sell the foods they were developing.

Dr. Pribyl, a microbiologist, was not alone at the agency. Dr. Gerald Guest, director of the center of veterinary medicine, wrote that he and other scientists at the center had concluded there was ‘€œample scientific justification’€ to require tests and a government review of each genetically engineered food before it was sold.

The scientists were displaying precisely the concerns that Monsanto executives from the 1980’s had anticipated – and indeed had considered reasonable. But now, rather than trying to address those concerns, Monsanto, the industry and official Washington were dismissing them as the insignificant worries of the uninformed. Under the final F.D.A. policy that the White House helped usher in, the new foods would be tested only if companies did it. Labeling was ruled out as potentially misleading to the consumer, since it might suggest that there was reason for concern.

-Excerpt from "Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle," by Kurt Eichenwald, New York Times, January 25, 2001