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Mendel in the Kitchen:: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food Paperback – September 30, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Is genetically engineered Golden Rice (enriched with vitamin A) a dangerous "Frankenfood" or a safe, nutritionally enhanced food that could fill a major vitamin deficiency in the Third World? Fedoroff, a molecular biologist and member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and science writer Brown (A Good Horse Has No Color) argue forcefully for the latter view, saying we should embrace most of the advances genetic engineering has made in the agricultural arena. In an extremely accessible style, they take readers through the basics of genetics and genetic engineering to demonstrate why they believe that the risks associated with this technology are trivial. They also contend that the use of modern molecular technology to insert genes from one species into another isn't very different from the hybrid crosses that agriculturalists have been doing for millennia. Taking on concerns voiced by environmentalists, the authors articulate how genetically modified crops could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used and increase the yield of crop plants to keep up with a growing world population that could reach eight or nine billion in this century. Though likely to be controversial, the authors' clear and rational presentation could well change the opinions of some readers. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Some countries, many in Europe, have imposed bans on importing and growing GM crops. Others, notably the U.S., have grown, cooked and eaten them without knowing about it, or seeming to care that they don't know."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Joseph Henry Press; 1 edition (September 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030909738X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309097383
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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First, disclosures. I am a retired molecular biologist who went to culinary school after retirement, so I have a foot in both worlds and feel qualified to evaluate the evidence from both standpoints. I wrote a term paper on GMO's, in large part to inform and clarify my own thinking about controversies over the new agricultural technologies, both plant and animal. This book is about plant GMO technology. I came to the same basic conclusions as Dr. Federoff regarding the validity of GMO criticisms, although a slightly different reason regarding the basis of popular discontent.

Nina Federoff is very highly respected in the scientific community; she has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest levels of scientific accomplishment. This is a book brimming with accurate information, a history of scientific developments and analysis of the relevance of current arguments and opinions regarding how food is developed and produced. The evidence discussed is referenced for verification or for pursuit of further interest.

I completely disagree with reviewers who complain that the book presents a biased argument in favor of genetic modification.

If the evidence on GMO's does not support much popular opinion, it is high time the record be set straight, and the campaign of misinformation (e.g., by Greenpeace) be challenged. For instance, the facts presented indicate that organically grown food is no more nutritious or flavorful than conventionally grown crops, and the naturally occurring pesticides produced by the plants themselves are 1500 times greater than artificial pesticide residues. Contrast that with the prices charged for organic produce.
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Format: Hardcover
First off, I am a lay reader who, prior to reading this book, was on the fence regarding genetically modified (GM) food. I had heard some scary stuff from friends and in the media but I wanted more information. After reading this book I feel reasonably well versed in GM history/opinion/issues, although as other reviewers noted, this book is definitely biased in favor of GM. To have a truly informed opinion a person ought to also read an anti GM book. That said, here are my key learnings:

(1) If a person chooses to be anti GM, in order to be consistent then there are many more foods to avoid than you might think. The definition of GM is subject to wide interpretation. Truly being opposed to any messing around with a plant's DNA would mean that you should not consume Canola, Tritricale, the majority of domestic Soy and Corn, and a LOT (!!) of other foods including many foods featured in your local health food store.

(2) As noted above the definition of GM is nebulous. Where is the line between the generally accepted cross-breeding of plants (think Luther Burbank) and the "scary" genetic modification done in a lab under a more controlled setting?

(3) The media has generated a lot of anti GM buzz and fear. Actually looking at the facts is, as usual, a lot more complicated. It takes some heavy reading, through a book such as this one, to be able to interpret the science for oneself. Most people are more content to read a quick article in a magazine and then end up with a much less informed (and probably anti GM) opinion.

(4) There are undeniable benefits of GM. Less chemical pesticide needs to be applied to some GM crops. GM can introduce additional nutrients to foods. GM has saved some plant species from going extinct.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book that explains, in great detail, why so much of the anti-GM food movement is scientifically misguided. It also makes the point that far from being an evil that will irrevocably damage the environment, biotechnology can be an important tool for more ecologically sound soil management, and for reducing the amount of land worldwide that must be used for farming. Most importantly, it describes the role bioengineering has to play in feeding people who will otherwise be malnourished or starving.

A warning I would offer to other readers is that, as a layperson with little formal science background, I found the going tough in spots. The section on how polymerase chain reaction works was particularly hard going, although the authors are probably to be praised for trying to make the process clear. Some concepts are extremely complicated, even in the hands of good authors.

The one disappointing aspect of this book is its one-sided approach. It is not polemical; on the contrary, the prose is always calm and reasoned, and the authors don't flinch when the story they are telling necessitates providing evidence that could be taken for anti-biotech arguments. However, they make little to no effort to summarize other points of view. (One gets the feeling that they believe, if you really understand the science, there IS no other valid point of view - this would explain why they have trouble articulating opposing viewpoints.)

This book doesn't represent itself as "balanced" -- it makes it clear that it is a treatise in favor of GMF. That's fine. But I guess I would have preferred to read a book that let me hear a little bit about what the other side was saying.
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