AMES, Iowa (AP) -- Agricultural industry and government leaders contributed to public backlash over genetically modified foods by historically not telling the entire truth, an agricultural ethicist said.
Paul Thompson, who has studied biotechnology for years and is a professor of applied ethics at Purdue University, said government, industry and university officials began telling ''half truths'' about biotechnology in the mid-1980s.
He gave several examples to the small group that included professors and scientists at a biotechnology conference on Saturday. Officials in 1990 said Bt corn, which contains a bacteria that kills the European corn borer, was environmentally friendly, Thompson said. But as early as the 1980s insiders knew that Bt resistant-crops created negative ecological impacts, he said. Bt has been cited as having potentially detrimental effects on monarch butterflies.
For the past decade, officials could have given the public information to help ''make knowledgeable and substantive judgments'' about genetically engineered foods, Thompson said.
Thompson said he is a ''cautious booster'' of biotechnology. Questions, such as respecting religious beliefs and ecological impact, are raised by other agricultural technologies, he said.
The issue, too, has divided scientists and academics. ''Most of my colleagues are sharply against biotechnology,'' Thompson said.
Lack of scientific confidence ''translates into substantive risk'' to consumers, he said.
Two of the most widely planted genetically modified crops in the United States are Bt corn and soybeans engineered to withstand a herbicide that kills weeds.
Fears expressed by opponents include moving new genes into foods could transfer allergens into those foods and adversely affect non-targeted plants and animals.
''This is a war, not only of words, but for the minds of the world population,'' said Lester Crawford, with the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, Georgetown University.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.