Response to Salquist letter

By From page A6 | October 16, 2012

I was surprised and disappointed to read Roger Salquist’s Sept. 26 letter to The Enterprise. Since reading it, I have emailed Roger and reminded him of some of my many contributions toward implementing Calgene’s pre-market regulatory strategy for the Flavr Savr tomato.

While I won’t go into the details here (although I plan to post some of those on my blog), Roger himself recognized those contributions. Indeed, he wrote in a note that accompanied a bonus I received for one of those contributions (December 1990) the following: “(this was) truly a landmark event for Calgene and for our industry in general. Your selfless, creative and dedicated participation on the Calgene team responsible for preparing this document is most appreciated by the company and its stockholders … this is something to be truly proud of.”

I am proud of my work at Calgene. I am also proud of the fact that some of the analyses Rick Sanders and I carried out on those tomatoes for the FDA (Plant Cell 1994 6:1032, e.g.) are still, I believe, being used by other ag biotech companies today. I also give Roger the credit he deserves for a commercialization strategy that was very transparent to the public, including labeling the GE tomatoes when they were first introduced in grocery stores. In my opinion, he set the ag biotech industry off on the right foot in this regard.

But there is another record I’d like to set straight. I am not opposed to genetic engineering for research, nor am I opposed to GE foods in general. This is a powerful technology that is helping scientists reveal how genes and genomes function and could be used to solve important global agricultural problems.

I am, however, very much in favor of mandatory pre-market regulation of each product of this technology and labeling of GE foods in supermarkets. The possible unintended effects of genetic engineering might not interfere with data analysis for a research paper. But when the product of the technology is not a publication but food on someone’s plate, FDA review of that product should be required. Currently it is not.

I would be happy to discuss whatever statements of mine that may have upset Roger or others. Unfortunately, Roger gave no examples of those in his letter.

Belinda Martineau

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