Harvest of Fear (home)NOVA


should we grow them?
engineer a crop
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In "Harvest of Fear," FRONTLINE and NOVA explore the intensifying debate over genetically-modified (GM) food crops. Interviewing scientists, farmers, biotech and food industry representatives, U.S. regulators, and critics of biotechnology, this two-hour report presents both sides of the debate--exploring the risks and benefits, the hopes and fears, of this new technology.

Hugh Grant, an executive with Monsanto--the leader in agricultural biotechnology--and farmers like Gerald Tumbleson in Minnseota, tout the benefits of GM crops. They say they can help feed the world and preserve the environment by reducing the need for pesticides. One example: by inserting a gene from the organic pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) into crops such as cotton, corn, and apples, farmers can grow these crops using very little pesticide.

Even more promising is the hope that GM technology can save lives. Scientists like Charles Arntzen are working on GM techniques to make edible vaccines--inside bananas and other foods--to combat viruses in developing countries.

But others aren't so sure. Organic farmer Paul Muller argues that GM crops can increase pest resistance and have other bad consequences for sustainable agriculture. And opposition groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Union of Concerned Scientists are concerned that in redesigning plants using genes from other organisms--even other species--a new, possibly reckless experiment is underway with unforeseen impacts (video) on nature and the environment.

"Harvest of Fear" chronicles how in Europe, opponents like Charles Margulis with Greenpeace, campaigned and nearly halted, the development and use of genetically-modified foods. However, in the U.S., genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans have been in the food supply since 1996--in everything from cereals to sodas. Interviewing scientists like Martina McGloughlin and U.S. regulators such as Jim Maryanski with the FDA, this report asks the key question: Is GM food safe to eat?

This FRONTLINE/NOVA report also examines the contrasting public perceptions about GM foods and what explains it. In Europe, there is skittishness about this new technology. But in the U.S., focus group research reveals that American consumers' top priority is 'choice'--if GM foods are labeled, it will help reduce fear.

Throughout this FRONTLINE/NOVA report, cameras take viewers inside the laboratories of scientists developing the latest applications of GM technology, and show anti-GM demonstrations in Europe and the U.S., including violent tactics employed by some opponents. Some farmers had genetically-modified crops hacked away during the night by "eco-terrorists." And members of the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a fire at Michigan State University that destroyed a building being used for work related to agricultural biotechnology.

Such demonstrations and protests, however, haven't deterred the technology's supporters. Pandora's box has been opened, they say. No amount of protests or violent tactics can put the lid back on. "We'll not be able to stop this technology," USDA Secretary Dan Glickman says. "Science will march forward."

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