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Should We Grow GM Crops?

What if you knew that proponents assert that GM foods will promise many health benefits?

Advocates hold that GM foods will leave traditional crops in the dust. They will have longer shelf life. They will be better for us, with some products already in the works benefiting our waistlines (low-calorie sugar beets and oils with lower saturated fat content, for example) and others bearing higher nutritional content (high-fiber corn and high-starch potatoes). And they will be safer to eat. GM corn has lower fungal toxin content than non-GM corn, and farmers typically produce GM crops using fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

GM foods will have even greater benefits for the world's poor, supporters state. In developing countries, malnutrition is a grave problem, because people often have to rely on a single staple, such as rice, that on its own doesn't supply sufficient nutrients. Food scientists hope to genetically modify crops to add vitamins and minerals. One of the most promising is "golden rice," which can stimulate our bodies to generate vitamin A. In the developing world, vitamin-A deficiency kills two million children each year, and another 500,000 become permanently blind.

Eventually GM plants will serve as environmentally friendly 'factories' that mass-produce useful substances such as pharmaceuticals. Scientists are hard at work, for instance, trying to genetically add vaccines to tomatoes or bananas. Traditional vaccines are costly to manufacture and require specialized storage not always available in developing countries. "Eatable vaccines," developers say, will be easier to ship, store, and administer.

"The benefits of biotechnology are many and include providing resistance to crop pests to improve production and reduce chemical pesticide usage, thereby making major improvements in both food quality and nutrition."
--World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Biotechnology and Food Safety [4]

"Biotechnology will be a crucial part of expanding agricultural productivity in the 21st century. If safely deployed, it could be a tremendous help in meeting the challenge of feeding an additional three billion human beings, 95 percent of them in the poor developing countries, on the same amount of land and water currently available."
--Ismail Serageldin, The World Bank [5]

"It is possible to kill someone with kindness, literally. That could be the result of the well-meaning but extremely misguided attempts by European and North American groups that are advising Africans to be wary of agricultural biotechnology....If we take their alarmist warnings to heart, millions of Africans will suffer and possibly die. Agricultural biotechnology...holds great promise for Africa and other areas of the world where circumstances such as poverty and poor growing conditions make farming difficult."
--Hassan Adamu, Nigeria's minister of agriculture and rural development [6]
based on what you now know, do you think we should grow gm crops?

4: Held October 1996. Quoted in "The Benefits of Biotechnology," www.biotechbasics.com/benefits.html.
5: Quoted in "Why Biotechnology Matters," www.biotechbasics.com/why.html.
6: "We'll Feed Our People As We See Fit," op-ed piece in The Washington Post, 9/11/00.

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