Set #3: April 30, 2001
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Readers Against Growing GM Crops | Readers in Support of Growing GM Crops | Readers Addressing Other Issues
Readers Against Growing Genetically Modified Crops
I believe there should be a moratorium on the GMO crops at present for several reasons.
Perhaps in the future biotechnology will be a boon but we have a long way to go in the lab before we can sanely and wisely use these life forms commercially.
- We do not have the infrastructure for harvest and grain storage for the separation of GMO's from hybrid grains. The creators and patent holders decided it would be up to the farmers to do the segregation even though the farmer is not capable of segregating crops because to do so means that the farmer must put up separate silos at about $100,000 ea. and buy new combines at about $500,000 each just to start the segregation. The U.S. farmer is in desperate straits financially and doesn't have the financial wherewithal to purchase such equipment.
The feed mills that dry, store, and broker the grains also are not set up to separate the GMO's from non GMO's. Some millers have bought separate facilities to begin segregating, but this is just now happening a full six years after the crops were introduced. I find it frightening that an industry would commercialize a product so widely without first putting the infrastructure in place. This was the cause of the ever-deepening Starlink contamination.
- What we know about genetic engineering is almost nothing. We must let this science mature a lot more before trusting it as heavily as we are asked to.
- There have been zero human feeding studies and no long-term feeding studies in livestock. Instead the crops were put in our food without the public's knowledge. Any company who can do this to their customers (be deceitful) can not be trusted.
- The vast majority of claims have not been proven nor can they be for years or even decades. There are claims of greater yields even though the USDA requires a decade of record before such a claim can be made. GMO's have been planted for only six years.
Boulder Belt Organics
New Paris, OH
The species barrier is the only reason we've managed to stay alive as long as we have. When a person is exposed to a feline-specific virus, that virus looks for a recognizable marker inside the organism. Finding none, it goes away. That's why we aren't susceptible to the same diseases as the cat.
Can scientists say with an absolute certainty that the firewalls will maintain their integrity as more and more genetically altered food enters the system? For example, what do really know about the long-term effect to humans who have ingested lettuce altered with the genetic code of rats because rats have a greater absorption rate of Vitamin C? Can it be said for certain there is no possibility of a mutation to the human genome?
The FDA won't approve herbal remedies that have been ingested for decades, yet it's ready to jump in wholeheartedly with transgenic food?
Feeding the world is not the issue here. That's just the cover. Making money is the issue. Unfortunately, the scientists who are playing God, and the corporations who want to distribute their product are doing more than playing store, they are playing Russian Roulette with the species.
Oklahoma City, OK
When will the lessons of history begin to impact enough people to inspire them to speak out when threatened by "breakthroughs" that could very possibly affect the health and welfare of vast numbers of people or animals or can substantially degrade the environment? Inadequate testing, substandard oversight, and misguided profit-seekers have caused far too much damage in the past. Will federal overseers miraculously be staffed well enough to monitor proportions of BT vs standard crops? To ensure foods for human consumption are well separated from animal feeds? To ensure all errant weeds on worldwide farmlands are appropriately disposed of? To monitor the distance pollen spreads in different climates? I cannot put my faith in our ability to manage the potential dangers of this technology.
The most obvious lie re GM crops is that the process is the same as traditional breeding. Shooting a cassette of genes into a plant is totally different from traditional cross breeding. To deal with genes as though they were nuts and bolts on an assembly line is simplistic, to say the least. Machines are not alive, plants and animals are, and genetics is a process with genes moving, changing, interacting, and affecting the entire organism.
Another lie is that these products have been rigorously tested. The FDA at the outset said it did not have the means to test the products of biotechnology and accepted the studies of the companies involved. The monarch larvae do die eating pollen from Bt corn, and they don't eat other corn hybrids. That is a fact and is not mitigated by how much or where the pollen exists. It affects them and they die, period. Did the industry or government regulatory agencies know this before launching Bt corn? No. What else don't they know?
More pesticides have been used since the introduction of GMOs, as stated in the USDA yearbook. More passes with pesticides were necessary in the cotton fields than had been anticipated. And where was the news that the bolls fell off the plants and farmers are suing Monsanto?
The terminator technology calls for more chemicals to get the plants to germinate or to stop growth or to be disease-resistant, etc. etc. -- there are many variations of this abomination. Introducing a death gene into agriculture whose very definition is fertility!
Millions of Africans are already dying: from HIV, from having their productive land stolen to create plantations, from hunger caused by having no money to buy food, and from wars. Where are the pharmaceutical and Monsanto's crocodile tears now?
Less cost? Is it now about $60 to produce one acre of grain in the industrial world? Do you think poor farmers can afford all the attendant inputs required with biotechnology? Hardly.
Organic -- or traditional -- agriculture has proven over and over again that it can outproduce chemical agriculture at less cost, with more nutritious products, with beneficial rather than deleterious effects on nature and people. There is no propaganda for traditional agriculture because it does not make money for the agrichemical and pharmaceutical corporations.
Biotechnology is another treadmill requiring more money, more science, and endless genetic modifications as nature outsmarts us once again.
I am a restauranteur who studied science extensively in my past life. I am not opposed to biotech in agriculture; I am opposed to irresposible science. By that I mean methods that do not take into account long-term impact of the technology, by researching the effects on second- and third-generation users/consumers. The old method of natural genetic modification that employs grafting and cross-pollination of existing, naturally occurring species has proved to be safe and effective. The new method of GM by physically introducing genes from one species into another is at best unsafe, at worse potentially catastrophic. Without longitudinal multi-generation studies to determine their safety and efficacy, it is extremely irresponsible, the potential risks far outweigh the profits, and government should ban such products till there is a sound documental proof of safety. Therefore, I vote NO to all lab GM products. Thank you.
The future should not be GMO's but organic farming. There is increasing evidence that monoculture farming is not having the yields per acre that it did 50 years ago. The soil is not responding to fertilizers and pesticides like it used to and increasingly more of them are being used. Advocates of GMO's say that this is the reason their work is so important. Yet I feel there are too many negatives, as depicted on the program, to justify this "experiment," especially when there is an alternative.
By rotating and growing multiple crops at the same time organic farming does naturally what we humans are trying to do with technology. Rotating crops helps keep the soil rich in nutrients, while growing multiple crops eliminates pests. There is no need for pesticides or fertilizers, and the yield per acre has been shown to be greater than that of monocuture farming. This method of farming is more labor-intensive, but this means more jobs for people especially in Third World countries. In addition it keeps farming out of the big corporations and in the communities. I don't know if the GMO's can be stopped, but people should be made aware that there is an alternative out there that we are neglecting.
Pembroke Pines, FL
I have done substantial research into this subject. We should not grow GM crops.
There is absolutely no way to keep pollen from blowing in the wind and cross-pollinating with other crops in nature. Genetic traits, good and bad, are transferred through pollen. It is one thing to have a recall on an automobile when you have discovered that it has a major flaw; however, there is no way to recall pollen.
Additionally, these crops were exempted from regulation by the Food and Drug Administration and have never been tested to see if they are safe for human consumption. Nor has there been significant testing to see the effects of cross-pollination on other species. In addition, the EPA didn't even follow its own rules, and an environmental impact statement was never filed regarding transgenic crops to see if a problem would ever arise. It just let this stuff out willy-nilly into the environment. Does the public know or even realize that the USDA is on the patent of many of these products with private corporations?
This entire industry is greed/money-driven, and it makes me sick to think how our environment and our people are paying the cost with their lives and the death of our fragile ecosystems. I am an organic farmer and a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. People tell me that we have been playing with genetics for years. They are right. We have. But it has been in a way that would naturally occur in nature. I doubt that a pig would ever cross breed with a tomato in nature, but that is exactly what they do in the lab.
With respect to growing more food to feed the hungry, we already dispose of thousands of pounds of foodstuffs each year. The real problem is the growth of the population itself. It is the typical lynx/hare study. When you have more food, people are healthier, and they make more babies. Then people starve again. Then you have another techno breakthough and people begin having babies again. But there are always people starving.
We need to address the real issue here which is: How much of a population can we, and do we really want to sustain and still be able to afford the lifestyle we want? Granted we can support many more humans on the planet, but it would be at the expense of the diversity of all other species, and to that end ourselves as well.
Sharon M. Renier
I am a mother who is against biotechnology and chemical factory farming. Our children are being used as lab rats in an unregulated experiment.
Monsanto's ties to the government are staggering. Monsanto donated hundreds of thousands in PAC money and soft money in the 2000 election to political candidates. Attorney General John Ashcroft received $10,000 from Monsanto. Monsanto's lawyer, Clarence Thomas, was appointed to the Supreme Court by former president George Bush. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, was president of Searle Pharmaceuticals, purchased by Monsanto. Ann Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture, was on the board of directors of Calgene Pharmaceuticals, purchased by Monsanto. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health, was a supporter of Monsanto in Wisconsin. He received $50,000 from biotech firms in his election run and used state funds to set up a $317 million biotech zone in Wisconsin. Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, was the vice president of corporate strategy at Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company. Eli Lilly and Monsanto developed rBGH. Lilly 'owns' the European franchise. I could go on and on.
You at PBS are funded by many biotech and pharmaceutical companies. PBS pushes pharmaceutical drugs to kids in the ads at the beginning of Sesame Street. What is the American public to do? Our food supply is in the hands of biotech greed. Our government is in the hands of biotech greed. The future of the ecosystems on our dying planet is in the hands of biotech greed. We must save seeds, grow our own food, buy organic and fight this attack on the natural food supply. Just say No to GMOs.
(Mother, Artist, and informed activist against Genetic Engineering)
Santa Fe, NM
I am strongly opposed to genetically modified foods mainly because my experience has taught me that the information providers have not always been forthcoming with all the facts. A recent example is foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. I was very comfortable with what I thought was a fact -- that it could not be transmitted to humans -- but I learned differently today. I am concerned that by the time they are able to say definitively, one way or the other, it might be too late, and too many people would have paid the price with their health or their lives.
Maybe one day GM foods will be acceptable. But they were unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. This implies that the biotech companies are hiding something. That something is a lack of research. We don't have enough knowledge about GM foods. It is always better to err on the side of caution. Biotech companies rushed their products into the marketplace just to ensure their dominance in the world. But if Europe doesn't want them why should we?
This is with regards to the survey on your Web site about whether or not we should grow genetically modified crops (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/exist/).
The format of your survey is highly questionable, especially for a program such as Frontline, whose goal is to educate the public about relevant issues in society. It seems as if the intent of the survey is to test the effectiveness of the biotech industry's propaganda in changing the minds of people who are skeptical about genetically modified crops. Indeed every time we answer 'no' to the question "Should we grow GM crops?" we receive information defending GM crops that are clearly taken straight from PR pamphlets of chemical/biotech companies such as Monsanto, Dupont, Aventis, etc. Although, when we answer "yes" to the same question, we do receive well-known arguments critical of GM crops, they often do not address the arguments, many of which are false, raised on the pages that defend GM crops. This is highly disturbing since ample evidence exists to refute many industry claims outright.
I will give some examples from your Web page of blatantly deceptive and sometimes completely false statements defending the use of GM crops:
The above list of deceptions is not complete, but for the lack of time I will stop here.
- The pro-GM pages prominently state that "farmers typically produce GM crops using fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers" and that "farmers raising crops bearing herbicide resistance -- such as those using the Monsanto-crafted soybean that is resistant to the company's broad-spectrum weed killer Roundup -- will use fewer chemicals in a season than they would while growing conventional soybeans." These are core claims made by the biotech industry for which no evidence exists.
In fact, much evidence suggests that the opposite is true. First of all, it is well known that two thirds (2/3) of GM crops are specifically designed to make them more resistant to herbicides and pesticides so that companies such as Monsanto can sell more of these chemicals. That was very explicitly one of the major components of the Monsanto business strategy when they introduced GM crops. Furthermore, according to Extra (vol. 13, no.3 pg. 11) "an analysis ... of 8,200 agriculture university surveys revealed that farmers planting Monsanto's Round Up Ready soybeans used two to five times as much of the herbicides as farmers planting non-GM varieties. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, raised the allowable residue limits for Round Up on forage crops."
The above facts are widely available in the literature, and the failure to mention them in your piece on GM crops illustrates severe incompetence or blatant pro-industry bias.
- A whole page is expended claiming "that scientists submit that genetically modifying plants is completely natural." Statements such as "Genetic modification couldn't be more natural, geneticists say" and "we've been genetically modifying plants (and animals) for millenia ... modern GM methods are simply more precise, scientists stress" fill the page. While some scientists and geneticists may say this, many renown scientists, including Prof. Jonathan King (MIT) and Prof. Richard Lewontin (Harvard) refute this claim. In 1992, for example, Dr. Louis J. Pribyl of the FDA's Microbiology Group warned (in an internal memo uncovered in a lawsuit filed) that there is "a profound difference between the types of expected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering."
It is widely held by scientists that genetic engineering has made it possible to combine genes from species that would never exchange genetic material naturally. Nature allows a horse to mate with a donkey to produce a mule, but no matter how hard it tries, a horse cannot successfully mate with an apple tree through any traditional breeding techniques. During genetic engineering, genes are taken from animals, plants, insects, bacteria and viruses and are then artificially inserted into the DNA of food crops, bypassing gradual evolutionary processes and creating pathways for diseases and genetic weaknesses to cross over to completely unrelated species.
These are widely made concerns by prominent scientists and it is an indication of poor journalism and pro-industry bias that this fact is completely absent from your piece about GM-crops.
- The Web page entitled "What if you knew that GM seed companies maintain that GM crops are the most thoroughly tested and highly regulated food plants out there?" is blatant industry advertisement uncritically copied by your reporter. In this page, a false impression is given that biotech companies are required to perform 'thorough' and painstaking tests before GM crops can be approved by "not one but three U.S. government agencies."
Whether or not approval of GM crops requires extensive testing is not a debatable issue. It is an objective fact that can be ascertained by simply looking at the regulations issued by the relevant federal agencies. The reporter of this piece is well aware, as he stated in another page, that "the FDA, for one, has long maintained that most GM foods are 'substantially equivalent' to unmodified foods and are thus not subject to FDA regulations" and that "biotech companies are not required to consult with the FDA on new GM foods."
The fact that the reporter places contradictory statements in the same piece without informing which of the two is false, only serves to confuse the matter in the biotech industry's favor. But the reporter does not stop here and continues to mislead by stating that "the testing system has worked well." [When scientists] discovered that a protein in one type of GM corn might be allergenic, regulators approved that corn only for animal feed." It is interesting that the reporter ends the story at this point, because it was exactly due to the lack of regulations and federal oversight that this Aventis Starlink corn ended up in taco shells for human consumption. I am sure it is no coincidence that a direct quote taken from the Web page of Aventis CropScience ensuring that all products "based on biotechnology undergo thorough safety evaluations" is also featured in the same page.
In summary, this page drips with corporate PR and shows a clear lack of journalistic professionalism.
- The impression is given that only one solution exists to world hunger, namely the need to grow more food and it is only "GM crops that will offer our best chance to adequately address the challenge of feeding the estimated six billion people who, in as few as 50 years by some estimate, will join the six billion of us already here." According to many specialists on world hunger and development including Peter Rosset, director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, these claims are false. According to Rosset, hunger is not a result of population density but instead of poverty and inequality. In a New York Times article (9/01/99), Peter Rosset wrote:
"In fact there is no relationship between the prevalence of hunger in a given country and its population. For every densely populated and hungry nation like Bangladesh, there is a sparsely populated and hungry nation like Brazil. The world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before. Enough is available to provide 4.3 pounds to every person every day: two and a half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of meat, milk and eggs and another of fruits and vegetables - more than anyone could ever eat." The fact that you fail to mention these alternate arguments to such a central claim of the biotech industry is a strong indication of poor journalism and industry influence in your reporting.
In conclusion, I am shocked and dismayed that a program like Frontline/Nova could be corrupted in so one-sidedly putting forth industry PR. It is especially disturbing that you have succumbed to such poor and inaccurate reporting on an issue that will affect all present and future humanity. I will never again in the future contribute financially to WGBH or any other PBS affiliate.
Anton Van der Ven
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Peter Tyson responds:
It is not surprising that someone with an apparent anti-GM stance such as Mr. Van Der Ven might consider that the arguments given on the pro side reveal a "blatantly pro-industry bias." The intent of this piece was to provide both the arguments for GM crops typically presented by advocates, and the arguments against GM crops typically proffered by opponents, and then let readers decide for themselves what they make of these arguments.
Readers in Support of Growing Genetically Modified Crops
I believe that these crops should continued to be developed and grown. Clearly, the developers have economic motivation to do so, yet without this incentive few advancements would have ever been made. Beyond the economic incentive, I think that there is a large consensus that the development of these crops (and we are just at the beginning) will lead to a more abundant and ultimately cheaper food supply for the population of the world.
Additionally, with the help of biotechnology, individual varieties may be developed more rapidly and be specifically adapted to regions that today cannot sustain agriculture and are not in the mainstream of the current world food distribution system. The availability of a readily available and abundant food source is a key variable in the overall economic and political development of many of the world's lesser developed countries. We also find in these same countries that children are most frequently mal-nourished.
Bioengineered foods can help to address many of these issues while at the same time lessening the dependence on prototypical farm chemical applications. There is overall advantage to the use of bioengineered crops as over time the cost of production will decline on a unit basis because of the inherent increases in farm productivity (tons, bushels etc. per acre harvested). Additionally, bio-technology promises to increase the value added at the farm gate for many crops and derivitives therefrom. This increased variety of choice and the specialty nature of the produce has the opportunity to effectively widen margins received by growers and reduce their dependence on government transfer payments and market distorting subsidies.
Having said this, there have been few inventions and paradigm-changing technologies developed that have not been feared by a rather vocal minority. The current state relative to the bioengineered crops issue is no different than most of the similar developments throughout history. Likewise, few advancements have been repercussion-free, in that for every action there is a reaction. There is no way to fully predict what the future repercussions may be, but there will be some. It stands to reason that the debate must be held on the grounds of least-assignable-risk, greatest-reward basis. I think that those who have looked into this subject on an honest and objective basis would be hard-pressed not to argue for pressing on from the current state.
Having state this, I do believe that there are several "no-debates." Among these are: 1) No biotech food grain or feed grain may be granted GRAS [Generally Recognized As Safe] status for 'feed' use and not for human consumption -- or vice versa. 2) Products made with certain bioengineered ingedients must be identified as containing such on the product label.
Harry W. True
I am an undergraduate studying to be a plant pathologist, and you can't have it both ways America. The EPA is severely reducing the amount of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides that farmers can use. Yet, Americans still insist on beautiful pretty food that is free of microbes and bugs. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!!???
Florida's production of tomatoes will see a 40-70% reduction in yield just from the elimination of methyl bromide from the market. I just don't know what to do. You people don't want to let us use pesticides; we have to use minimum-till methods (further increasing the odds of diseases occurring), and now you don't want to give GM foods a chance.
Roundup ready soybeans aren't supposed to have greater yield. The soybeans were designed to allow farmers to be able to control weeds and cut down on water and nutrient loss, without having to use herbicides that have a long residual effect. Roundup breaks down pretty quickly after it is sprayed into water and other harmless gases. The herbicides the farmers used to use contaminated groundwater supplies in the Midwest because the herbicide had a long residual effect.
As for monarch butterflies, it's alright to kill stink bugs, grasshoppers, etc, but GOD FORBID we kill the pretty butterflies. HYPOCRITES!!!! Some of the most beautiful insects in the world are in crop fields and get killed by insecticides. Yet I have sadly realized that the value on feeding and ensuring the survival of human life is much more important than insects could be. Apparently, agriculturalists just need to keep the butterflies and bees alive, and everyone will be happy.
As to those of you who say GM's are against nature, what we have been doing for 10,000 years with crops is against nature. And for those of you who say evolution is a slow and tedious process that takes several thousand years to occur, please read Stephen Jay Gould's papers on spontaneous evolution. It has been proven that evolution can occur in relatively short periods of time with animals in the wild.
As for GM companies being profit-driven, of course they are. So are farmers; they have to be. The bank doesn't give a damn if insects devastated the field, or if the rains just never came; they want their loan paid back. That's why many farmers go out of business after just having two or three bad years. Farmers love what they do, but whatever actions they take are being dictated to them by the consumer. Don't like pesticides in your food? Stop asking for strawberries that look perfect. Want organic food? Fine, if you're willing to have the price almost doubled.
But think about this...the rich don't want to eat foods treated with pesticides, so they buy the more expensive organically grown food. What about the poorer part of America? How are they going to afford the higher mark-up? We'll end up with an even greater divide between the have's and the have not's in America.
GM foods are probably more regulated than the pesticides are. GM foods are tested to see if they actually do what they claim to do, before they are released onto the market. The EPA doesn't care if pesticides actually work, they just want to ensure that they don't harm the environment. So, farmers waste thousands of dollars on new pesticides that claim to do this or that, and may end up with crops decimated by phytotoxic damage, or from disease or insects decimating the crop.
We are quickly heading for a Malthusian fate, and I'm seeing incredibly limited options as to what we can do to stop it. We have maxed out our yield levels for most crops, and the world population will likely double in 50 years. Skip a day or two of eating to see how hunger feels. Then get used to that feeling as our resources run out.
M. Positano & C. Hermle
I feel that biotechnology has tremendous potential to benefit humankind without adverse environmental effects. We need a thorough, well-conceived process that people can have confidence in to evaluate and regulate the use of biotechnology. We already have a very good system for pesticides. We certainly can develop a similar system for biotechnology and GM foods.
Cropping Systems Specialist
University of Minnesota Extension Service
Red Lake Falls, MN
I think we have no choice other than to proceed with the development of GM crops. It is nothing less than an extension of our species' choice to come down from the trees and walk upright to our destiny. There are far too many people in the world to feed. Too many people that want to experience more of what the world has to offer. How can we expect millions to accept the subsistance living they were born into?
I think we can be confident that the balance of Nature will tend to suppress any excessively negative consequences. Like natural evolution, most of these man-made enhancements in GM crops are doomed to be selected against and fail for their weaknesses or unsustainability. (About crops or any 'plant'-making industrial chemicals, surely we would recognize the obvious dangers of producing chemicals that could leak into the environment and take reasonable precautions?) I dream of tasting a luscious fruit that Nature has so far not evolved, but that might instead be created by an artful combination of genetic building blocks.
Have you ever had the feeling that something great is just around the corner? I have that feeling with GM foods and meds. Yes, the companies that are developing these crops will make money. So what? The end results have such great potential that we have got to back the research.
I have zero qualms about eating bio-foods. I work at a dairy in Niagara Falls. Most of the milk we use comes from cows treated with RbsT. We do offer RbsT-free milk, but little sells. I would suspect that we probably take a loss on the RbsT-free milk, but the supermarket, I am sure, demands that we make it available for the few people who want it. If people are willing to purchase this treated milk, much of which is consumed by children and infants, why would they care if the cereal they put the milk on is engineered? Think about it. Thank you.
Thomas A. Pyra
As a developing scientist I strongly suggest that the gains for future generations are larger than the problems some fear. Throughout the development of human society, technology has had a "three steps forward, one step backward" sequence. GMO's aren't any different. Worst case, humans drastically effect the biodiversity and function of the ecosystems resulting with huge population loss and extinctions. Wake up people, we've already done that. Every time you start your car you release components in to the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. We have already begun the sixth mass extinction, the only one caused by a single species. Does knowing we have already doomed ourselves make it any better? Probably not, but maybe we're not doomed; rather we are done moving backwards and ready to take the three steps forward.
Humans have been growing GM crops for centuries. Most grains today have nothing in common with grains during the first century, for example. I remember as a youth having to treat our grain with Mercury dust to prevent 'rust.' Then some scientist came up with a variety that was not effected by 'rust,' and we no longer had to treat our grain. Humans have been manipulating Nature and as a result have helped to feed more people on less land, and I can only hope that scientists eventually will come up with a grain that countries like Africa can use to help feed their citizens. We should be all concerned about world hunger and how to alleviate it. I firmly believe from what I have read and from what is presently going on that some day in the not to distant future we will have the "miracle grain" that can feed everyone. We have to be very careful we don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Readers Addressing Other Issues
I do not reject biotechnology out of hand. What I do object to is the context in which the "ag. scientists" presume to disturbute this technology. Releasing these organsims into the uncontrolled laboratory of raw, seething, powerful, uncompromising Nature becomes a Faustian bargain that we ought not to entertain.
The use of biotechnology has vast potential to assist individuals and groups with significant health challenges. I find it worrisome that raising the spectre of all biotech applications as 'evil' serves no one. The multinational corporations like Monsanto, Aventis, and others having their genesis in wartime technologies strive to maximize corporate power, profit, influence, and shareholder returns. They are less concerned, if at all, with "the public good." Yet contemporary public-funded health research, that which does concern itself with "the public good," may suffer image indictment with connections to the industrial agriculture biotechnology.
I reject and resent companies like Monsanto using the American population as unwilling and unknowing test subjects for their products like rBGH. Citizens of the Uke rBGH. Citizens of the U.S. are also test subjects for GMO food items that are corn- and soy-based. This does not strike me as reasonable, if we live in a democracy. I do not recall ever telling my government that it may give oversight to choose what is in my foods over to corporations. Many people are beginning to view federal government agencies as simply 'agents' of multinational corporations. When these connections are recognized/perceived more broadly, mistrust and anger will follow. This will make an interesting Frontline story.
Since I believe so strongly in healthy food, I grow some of my own and rely on local Community Supported Agriculture and organic-buying cooperatives to meet my needs. It takes planning and responsibility on my part, but it really is not more expensive in $'s spent than conventional food.
Few people that I talk with trust the USDA to be unbiased in the biotech world. In fact, the USDA hold patents with Monsanto on several biotech organisms and processes.
I think Frontline/Nova should have investigated those connections. Also, I note that Dr. Vandana Shiva of India, one of the strongest indigenous voices in favor of local agriculture and rejecting industrial ag. (with biotech) was not consulted. This was a loss!
In closing, what matters in this issue is context! Biotech crops have the potential to mix with and impact local, native biodiversity. This collective biodiversity is part of the human inheritance of the natural capital legacy. It is used by the current generation, yet held in trust
for future generations. In that regard, one could reasonably argue that biotech/life science companies are guilty of damaging the natural capital of future generations.
I predict that there will be law suits against promoters of this technology for damage to natural systems as well as human health. Sadly, once natural biological diversity has been impaired, there is little chance to achieve full restoration. What the biotech companies are conducting is landscape-scale vandalism to attain short-term profits. That is criminal. It is immoral and ought to be addressed.
Danielle M. Wirth, Ph.D.
The dilemma faced by both poor and rich countries remains unchanged from that of Thomas Malthus' epoch: Curb population growth or allow companies like Monsanto to increase crop yield with GMOs so as to satisfy ever-growing human needs. History has already shown the latter will prevail against the admonitions of biologists, religious leaders, and consumer advocates from affluent countries like the U.S. who have the privilege of commanding the largest share of the world's supply of food. Unfortunately for others elsewhere in the world, being finicky about one's diet is not a survival option. lity preferences on inhabitants of poorer countries is taboo, the same should follow for American nutritional standards that are dictated more by the market than by any concern for human well-being.
Brian A. Sells
I go out of my way to purchase organics and buy no food without first reading the ingredients, and I am shocked and very angry with both the FDA and the biotech/manufacturing companies for withholding GM ingredients information from me. Is it really possible I have been eating these ingredients for the past five years in so many familiar foods on my store shelf? I feel sick and outraged. Shame on everyone of you out there who knew (from the highest ranking to the lowest level employees) who kept right on making an income on these products at my expense, worse without my knowledge or my choice.
Thank you PBS for continuing to provide the best television viewing on the planet.
T. and R. McCallum
It is absurd to think that GM foods will be significantly more harmful to people than the chemical pesticides and herbicides that are being used in farming today. People consume all kinds of chemicals everyday in the form of medicines, supplements, and food additives thinking that they are safe when in fact no governmental agency has approved or even reviewed them. I believe that at some point in time GM foods may in fact be better for us, but the companies trying to profit from these types of products need to spend more time studying them and convincing the public of their benefits.
This is such a tough subject. I answered 'no' to all the questions polled, but it was so hard to have a straight 'no' answer! So many points (on both sides) were very persuasive and the arguments well stated. I had to rely on my biased viewpoint of leaving Nature to do her own thing despite the disturbing facts of farming in Africa and other parts of the world being so poor.
I am grateful for such an opportunity to view this debate for I am quite caught up in the whole GMO thing. I am raising three children and do my best to buy organic. The subject of organic farming was briefly touched on in the "Harvest of Fear" program. I personally feel the need to support organically grown food and pray for the healing of our Earth Mother.
So much of our technology is good and so much is just dow right being miss-used. I do, however, find it amusing how this is another issue which is addressed in the Hopi prophecy stating that we will come to a point of finding it hard to agree upon anything.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
It is certainly with great distress that the whole of humankind should be managed by so few, who with the accumulation of wealth, resources, and power should send forth their menacing arsenals of influence to ravage the general consciousness of those unwilling to question the nature of their proposals.
For lack of a better example, I think that Pavlov's dogs should be utilized as an appropriate demonstration to articulate and emphasize the classic action-reaction outcome. With all things being unequal here, I think it's safe to say that when predictability is subjected to a scale model the results generally turn out to be axiomatic.
It was unfortunate that for six years, genetically modified food was a part of Gerber's menu before it knew what hit it. Can you imagine what's been going on in the global human and animal laboratories all of this time prior to what we are now finding out? Do you think that the Global Godfathers of business and industry already knew what the results would be when they employed the expertise of the best scientists, businessmen and women, politicians and marketing specialists in the world to carry out these experiments? Dr. Pavlov knew knew the importance of predictable and measurable outcomes. Sorry Gerber, now you know how it feels when the wool has been pulled over your mind (forget the eyes).
At this point, I believe it's safe to conclude that only an act of God can stop the genetic freight train now. Anything or anyone else would just get steam rolled. Legal or illegal, right or wrong, good, bad, or indifferent, Pandora's Box can't be closed. Einstein knew it when he expressed his concerns after the world became addicted to the power of the atom. Need anymore be said?
I think that GM crops should be evaluated on their merits. If there is a significant improvement on yield, quality, or useful new combinations, humanity should benefit from these factors. If GM crops do not provide a clear benefit, they should not be accepted as an alternative. Prudent and scientifically sound testing should be conducted on any new GM crop before it is released for mass growing. The standards for this testing should be the focus of the debate.
As for the apocalyptic prophesies of the ardent opponents to GM crops, I say that fear should not be the guiding light in any human endeavor, but that caution and a scientifically sound approach should. The human mind cannot think of all the potential combinations and interactions that GM crops, or for that matter any human invention, may have on the Earth's biosphere. But these fears should not stop progress.
Manuel S. Aparicio
Dania Beach, Florida
Your opinion poll is flawed. The question isn't whether or not GM crops should be 'grown.' The question is, Should they be introduced freely into an already fragile and unpredictable ecosystem? One argument against that seems to have been overlooked: A gene has two functions -- to self-replicate, and to express proteins. It's well known that, for example, even one wrong letter out of the three billion that make up the human genome will trigger catastrophe (case in point: BRCA 1 and 2 [the so-called breast-cancer genes]).
To assume that the disruption of any life form's genome with the introduction of genes from another species -- which has never occurred naturally in the history of evolution -- will not eventually result in code errors is dangerously ignorant. It's important to remember that mad cow disease is the result of a bad protein. Imagine what would happen if all the corn in the world suddenly began expressing deadly proteins.
I applaud your effort to provide the public with more information on the important topic of genetically engineered foods and crops. However, one important area of discussion that has been overlooked in the development of this Web site is the 'efficacy' of golden rice to combat Vitamin A deficiency -- that is, will it work?
The causes of Vitamin A deficiency are extremely complex, and this perspective was not adequately represented on your Web site (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/exist/).
For a more informed opinion on this topic, I suggest your staff/editors review the letter to the editor by Dr. Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, at New York University, published in the March 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association - pp. 289-290, "Genetically engineered 'golden' rice unlikely to overcome Vitamin A deficiency." (See http://www.biotech-info.net/unlikely_to_overcome.html.)
I hope you consult Dr. Nestle's article so that you can obtain a more complete view of the 'real' challenges faced in addressing this complex nutritional problem -- Vitamin A deficiency -- and malnutrition in general.
Chris McCullum, PhD, RD
Thank you for producing the special on GM foods.
I'm also glad that you put together an online poll, but I need to object to the wording that's used in the questions, written as "What if you knew that..." and "Based upon what you now know..."
I think it would be more fair to make it clear on these polling pages that there are opinions and viewpoints that are driving the debate. The "knew/know" statements makes these things appear factual, or makes you appear as if you are biased. As someone who is both educated on the GM issue and aware of the complex motivations behind people's opinions, I was even feeling a little coerced.
I'd like to suggest that you do two things to correct this:
- Change the wording to something like "Based on this point of view..." or "Based upon this new information..."
- Make it clear on the polling pages that you are only providing a single point of view, and provide a link to the other. Or for simplicity's sake, you might want to consider adding both views to a single page.
The bottom line is that we have not enough long-term research on these GM crops to see the effects along the food chain!!
Program Coordinator, NIMH