Harvest of Fear (home)NOVA

should we grow them?
engineer a crop
what's for dinner?
Should We Grow GM Crops? by peter tyson
You Decide, Then Vote Online

Set #4: May 8, 2001
back to Results | previous set

Readers Against Growing GM Crops | Readers in Support of Growing GM Crops | Readers Addressing Other Issues

Readers Against Growing Genetically Modified Crops

That we are now able to see the blueprint of nature -- the genetic code -- may certainly present a fascinating opportunity for study. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is a very fine and delicate level of nature we are attempting to manipulate. Until now it has been the exclusive province of the all-knowing intelligence of almighty nature, an intelligence far greater than even the most brilliant of concerned scientists. And it is this level of intelligence that the vision of the genetic code should inspire us to investigate, for genes have their source in a very deep level of nature. We must not carelessly trample where we do not belong. There is still more than enough mystery surrounding the genetic code that any wise man will know not to place his hand there. The economic investment that biotechnology firms have at stake is a shallow, hollow excuse for a seriously wrong turn of science.

Russ Wollman

Thank you for your somewhat balanced report; an unfortunate bias showing up in the choice of title: "Harvest of Fear."

I trained as a tropical ecologist/biogeographer and worked during the height of the Green Revolution with "miracle" rice in the upper Amazon region, so I am not against crop improvement per se. I do, however, resist GMOs for most of the reasons brought out in the program. I'll limit my remarks to the arguments given by proponents of GM, specifically the belief that without GMOs the poor and hungry of the developing regions will destroy the remaining available environment by agricultural expansion into the rest of natural landscapes.

Any knowledgeable person would concede that world hunger at this time is largely due not to the lack of food production, but its maldistribution and the inability to purchase food. Land tenure patterns in many developing regions concentrate arable lands into a few hands, lands that sometimes are planted to export crops, not food crops for indigenous populations. The small farmers are being forced into marginal lands or are driven into undeveloped natural habitats.

How will GMOs change this pattern? Ever expanding populations, even though slowing in the rate of growth, will bring more pressure on natural landscapes. Transferring western agricultural technology and industrial ag models will only accelerate urbanization and disruptions of indigenous cultures. I see few advantages (many promises, of course) to GM crops.

Yes, there is the dazzling images of planting the desert and irrigating with seawater and of cropping infertile lands with genetically engineered crops (always meaning, of course, recombinant transgenic crops, not crops bred with highly effective conventional techniques). Why haven't the biotechnological industries and agricultural establishment been investing in indigenous breeding and distribution systems with the same level of investments as now being applied to GMO developments? Breeding ought to be specific to local conditions to create highly adaptive crops.

Perhaps only the North can afford GMOs, paying royalties, premiums, and special assessments for the products of GMO development. International property rights limit transfer of biotechnology to those able to pay and restrict development of GMOs to those able to pay -- the hoopla of Golden Rice notwithstanding.

Marshall Chrostowski

I found your proposed survey method disturbing. Offering to present only the other side of the issue when a person answers yes or no six times could leave the respondent totally ignorant about their own view. That seems to be more of an experiment in propaganda than an honest survey of people's opinion. I am thankfull that you offered to show all 12 yes and no arguments. I still voted no after reading all of them.

Some additional points not mentioned in the arguments:
  1. Higher yeilds per acre can be had by growing more than one crop in the same field. The crops tend to protect each other from pests by hosting competing pests. They call this biodynamic farming.

  2. The Starlink corn mentioned as being only released for animal feed has found its way into the human food chain. Your article overlooked this blockbuster story. I don't believe the GE foods are adequately tested before they are marketed, despite industry assertions.

  3. The practice of planting non-Bt corn surrounding Bt corn is evolving to ever larger fractions of non-Bt corn. I believe the latest practice may be as high as 40% non-Bt corn. This kind of takes the justification away from planting Bt corn. Corn growers don't use much pesticide in the U.S. anyway, so why bother?

  4. The use of herbicides is often higher on herbicide-tolerant crops than on non-herbicide-tolerant crops. Why else would they be made herbicide tolerant? Think about it. Imagine pouring pesticide on a plant like it was water. The plant is in the middle of a barren landscape. This is "modern agriculture."

Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion. I strongly believe that the dangers of genetically modifying food far outweigh the possible benefits. Having reviewed your arguments and counterarguments, it seems obvious that the arguments for genetically modifying foods are without a basis in fact. In the same way the tobacco industry rationalized and even promoted the benefits of tobacco for many years, the biotech industry is so well-funded they can buy out brilliant scientists to express arguments in their favor. On the intuitive level, anyone who has seen the movie The Fly gets chills thinking about mixing genes of different species. The overconfidence of scientists trying to "outsmart nature" for commercial purposes has probably caused more problems on every level in our world than any other reason.

John Raines

No, we should not grow GM crops, due to the decline it causes in our export markets.

Jeff & Linda Rauser

My worry is not so much about what GM foods will do to humans but about what they will do to the delicate balance of natural ecosystems. What happens to the natural balance when we start killing insects upon which birds depend, upon which the breakdown of organic matter depends, upon which microorganisms depend, upon which soil and trees depend. As naturalist John Muir once wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound by a thousand invisible cords ... to everything in the universe."

We do not have sufficient information about the unintended consequences of our actions to support what is already going on with GMOs.

The Green Revolution (with the help of the chemical industry) brought us corporate agriculture and massive improvements in farm productivity. It also brought about the loss of thousands of small family farms, loss of contact with the land, loss of rural communities, and the proliferation of cancer-causing pesticides. And we still have not solved the problems of poor nutrition and starvation. I'm not convinced that corporate farming (GM or non-GM) will get us where we need to be with food security.

I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about these issues through the PBS/NOVA special.

Jeanne Hibberd, Cofounder & President
Communities by Choice
Berea, KY

In all the arguments about GM modified crops I have never heard reporting on the issue that concerns me most. I have been a vegetarian for over 27 years for religious reasons. I am horrified that scientists would take genes from a flounder and use it to grow a strawberry that will resist the cold. When I buy a strawberry I do not want to have to worry about eating parts of a fish or any other animal product. To alter the food in this way without any type of labeling is violating my constitutional right to freedom of religion. Therefore, I believe that the whole process is unconstitutional. I am forced to eat only organically grown food, which is very difficult because it is not easy to find and it is costly.

Terry Anne Barman

I truly feel that the arguments for GM products are not in our best interest. We have tried to control and alter our food sources for many years through processing, enriching, additives, and genetic engineering. We have not come up with anything better then the natural, original creation. When are we going to learn that most everything that carries a patent is for profit not for our best interest or health?

I could put holes in every argument for GM food production if you wanted to take the time. I will just say that as an RN I have seen more than my share of death and suffering from our use of unnatural, quick-fix alternatives to true healing modalities.

We need to support organic farming and let the bugs and beings on this planet get back into balance as we clean up the mess we have made with our attempts to control things, make more money, do things quicker, make it bigger and in general mess up the natural rhythums of this planet and ourselves. GM products are not being made or developed with our best interests in mind.

We do not have the wisdom, love and compassion for all living things, or the true motivations to inspire trust and faith in this experiment, with life-giving and life-sustaining nutrition. Food heals and food is so important that everyone should have a sayso as to whether they wish to have it altered and how, if that is proven to be nes. If this turns out to be a disaster, it will be a disaster for the entire planet.

Sharon Morrow

My concerns are two, and are ultimately related. First, the GM foods that have been distributed have not been previously tested among people to see whether they produce complications, or whether they have no effect. Second, by severely stacking the odds against certain organisms, such as predator insects, the entire balance of nature is disrupted. Birds may feed on those insects and may die without them. Then the other insect prey of these birds will not be balanced and expand. It is true that normal evolution is occasioned by genetic modification. But this is usually one phenotype at a time, not 1,000,000 acres at a time.

Most farmers who complain of the need of insecticides, or some substitute GM fix, are farmers who are engaging in counter-environmental farming. One thousand acres of potatoes, every year. Of course, predators become established in such a system. About 5% of our farm produce now comes from organic farmers. They need neither insecticides nor GM fixes. Nor do they need chemical fertilizers. They produce good, tasty crops. They know how to work in harmony with the ecology. To avail counter-environmental farmers of GM seeds does not solve the problem. It just delays it. Monsanto has not put evolution to sleep. Predators capable of exploiting the GM crops will develop. What will Monsanto do then? We should stop counter environmental farming.

Jacob Silver, Ph.D., Director
Michigan Research Associates

Pro-biotech industries are assuring us all kinds of wonderful advancements and benefits from genetically modified foods, but have no proof to back it up. They use reasons like helping starvation to back up their technology. This is nothing more than taking advantage of a sad situation in order to further their own best interests. There is nothing that proves that this will help. There is nothing that assures us that these crops are not going to cause more harm to the environment and our health, then helping us.

There is also no way of being able to prove that some of the health problems that some of us may be having now are due to eating GM foods. How do we know? It is almost impossible, especially due to the non-labeling of these foods.

I do agree that there are some really hard things for us to face in this day and age, but GM is not necessarily the answer. Especially when we know so little about what it does. There are other ways to answer the problems we face. We just need to step up and become more innovative without creating more problems.

I think that GM technology has been pushed through too fast without really knowing what it's going to do. Because of this, I try to avoid these foods as much as possible. I am working towards trying to grow more of my own organic food to stay away from GM foods. I don't trust it and don't appreciate being used as a guinea pig. I'd rather have a bug on my food, then to eat GM foods. Thank you for such an interesting show and a chance to give you my thoughts.

Andrea Peterson
Boulder, CO

If you're tempted to say "yes" to GM Crops, then think "thalidomide" and "breast implants." I'm sure there are many other examples of scientific breakthroughs that turned out to be unsound and dangerous.

Barry Tobias

I appreciated the in-depth look at the issue and found much to think about. I am opposed to the use of GMO crops because I believe the potential risks have not been adequately researched. It is typical in the marketing of technological progress to tout the benefits while pooh-poohing the risks.

While I was sympathetic towards the team working on the papaya virus problem, and to the woman from Kenya talking about the potentially positive impact on the lives of subsistence farmers, I cannot trust the corporations pushing the technology forward. In many cases these are the same companies that have pushed the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in the years since the Second World War, and I do not view the results as positive. "Silent Spring" and the start of the environmental movement were directly due to the policies of these same chemical companies; now I'm supposed to believe they've evolved into some kind of benign humanitarian enterprise?

The DDT advertising shown in your program was an excellent illustration of why we should not take the word of anyone speaking for these companies when they now highlight the wonders of their new products. (If you wanted accurate information about Pinto gas tank explosions, who would you ask, Consumer Reports or your local Ford salesman?)

I was also struck by a statement from Mr. Grant of Monsanto that followed mention of the concern of what effect GMOs might have in the long haul in terms of breeding BT-resistant insects--he said something to the effect of having forseen the effects for the next ten years. Ten years?!?! How about the next 100 years? The next 10,000 years? This made it clear that his industry is focused on short-term profits, not long-term impacts on biodiversity and human culture. A recent PBS program with Bill Moyers about the plastics industry knowingly poisoning its workers would be recommended viewing for anyone inclined to accept the statements of these industry spokespeople.

I work in a branch of the food industry whose customer base (the "natural foods" market) is opposed to GMOs, and of special concern for me is the lack of labeling. I strongly urge the FDA to require the listing of GMO ingredients so that consumers have the option to knowingly purchase or not purchase them. As an additional thought on the legal front, it seems to me that if a corporation such as Monsanto wishes to be paid every time a farmer plants a crop with one of their genes in it, they should likewise be liable anytime their gene shows up in someone else's crop who didn't want it there. Such rules (which would no doubt be shot down by lobbyists as "handcuffing industry") might do much to make those developing the technology think a bit more seriously about the consequences.

Douglas Porter

Readers in Support of Growing Genetically Modified Crops

I find it interesting that there is such concern about the GM crop situation. People have been using "hybrid" varieties of corn, soybean, tomatoes, etc. for years, which are also modified plant products. We don't hesitate to have blood transfusions from another human being, or an organ transplant from the right "match" in another human being. I believe a baboon heart was the first transplant done in a human. Wouldn't there be more chance for transferring allergies, immune-system deficiencies, and other weaknesses through these means than with GM crops? Possibly the same people who are in opposition to GM crops were also opposed to organ transplants, but many people are alive today because of that research and perfecting those technologies. With our ever-increasing world population and shrinking crop land areas we need to reap the most benefits from the crops we plant to feed the masses.

Katherine A. Brogden
ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
Ames, IA

Today's producers are asked to do amazing things with limited resources. The average American producer must keep costs low so he or she can make enough money to buy food for his or her own families, and yet, they are still receiving the same prices for their crops as they did in the 1950s and 1960s. Great idea of a market-based economy, isn't it?

To top this off, farmland is continuously being gobbled up by urban sprawl, where a farmer's new neighbors may be upset over his hog farm, or the dust from spring planting, or the noise of the morning rooster. Yet do you see these folks volunteering to cut down on their amount of consumption? Do you see them scramble to pay more for a pound of cheese or a box of corn flakes? Are they willing to pick an acre of weeds by hand from a field of corn so that chemicals do not have to be used? No.

Organic farming is all the rage. Yet do you understand how inefficient it really is? By the time you take out the losses due from uncontrollable weeds, insects, and the intense labor, there is hardly a profit available from the meager crop.

Let's discuss water use. In the past 10 years, drought has ravaged all parts of the U.S. at some point or another. Water is a precious resource and the less we can use on agriculture, the more that is left for urban swimming pools, country club lakes, and watering golf courses. Many of the GM research being conducted today is trying to alter drought-tolerance of plants, to answer this problem.

Folks, it's really simple. We are throwing away our natural resources of land, water, and even clean air. In order to survive, we will have to alter plants. In order to feed our children and clothe ourselves, we need to follow scientific-based research. In order to end world hunger, we need to breed or engineer drought-resistant crops or vitamin-enhanced rice. Period.

I understand the fear and uncertainty that prevails the urban psyche. Many "city folk" have no idea what happens on a farm. Because of the lack of knowledge, they will naturally be afraid. Hell, I'm a little uneasy about traveling to a big city. Logically and mathematically, there is a minimal to zero chance that I will be raped, mugged, shot, or otherwise harmed. Yet I never walk alone in a city, I carry mace, and I attend women's self-defense classes, just in case.

The same applies to this hysteria. Normal agricultural practices that I live by everyday seem alien to urban folks. Wake up at 5 a.m. to milk a herd of cows? Driving a tractor in 110 degree heat to rake hay in the summer? Show a pig at the county fair? These tasks and more are the basics of agriculture; no wonder folks get wigged out when they think we are tampering with their food.

There's not an awful lot that can be done to rid ourselves of GM crops. The StarLink fiasco pretty much has proven that. So, rather than try and close the barn door after the cows have gotten out, why don't we work on educating people about science. Why don't we provide labeling guidelines? Or build special facilities to host GM crops away from conventional crops?

Education is the key. Not sensationalism. Science, not PR. Facts, not "what if." Please think of all sides who might just benefit. Thank you.

Jenni Latzke

This argument is somewhat like the arguments for and against exploring the universe. Sure, there's lots that can hurt us, but the benefits far outweigh the shortfall. We'll adapt to the problems; we always do. The potential hazards should not stand in the way of our increasing our knowledge, and our capabilities.

Mai & Howard Conaway

In the end I answered 'yes', because careful genetic enhancement can accomplish the 'good' points listed in the arguments, and, it's not so far off from Nature's mutations. But my 'yes' is a qualified one, because the modifications are not being undertaken to feed the Third World, they are not being funded by philanthropic organizations, they are under the control of huge, for-profit companies like Monsanto, inventor of the so-called "Terminator" gene.

The corporate GM aim seems to be to increase sales of their own products, like Roundup, and to increase reliance, perhaps dependence, on their seeds and fertilizers. In a one-on-one human situation, I would not let you increase my reliance on you into dependence upon you, accepting your arguments that you have my best interests at heart, and I should trust you.

My 'yes' is qualified because the real question is "Do you trust the agencies developing and reviewing the direct and side effects of GM crops to do a thorough job, based on the public welfare, in the face of political and profit pressures, and the 'acceptable exploitation' attitude towards Third-World countries?" My answer to that question would be "No."

A good forum. Thanks for developing it.

Bill Ashforth
Shepherdstown, WV

While many people think that GM crops may cause serious side effects and harm the health of many people, I have found, through my own diligent searches, actual results of tests that Mansanto and Syngenta have done on their crops. It was absolutely astonishing to see the variety of tests they have done to ensure the food is safe for consumption. They even look at the food at the molecular level to check how different the GM crops are from traditionally grown crops. They have shown the two crops are identical.

What I do find disappointing is the lack of tests they have for the environmental side effects. There were minimal tests, and most were done in the lab.

One thing to note is that all these tests are not regulated by the government. These companies do them willingly (mostly to protect themselves from lawsuits), which, in itself, is good. But if there is something that causes them to halt these tests, no government agency enforces them to continue. I do think that this is a shame.

However, all that I have read about the benefits show that they greatly outweigh the risks. Nothing -- no tests or field trials or even (God forbid) accidents with consumers -- has shown us that anything detrimental will result from planting these crops. It is all speculation and fear that drives us away from them, when the facts show that no one -- not even activists -- can prove any harm can come from them. Why are we so afraid? Tests should be done -- and regulated -- but why stop planting and researching them all together? Stop the research, and you stop the possibility of ever finding out how to make better crops using this technology.

Third World countries do not have the luxury of fear and speculation. They are starving now. Current procedures for helping them are failing -- they are still hungry. These procedures guarantee they will continue to rely on industrialized countries for their food. I want to give them the power to be able to live on their own. I know I don't want to be the one to have to have their lives on my conscience just because I'm afraid of what hasn't even been proven yet (after many, many tests). Let the research continue, and let the facts speak for themselves. Leave emotions out of your decision and help the rest of the world feed themselves.

Cheryl Hackworth

Genetically modified crops and other products (e.g. growth enhanced farmed salmon) should be developed for their obvious benefits and because such organisms are safer than crossbred species, because genetic changes are controlled. "Natural" cross-breeding results in dozens or more genes being shuffled in a random fashion and -- although the risk of troubles are low -- allergic or toxic gene arrangements can be produced. Changing only one gene is far less hazardous because problems are clearly identified as due to only the one gene, not one of dozens when they are unknown.

Leonard T. Flynn, Ph.D.

I am in favor of GMO crops. They aren't the only answer but are certainly a necessary component of a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and productive agriculture.

However, one conclusion missing from the excellent NOVA program was that the increased regulation demanded by environmental groups plays into the hands of large multinational corporations and favors large crops. Only the biggest companies can afford the regulatory costs. This makes it very difficult for any small companies to enter the industry, resulting in less competition and indeed a few megacorporations controlling the supply of cheap food (a disturbing trend in our entire economy, not just food).

It also mitigates against companies of any size from working on the vast number of "minor" crops, vegetables, and even ornamentals for which the market is too small to invest in the regulatory costs required for each transgenic event. This may lead to reduced crop diversity and continued nonsustainable production of these crops which though individually small, together comprise a large portion of agriculture. Mechanisms are needed for sound, strong regulation that doesn't exclude the little companies or the little crops.

Allen Miller, Ph.D.
Plant Pathology Department
Iowa State University

I took your poll, and read the articles. Interesting concept for a poll. Give an answer and then receive a strongly one-sided review trying to convince you otherwise. Having been a scientist, and working with crops all my life, I don't fear what will help people live a better, more productive life. I have a son who requires artificially created hormones. These are created through GMO processes. Without them, he would be dead today. How many more people would you deny the right to live because you fear to accept proceedures that science has accepted as being safe? I remember reading about similar arguments for people against pasteurized milk. Enough said.

Lynn F. Hall

I have worked as an auditor of industrial safety rules. It is said that most safety rules are written in blood. That is that safety rules regulating industrial activity are normally written after accidents happen. I think the same will happen in the biotech arena. It will take a major trauma for scientists to learn how to predict the results of their biotechnology.

Having said that, I still believe that the gains are worth the risks. Yes, there will be bump along the way, but name one technology that didn't have its share of growing pains. Most of the arguments against gene modification seem to be base on what ifs and horrible maybes. We seem to live in a world where many indulge in the fantasy that zero risk is possible. Should Columbus have stayed home until he was sure where he was going? Like Columbus, today's researchers can't even begin to imagine what sort of difficulties they will encounter, maybe they will find America rather than China!

Bottom line is I trust corporate America. Not because I think they're a bunch of nice guys only interested in my welfare, but because they know their economic variable depends on having no major screw-ups!

I believe in a world that is overseen by an all-powerful God. He has given us the intellect to create solutions to problems. And if we get too far out of hand, He has the power to stop us.

S.J. Briscoe

I would contend that we cannot overlook the benefits of GM crops. Sure they are dangerous and could cause problems. But if our ancestors had outlawed the bow and arrow, I suggest that we would not be here.

As a species we need to evolve, not stagnate. We traditionally do this by utilizing the newest technology. Until I took this quiz I was at worst opposed and at best undecided about GM crops. Now, though, I view GM crops as an important step in the evolution of our species.

This is not to say of course that we should go out for a free for all and GM every crop we can find. GM crops need to be strictly controlled. Foods that contain GM crops need to be clearly labeled.

Some suggestions include buffer zones, sterile male plants, and plants modified without the new gene or protien in their reproductive system. I don't know about the last but the first two make sense.

Also growing crops in contained enviroments where appropriate would seem acceptable.

There are many arguments either way, but again I contend that with proper regulation and strict control, GM crops are a neccesary step in our evolution.


Readers Addressing Other Issues

Research and technology are not the issues here. Technologists are dreamers, and we all benefit from their creativity and aspirations. However, they are not able to foresee the negative consequences of their efforts. We should have learned something from the nuclear and chemical industries. Technologists, who are necessarily focused on their narrow fields, must be overseen by others with broader vision.

The real issues with biotechnology are the management and deployment of this technology. The appropriate government agencies are responsible to protect the public welfare and provide the necessary oversight in this matter, but they have deferred to industry. By default our society has placed its biological future in the hands of organizations that have one and only one goal, which is to maximize profit. There is more to life than profit, and the fundamental decisions that we and our heirs will have to live with forever must not be made by those whose only concern is short-term profit. But that is exactly what is happening. This constitutes a failure of leadership at the highest level.

Keep in mind that the companies charting our common biological future are the same companies that have poisoned the groundwater throughout the U.S. and have given us dioxin, DDT, and a thousand other toxic pollutants. They don't have a very good track record.

Biotechnology is a fascinating field of study. We should encourage research in this area. But the worldwide commercial deployment of engineered organisms while this science is still in its infancy is madness.

Michael Cuddehe

Like it or not, genetic experimentation and manipulation are here to stay, but I think we may have the application wrong. I believe we should grow GM crops, but not to eat. I suggest we introduce altered strains of the weeds that drive down crop yields and threaten our food supply, harmless weeds that proliferate quickly, crowd out the non-engineered weeds, then die out faster than they grew.

There are plenty of crops that we grow for uses other than food. I don't believe that a genetically engineered cotton crop would pose much of a danger; we don't eat that. Engineered trees for lumber may be the answer to our dwindling Northwest forests. Maybe we could come up with some engineered version of a buffer crop irresistible to whatever pest is of concern, so that the bug won't look twice at our fields. We could throw in some type of insect contraception, to keep the pesky devils' population low, but not kill them off completely.

We sure don't want our livestock eating the stuff, either. Look at the mess we've got with engineered cattle and sheep feed, without throwing genetics into the mix. I see some real benefits in the alteration of landscaping plants. Think of the relief that we could give to those that suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies with low- or no-pollen landscape plants. We could make some real progress with non-native or invasive species as well. The tamarisk tree is an Asian import that has a devastating effect on riparian areas in the Southwest. By introducing GM tamarisk trees that are initially successful at multiplying but can be easily controlled or eradicated, we could make lots of ecosystem restoration headway in a short amount of time.

The possibilities are endless for this technology. I'd be happy wearing clothes made of modified cotton, walking across my beautiful genetically altered lawn barefooted, or enjoying a breezy spring day without sneezing my eyes out. I just don't want to eat food with the stuff.


The arguments designed to counter the position of those who were voting no in your poll were easy to deconstruct for anyone familiar with the issue, yet not effectively answered by the issues raised in response to those voting yes.

The reference to Golden Rice, for example, mentioned claims made by its proponents but failed to note that a six-year-old child would have to eat three times the average adult's consumption of rice to get that child's RDA of Vitamin A. That child could get as much or more by eating just two normal helpings of dark green leafy vegetables a day. The Green Revolution, our previous agricultural panacea in the Third World, helped create the problems that Golden Rice is touted to address.

If we just skim a book, we never get the totality of it. This is the case with today's complex issues. The fundamental issue with which we are dealing, and which the media seems unable to grasp, has to do with how we conduct product safety testing in the U.S. In our delirious plunge into the technological future, we always look for evidence of harm. Risk assessment profiles often assume that an absence of evidence of harm is evidence of an absence of harm. This is a logical fallicy, and one that gave us thalidomide babies, Love Canal, DDT, and numerous other horrors; witness the more than 10,000 contaminated dumps at DOE facilities around the country now being inventoried for triage and eventual cleanup.

It must be articulated, and understood: Absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. Frequently, this arrogance merely sets the stage for us to discover, at some unfortunate distant time, how much we did not know. The reason so many people are so concerned about the biotech revolution is its irreversibility. Scientists charged with assessing the European Union's position on GE agricultural crops concluded that "it is beyond the competence of science to answer the question: What are the potential consequences of the uncontrolled release of novel organisms into the natural system?"

If ever there were a time for precautionary principles to govern our policy decisions, it is now, yet the media raises not so much as an eyebrow at the preponderence of biotech industry influence in the previous and current administration. Instead it ditifully regurgitates the well-crafted positions of the professional public relations firms paid to sell influence in the media. When the civility of your reportage constrains you from seeing what is really going on, it might be time to find a new definition for what it is that you are doing.

Peter Neils
Native Forest Network
Albuquerque, NM

Thank you for your effort to gather public opinion on this important topic. I do not believe that the science of biotechnology is inherent "bad." I do believe that there needs to be much more exploration of the longer term implications of the use of GMO's. And there needs to be much greater assessment and evaluation of who will benefit really from their use. There needs to be consideration of alternative methods to attain the same or better results.

And, if consumers, for whatever reason, do not with to use GMO products, they shouldn't have to use them. They should be clearly labeled in detail. There seems to be much rhetoric about how consumers just don't know enough about genomics. As a professional in the non-profit sector, I am fairly well informed. I want to choose when, or if, I consume genetically altered foods. I am not ignorant, I am making a choice. I do have a right to do so! Thanks for your quality work on this important subject.

Jan O'Donnell
Minnesota Food Association
Arden Hills, MN

I don't buy the argument that we need GM crops so that we can grow more food to feed increasing populations. Instead of providing GM seeds to farmers in Africa so that they can produce more food, we should be providing education and free birth control to stop the population growth in Africa. Lack of food is not the only problem that comes with a growing population. What about fresh drinking water and fuel?

Africans say that they don't want to be dependent on the developed world for free food. They say they have their pride and want to grow their own crops. But if they accept GM seeds now, they will be dependent on big corporations like Monsanto, who hold the patents forever. What will the farmers do if the price of GM seeds sky rockets, and they can not longer afford to buy them?

M. Scott

Firstly, this an is incredible issue that arouses sentiment from across the social spectrum. The opposition includes everyone from the English tabloid readers rejecting "Frankenstein Food" to the televised amateur mathematician with summa's coming out of his ears.

The issue may be much simpler than you suggest. It could be a matter of whether we'd rather ingest assorted herbicides and insecticides or have food that has been evolved under controlled conditions.

Tough decision????

Allan Reid

Your question "Should we grow GM crops?" is too simplistic for a good public policy to arise from these responses; all that will be reflected in the 'yes' or 'no' answers is the current measure of hopes and fears. More important to us all is knowledge that will let us consider and evaluate the answers and turn them into action.

The question should be: "When, and why, should we grow GM crops?" Answers to that question allow the quality and comprehensiveness of the reasoning and motivation of the respondent to be evaluated, and that knowledge then lets us, the general public, make a wiser choice. (Wisdom may not automatically come from more knowledge, but it rarely derives from ignorance save through chance.)

When should we should grow GM crops? When the benefits and risks are identified and balanced, and the overall balance is favorable. When GM crops offer improvement over the alternative (as in the Kenyan virus-resistant sweet potato example in your special), then we should grow them, whether or not this creates immense profits for the originators.

The benefits and risks that must be considered must include more than those affecting those directly involved (the source company, the farmer, and the consumer); they must include those indirectly involved (the non-corporate or peasant competitor, the neighbor, and the taxpayer). The evaluation must also realistically consider the benefits and risks of the alternatives (non-GM crops, no comparable crops but other comparable means to the same end, no comparable means), because the GM crops are not going to arise or be grown in an isolated, separated environment.

For example, a Bt-strain corn may increase 'superpests', but is it less or more likely to do so than Bt-sprayed organic corn? Will it render corporate monoculture more attractive, or, due to the benefit of unmoderated corn 'reservoir' planting, render small-scale farming more attractive? If it causes an end to small-scale farms in Western Europe, but also saves a much larger number of individuals throughout the world from starvation, should we condemn people to unemployment or starvation (which is far less 'fixable' for the sufferer)?

When should we not grow GM crops? If all the benefit accrues to the creator, grower, and user, and all the cost to the rest of us, then we may well insist upon a ban. Superfood that makes 49% of the consumers sick, even though it makes 51% healthier and the agricompany and farmers growing it rich, and that displaces the alternative so thoroughly as to make it vanish, may be a 'net' benefit, but is hardly an equitable one.

Finally, part of any evaluation must include a 'fudge factor' for the unknowns that inexorably will remain, no matter how fine our science and analysis. We must be ready to change our answer, if our knowledge changes, as the 'monarch surprise' may suggest. A rush to judgment (pro or con) will harm us exactly to the degree it proves both wrong and difficult to correct.

This would suggest that, the more that the original 'release' into the environment of a GM crop is uncontrollable, the greater the scrutiny must be to the overall benefits to be derived. If the product will be growing in an environment that can be isolated (e.g., the Hawaiian islands), is a crop that requires a special environment (tropical vs. temperate) or a particular nutrient to thrive, and is less likely to be mixed untraceably into the general food supply, then there is much less hazard from any unknown problem. Time and means for correction exist. So GM-papayas are not and should not be considered the same as GM-corn. Perhaps, however, GM-salmon are; unless they can be bred so their reproduction depends on a particular nutrient that is only provided in aquaculture farms.

I realize that the last sentence 'changed' an answer. That was to show why knowing the reasoning behind an answer is important; often, it is the cue to resolving the problem identified, or challenging an improper assertion or reasoning gap. Our best hope is to think clearly, with humble awareness of our own limitations, and strong concern for improving the life of all those who will be sharing the world with the new GM crops.

I would point out that when it was discovered than an (un-named) company had put a Brazil-nut gene into the soybean, the product was taken off the market. This was, I believe, a problem more in human engineering than genetic engineering; the corporation's scientists had warned about the potential problem, but the 'release' was inadequately policed. This should be cited as an example of the system working (the problem was identified first and corrected without significant harm), rather than as a failure of the system. As one of those who have known nut allergies, I was grateful to read of the identification-and-removal before possibly experiencing a surprise that could have been, well, 'bad'. Was the Brazil-nut gene one that was known to cause human allergenic response? Tested? I would have liked a bit more information here, yet recognize that that is a limited audience interest for NOVA and Frontline.

Simply labelling food 'GM-modified' sounds like a good response, until a few further questions are asked. Do we have the label indicate whether the modification came from 'traditional' or 'laboratory' methods? Do we distinguish between within-species, cross-species, and cross-phyla mixes? Do we distinguish between direct and secondary or indirect chromosomal modification? Remember the beefalo, the geep (goat and sheep), and hormonal treatments, before you answer. Also remember that each of us, as the consumer, has a limited amount of time to read the warnings, ingredients, and labels. (I rarely buy cookies and pastries simply because it takes so long to read whether or not they used any nut, or were processed in a factory where nuts were used.)

Thank you for your special, and for those who read this answer, for your patience.

George S. Cole

Having carefully viewed the program 'Harvest of Fear' and reviewed the arguments on this website, I must speak as a professional historian and say that although the televised report (and site) followed "objective standards" in journalistic textbook ways, nearly all the participants fail, and horribly, to develop any historical dimension in this question -- a question of the profoundest importance to the continuation of humanity and the Earth we depend upon. The pro-GMO scientists especially seem to live in a hermatically sealed lab, in a world without history. Either our educational institutions have failed them (and hence the rest of us) badly, or indeed, they are self-serving and criminal.

In any objective analysis, traditional agricultural practices historically fail in sustaining populations only when 1) climatic catastrophes occur, or 2) (more often) they are perverted by the economic/ideological system we call capitalism. One case in point. The Inka state of the pre-conquest Andean region fed by sustainable agricultural techniques a diverse population estimated at three times the current one in Peru, and without widespread hunger or crime.

Europeans and our 'systems' destroyed this as we have steadily destroyed most everything else, including our own original ecological and cultural diversity.

Monsanto and its ilk are the extensions of this anti-ecological and anti-human paradigm. If you cannot answer to history, as well as 'science,' you shouldn't be speaking at all. Send your reporters and writers back to school. Send the industry 'scientists' to prison.

Dr. Kyle R. Crocker

I think that there is validity to many of the arguments against GM crops; however, many of these arguments could equally be applied to crops grown using conventional breeding. Anytime you develop a pest-resistant plant -- whether through genetic engineering or conventional breeding -- you have to worry about how it might affect non-target organisms as well as human consumers. I think a lot of people don't realize that nothing we eat is really "natural" -- and that "natural" doesn't necessarily mean "good for you" -- and that conventional breeding has also been used to develop pest-resistant crops and other varieties that could potentially cause health problems.

There's a lot of hype about the need for more testing of GM food, but what about testing of all the herbal supplements people are taking and eating? No one really knows what the side effects of those might be. There's a lot of hype about possible environmental effects of GM crops, but what about possible environmental effects of integrated pest management? No one really knows how the mass importation of non-native species into cropland could affect biodiversity.

The words "genetic engineering" scare people because it sounds like something that humans somehow shouldn't be able to do. But to me that doesn't necessarily mean that genetic engineering in of itself is wrong. It's a question of how it's done and applied. For example, monocropping of anything is going to lead to environmental problems regardless of whether genetic engineering is involved. I don't think the GMO debate makes sense unless it's carried out in the larger context of how agriculture is carried out in general.

Meg Zupancic
Berkeley, CA

I am a general-family practice physician, U.S. Air Force Reserve Flight Surgeon and an agricultural consultant (crop doctor). I make the connection between human health and soil health which determines crop health.

The arguments that the biotech industry gives for forcing GM crops down the public's throat are founded solely on greed, not science. First of all, the reason we have weeds, diseases, and insect pests in our crops is that the nutritional management of the soil is inappropriate. Appropriate nutrition corrects these problems and will result in greater production per unit of input than conventional chemical or GM farming. This science is well proven and published from William Albrecht while at University of Missouri, Phil Callahan while at University of Florida and USDA plus others.

Further, weeds, diseases, and insect pests plus nutritional problems are not due to flawed genes but again flawed nutritional management of the soil and crop. The chemical industry and its prostituted arm at the land grant universities are not interested in solving these problems with better nutritional management because they would not sell their chemicals. That is basic business.

Further, GM products will not solve these problems. Already there is significant resistance to the Bt cotton and corn in the targeted insects and growing weed resistance to the Roundup used for Roundup Ready soybeans. Further, work done by Elaine Ingham at Oregon State University has shown that the Bt toxin in these crops kills beneficial fungi in the soil, thus increasing the incidence of pathogenic fungi for which the farmer will need additional toxic chemicals.

Then there is the government-funded studies done in England by Arpad Pusztai and others that conclusively demonstrates that GM foods decrease the function of animal immune systems and increase the incidence of cancer.

As a physician and agriculturalist, I see the full spectrum of the GM issue. The GM industry has weak science at best, strictly political science at worst. I am glad we have such biotech products as insulin, however, the problem with our food production system is not a deficiency of genetic manipulation. It is a problem with nutritional management in the field. I would be happy to demonstrate this fact to any of your reporters that are interested and point you to the scientifice literature supporting this truth.

Arden B. Andersen, D.O., Ph.D., F.S.

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