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What are your thoughts on the risks and benefits of genetically modified food? Are you wary of biotech food products?

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Dear FRONTLINE,

I am fed up with reading, as posted here by someone revelling in the title "ambassador" that Europe is "using" biotech to construct barriers against trade with the US.

This is nonsense, for the simple reason that no one in the US asks why we in Europe might want to construct a trade based "cordon sanitaire" around ourselves, to protect our food chain from US contaminated produce. I know this seems rich from the country that exported BSE around the world, but hey, I'm not my country's government, and the stuff's on our supermarket shelves too.

The question is the choice between beef that might rot your brain twenty years down the line, and beef from the US treated with carcinogenic rBGH. Mainland Europe, sensibly, decided to deal with both problems; the first by performing major surveys of affected farms; the second by refusing imports on meat that would cause another illness that would cost millions to have to deal with -- but then, that's what the healthcare dollar's all about, eh?

As for soya and corn, Europe decided to serve its population rather than Yankee corporations, by restricting or banning the import of these products containing untested genetic material with as yet unpredictable effects. (Unpredictable not least because nobody independent is doing any research on the effects of all this slicing and splicing.) Or can you say Starlink corn, and allergen?

So, to sum up; while the bans and restrictions may have the effect of raising trade barriers against Yankee goods and produce, the real impact will be on the health and welfare of the peoples of Europe. Shame you can't raise any trade barriers against yourselves -- or is this "cultural difference" between Americans and the rest of the world that we keep hearing about, the one that makes us Europeans mistrusting of GM, simply a result of a culture of corporate secrecy? Or do Americans like carcinogens and genetic pollution more than Europeans? And finally, where the hell do you get off in your self proclaimed world empire dismissing the legitimate concerns of a very significant number of ordinary citizens, among which I number myself, as simple "erecting of trade barriers?"

How dare you suggest that public safety is not a legitimate impediment to trade, and that these concerns must take second place?

David Walton
london, england


Dear FRONTLINE,

Having studied genetically modifying crops, there should be no fear. This has been done in a different fashion thought the years. People have been cross breeding plants within and across species lines for years. This all has been done to get genetic variation and introducing new genes for a variety of reasons; disease resistance, yield, etc. As far as safety of eating these foods goes, genes are just protein which are made up of 4 bases. These bases are arranged in different ways to make a gene. That’s it, four bases that makes up all DNA. You have all of them in millions of copies in your body right now, and as far as I know protein is safe to eat. The concern with these genes getting into your system and causing allergies or affecting you other ways is absurd. The DNA gets into your stomach and is digested the same way as any other protein.

On the benefits side there is nothing but good news, with modification foods will be come healthier, by allowing plants and animals to "make" vitamins that they cannot already. There is potential to make foods "medicines", the possibilities are endless. Modifying plants and animals will only take time for acceptance, and when the public understands how it works and what it does they will be accepted.

Charlie Stein
crookston, mn


Dear FRONTLINE,

The issues concerning gene transfer were addressed well. The segment that featured a scientist proving that allowing fish farms with genetically modified fish was very important.

This is serious business. I feel that people need to be concerned about the ecological impact GMO's will have. I hope this is not the last of specials like this. The public needs education about what people who are in control are doing to our earth.

eugene, or


Dear FRONTLINE,

There is a natural law of nature that makes all life possible. To genetically alter nature at the cellular level crossing unrelated species, and using bacteria, viruses and antibiotics is a recipe for unimaginable dissaster.

This is an area where the tests of science have no value. Scientists and biotech corporations who claim that genetically engineered foods have been tested for safety are only looking for what they can see and test. The unknown is unknown and they know that. I believe they are even protected from liability if that turns out to be the case – which it will.

Like the human body, the earth was designed by nature. The food that naturally grows is the food that was designed to nourish and sustain life. By changing our natural foods with pesticides and preservatives we have contributed to the diseases of the body. By altering the plants and foods of the earth will be creating dis-ease for Mother Earth.

As a mother of five, I do not support altering the natural world for any reason suggested by science. There are plenty of healthy alternatives that simply support and work with nature.

thank-you for your show. Please continue to involve the American people on this important issue of our time.

asheville, nc


Dear FRONTLINE,

I found the two hour TV broadcast "Harvest of Fear" commercial worth seeing a second time around, although it was disappointing in several respects, given an apparent imbalanced production and more than a few distortions on both sides of the debate. Some examples:

There was no specific mention of the 20-plus allergy cases currently being evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in concert with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is a critical investigation, the results of which will have far-reaching impacts on the food industry.

Instead, PBS' producer chose to quote Cornell University academic Charles Arnzten as saying something to the effect that, "...we havn't even had a headache..." result from GM food.

There was no mention at all of Dr. Keith Finger's allergic reaction, and his being one of the 20-plus cases being studied by CDC and FDA.

There was practically no mention of the ethical and religious issues surrounding GM crops, or the current debate within religious circles surrounding those issues. The several cautionary statements from rabbis, the Vatican, and from Pope John Paul were not mentioned. The increasing number of Muslim countries whcih have banned GM foods was not mentioned at all.

Interestingly, a separate PBS program last week, "Religion and Ethics News Weekly" carried excellent coverage of these issues, but none were mentioned in "Harvest." (See http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/ and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week434/cover.html )

Neither did "Harvest" mention the increasingly high numbers of legislative actions underway in the United States against GMO's, and industry's herculean efforts to counter. Over 40 states now have legislation of some sort, and the trend is for more.

The issue of impact on livestock and animal wildlife was hardly mentioned, perhaps given the paucity of scientific evidence. (One study was released after "Harvest" was aired, and which indicated no negative impact by GM crops and food on farm animals.)

Compared to the others interviewed, Monsanto's Grant was interviewed at length, perhaps intentionally so given his convincing demeanor, sustained and almost unnerving eye contact, and utmost control. I was not the only one who saw him wince only once -- when asked if he knew of any health risks posed by GMO's. His answer was predictable, but his body language indicated otherwise.

"Harvest's" producer also chose to repeat Grant's comments on GMO safety and testing, presented twice during the program.

"Harvest" mentioned nothing of U.S. federal agencies' bungling of the StarLink debacle. When, thanks to U.S. Senator Durbin, the FDA, EPA, and USDA responded in writing to the Senator regarding their independent actions, some taken without the knowledge of the other agencies, it was all to clear that federal agencies remain unprepared to control the StarLink GMO contamination mess.

The slight mention in "Harvest" of GM insects went practially unnoticed, despsite its problematic implementaton and several associated risks to natural insect species and species that consume them.

The mass of litigation surrounding GM crops also went ignored in "Harvest." Where were Scruggs, Percy, Bishop, and the hundreds of farmers now involved in law suits with industry? And why no footage of the Monsanto "police" searching fields and sampling crops for evidence against farmers?

The public survey results presented in "Harvest" were pro-GMO and from one polling organization only, while the program did not mention other surveys that had different results. Even PBS' own poll shows that, as of Saturday 28 April, 65 Percent of respondents were opposed to GM Food, while only 33 Percent favored GM Food.

There was no mention of the world's number one food consumer, China, with its recent decision to curtail cultivation of any additional GM crops, and the reasons behind that decision. No mention was made of illegal smuggling of GM seeds in Asia. There was no mention of the several countries (outside of Europe) which have moratoriums or anti-GMO legislation.

The producer also chose to highlight one particular individual who might be considered the very worst young person to represent the anti-GMO side of the debate. There were plenty of others who could have been interviewed and who could have given at least some semblance of credence to that side of the issue. "Harvest's" crafty producer knew exactly what he was doing here in his attempt to deceive the public.

Despite all of the above, "Harvest" is worth viewing a second time around -- preferably with friends from both sides of the debate. This was PBS' third program focused on this critical issue. It will not be their last. Indeed, "Harvest" will likely inspire many to write, research, and provoke debate. After all, we are faced with a new technology that is the largest scientific experiment on humans in the history of modern science.

Mark Murray
vienna, virginia


Dear FRONTLINE,

The argument that genetically engineered “foods” are desperately needed to feed an expanding world population was reiterated so many times during the program! So what happens when the starving populations of Africa can begin to feed their families? Will these well nourished folks have still more children who need still more food leading to still larger population. Can this cycle go on forever? Is it possible for human beings to adopt a pattern of population growth that does not resemble a bacteria colony in a Petra dish as it eats up all available resources and dies?

As far as the labeling GMO “foods”, should Americans have the personal freedom to choose what and how they eat? Should information concealed from consumers about what is in their food? Are people obliged to help increase corporate profits by being denied such a fundamental choice?

Does the track record of corporations, with a history of mechanical, chemical and nuclear technologies, exhibit any symptoms of being able pull off much of anything without making catastrophic mistakes? How does irreversible pollution of the gene pool of this planet stack up to the already present chemical contamination most of us carry around in our bodies?

Don Fox
atlanta, ga


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for an informative show. For me it raised the issue of democracy.

Here in the US we have a political democracy (questionable after this last election), but that's as far as our democracy goes. We don't have democratic control of our economic structures, meaning we have no say in how tax monies are spent, how public university research dollars are spent, and many other structures that we, as US citizens, fund. And we don't have technological democracy- if we, as a society, had been asked 20 years ago if we wanted millions of public monies (in universities and government bodies) to go towards research of genetic engineering, what would the picture look like today? Would we have StarLink in our food supply? Or would we have demanded that money go towards sustainable agriculture that supports and empowers fmily farms, not corporate farms?

As Americans, we need to think long and hard about democracy and what we want for our children. This will mean alot of reclaiming our government, our universities, and our corporations and make them serve human NEED, not human GREED.

amy best
ames, ia


Dear FRONTLINE,

As a race, human beings are so ridiculously arrogant and incredibly lazy . Instead of correcting the cause of these problems at the source, ie. not planting thousands of acres in monocultures and giving back to the earth what we take, we decide to treat nature with a dangerous amount of disrespect .

There is so much we don't know. Is it worth risking our future on this planet for cheap cereal? I don't think we have the choice anymore.

Nancy LaRowe
norwich, vermont


Dear FRONTLINE,

I felt you did a solid job attempting to cover the overwhelming depth of the topic in just 2-hours.

I spent much of today reflecting on GMOs and their impact on our society. While reviewing the PBS website, I read through the discussion postings and became highly irritated about all the whining and complaining feedback you have recieved.

The program was well done.There is a lot of criticism about uneven reporting, missed topic matter, the evils of Monsanto, the failure of the USDA/FDA/EPA, and how Frontline misreported the whole problem.

All of this criticism is ridiculous and simply biased whining by people withe huge chips on their shoulders about the government, big business, or other random, phantom evil.

I thought I'd put in my two cents as I feel that I am at least somewhat even handed.

1.) The complaints about the "evils" of Monsanto, Adventis, and other firms and their pursuance of the dollar using GMOs are ridiculous. We live in a capitalist society, companies create to make money, plain and simple. The techniques of streilizing their GMOs to force repeat customers, although bad for the consumer, is good for the companies who spend the money and time to MAKE the product. It is how our R&D based how our economy works.

Monsanto is not developing things out of the kindness of their heart, they to it for profit. Except it, if you don't like the capiticalist foundation, China is still a communist society, feel free to defect.

2.) GMOs are not evil. Taking advantage of technology to improve products (whether that be to sell more or to irridicate combatants) is how we have improved our society for years. More resilient fruit is an improvement. TV is a form of genetically alter communication. Don't watch PBS if you think its too biased. Don't type on your computer if you are too concerned about the long term effects of technological improvement.

3.) Labeling of GMOs on food products is the one thing that I think is a legitimate complaint. Labels probably should be on products that contain GMOs. The Monsanto COO mentioned that labeling products would be like putting a poison sign on products. I disagree and in fact think that one of two things would occur both would not harm any big business. #1 - people would notice that almost everything has GMOs in them so the shock effect would be completely dilluted by the comonal existience of the label. More importantly though #2, General Mills, Kellogs, Kraft, etc. could actually use the labelling to their advantage. Think about the idea, Frosted Flakes with GMOs costs $3.99, Frosted Flakes without costs $39.95. The choice could be used to stick it to the complainers.

GMOs improve overall life of the world. Being that one time I was very poor, when the only thing you have to eat for 3 days is a loaf of bread, the last thing you care about is whether that bread had GMOs or not! Perspective from most of the people who posted to this site would be a breath of fresh air.

Earl McAlear
scottsdale, az


Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought your program was informative and somewhat objective. But I feel you left out several very important points with regards to the FDA.

(1) The FDA has consistently stonewalled any attempt to label GMOs. The FDA's primary mission for the last decade has been to promote this industry and consequently it has not properly fullfilled it's responsibility which is for the protection of the consumer and not the industry.

The recent lawsuit against the FDA demanding that this policy be reversed highlighted this distrubing trend when it was revealed that the FDA's own scientist had serious safety concerns regarding these foods, but these were over-ruled by the politically appointed administators.

I have personally particpated in national petition drives demanding the labeling of these foods. Of the thousands of people I have talked to I would estimate that 90% want labeling. The issue at stake here is our fundlemental democratic right of choice and what becomes of our food that we all own in a common trust. The refusal of the FDA to listen to the will of the people is strongly indicative of where their allegence lie.

(2) The FDA does not require independent-pier reveiwed testing of the GMO's. They accept the studies from the same company that creates the product as sufficient. This practice is not sound science and must be reformed.

(3) The FDA does not require long term testing (over several generations) of GMO foods. Because their primary interest is to promiote this industry they have created a regulatory process that promotes a rapid introduction of these products into the market. Considering that each GMO release is a novel self replicating living organism, and the major gaps in our understanding of the ecology and the intricate web of life, the testing phase should be dramatically longer then is currently required.

(4) The FDA has allowed and will continue to allow (unlessed we the people speak up and demand change) a massive introduction of thousands of these new GMO's into our enviorment being created by many different biotech companies. Not only do we have one experiment happening but now we have a multitude of unrelated experiments happening simultaneiously. What cumaltive effect will the rapid introduction of many foreign proteins into our diet have on our health and more importantly what will be the impact of all these GMO's on our enviorment.

The main interest of the biotech industry is short term profit. The massive experiment they are conducting now will have lasting and irreversable consequences on the enviorment and our health. They are unwittingly leading us down a biotechnology treadmill that will be very difficult to get off and these experiments may so distort our natural world that in short order it will no longer be recognizable. The world they are bringing us is one in which all life is a commodity to be owned, bought and sold to the highest bidder. I for one would like to see a different world.

Peter Hines
ogden, ut


Dear FRONTLINE,

Your show on GM foodstuffs galvanaized me! Thank you for presenting many facets of this problem.

I doubt any of us, including the scientists at Monsanto, have enough data to predict accurately where this technology will lead. However, I noticed an uncanny resemblance to the plot of Jurassic Park. . . .

Another point: one of the Monsanto scientists stated, "we must use this technology, because in less than 20 years there will be 9 billion people on the earth to feed." Does this send a little chill down anyone's spine but mine?

Laura Weisberg
denison, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

Just get these companies to put it on the labels. is that asking so much!!! Calories and other ingredients are labled why not this? We are the ones buying it and consuming it!! Tell us what companies and their products contain MRO and ME and we will boycott them till they do list it.

Give us some names of companies. When you hurt them in the pocketbook they will come forward.

We can't poison ourselves enough can we. There will be new strains of diseases and cancers from all this.

west warwick, r.i


Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been trained as a naturopathic physician and as a result have the philosophy that we are not separate from nature. In fact, it can be said, that the further we move from nature , the more sick and out of balance we will become as individuals. Clearly, crossing specie lines with GMO falls into the category of "moving away from nature".

Regardless of the science, the facts, the current evidence, in my gut, I know we are on the wrong path. I will continue to work in my community to educate and at the very least, urge people to demand proper labeling of GM foods.

Deborah Turvey
panama city, fl


Dear FRONTLINE,

I think it is wrong that these large corporations do not want to tell us which food has been modified. This makes me question the ethics and motives of these corporations, and for many reasons, I do not want to support them. The program has shown that these companies are trying to control not only what we see, believe, wear, think, etc. but also what we put into our bodies.

Before we even consider the risk and benefits of biotech food, we should first look at who is behind it and the amount of power that these companies have.

Alissa Singletary
tampa, florida


Dear FRONTLINE,

I work in a food-related job, dealing with many of the fruit and vegetable companies that will be bringing GMO varieties to market. I wouldn't hesitate to feed these foods to my 5 children. There is little difference in the way these products come about and conventional breeding - just a lot faster and more efficient. We need to stop technophobes from shackeling the rest of us.

Organic Farming? Sure, I know the largest organic growers. They do it for the money. It's a marketing gimic for those who will pay more money for crops without pesticides. That's choice, but I feel sorry for those who are scared into paying more.

Buy your food with confidence. The backyard grown stuff is what you should be afraid of.

Keith Christensen
modesto, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Like many others I felt that this show did not live up to the standards of prior episodes. However, this may be because as yet there is no "smoking gun." The issue of GMO is serious. It is complex and will require educated and calm individuals without personal benefit making the ultimate decisions.

There are two elements that I felt were missing. I read (maybe in the Economist) that Monsanto are producing these new crops for Africa in such a way that they will be sterile, thereby forcing the farmers to always buy seeds from Monsanto. This is terrible, for it makes the farmers addicted to a single source for their food. Why was this not reported? Hugh Grant was allowed to be presented as a benevolent dictator.

In addition you failed to properly address the problems associated with mono-agriculture. This new corporate farming method impacts soil erosion, the ecology and the quality of the crops grown.

I am truly sick of the American public being treated like idiots. Just label the damn stuff, provide a source for the indepth information (the internet?) - then people who want to can make an informed decision as to their gmo intake can.

We MUST all lobby our elected officials to assure that foods are appropriately labeled - this is the number one priority. In parallel we should be demanding that GMO testing is not restricted to the human stomach absorbtion test but also includes the impact on the ecology. For example, based on the report the gmo farmed salmon in open tanks is a risk I do not believe we should be taking.

san rafael, ca

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