Harvest of Fear (home)NOVA


should we grow them?
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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 and Nova,

Thank you for a thought-provoking show.

Despite the potential benefits of GM food production, I believe this technology should remain in the lab and away from our tables. As with DDT and many other modern "improvements," we foolishly accept them based on economics or convenience and pay the price decades later.

I was shocked to see the variety of products containing GM ingredients. These products should be labelled! The doctor from the Union of Concerned Scientists made an excellent point when she stated that people may be getting sick from this stuff and not even know it. Although the majority of food I purchase and eat is organic, I now realize I have probably eaten GM food. I feel like a lab rat.

Finally, from a philosophical level, I think we need to live more in balance with our world rather than continue to shape it to our liking. If the GM food technology goes awry, the consequences are unthinkable. Let's be cautious.

emmaus, pa


Your recent program on GM food was tragically flawed and propagandistic. In the beginning of the program you announced a series of corporate sponsers, from that point on I knew the program would be a whitewash of the real issues surrounding GM foods.

The piece on saving the papaya crop in Hawaii perfectly illustrates your lack on thorough analysis. Question: considerng that the plants were engineered to guard against a virus, what is to stop the virus from simply mutating? Is this not what virus organisms have been doing for the past billion years or so?

Each time the program presented information that vaguely suggested that GM foods may be unsafe, you immediately followed with either some government or corporate flack cheerfully assuring the viewer that everything is perfectly fine. In short, your reportage had no balance.

Additionally, your program failed to educate the viewer on the all too common revolving door found between corporations, government, and universities. Trotting out this or that ex-government official or university researcher does nothing to advance the reals issues relating to GM foods, considering that many of those same ex-government officials are no employed by agribusiness and that university researchers are dependent on corporate funding for their research and, thus, their continued employment.

Overall, your program clearly illustrates how corporate influnce has warped practically every aspect of American life, even PBS programming.

Dalton Kingsbauer
mountain view, ca


My concern is that with GMO crops not being labeled, I unknowingly will plant them and end up with that same "bad tasting" commerically produced food in the market today. GMO's may be able to save the world from Hunger (I have yet to believe this), but consumers in the US and abroad have the RIGHT to choose if we want to buy processed food products GMO ingredients.

Also, if Monsanto and other seed companies want to have GMO crops breeds that cross pollinate this is a HUGE issue for farmers and gardeners. Cross pollination will spread GMO crops to NONGMO crops just via the wind and nature. Biology 101 will tell you that corn, canola and many other types of plants use cross pollination for growing. All of a sudden, my corn that is nongmo next to my neighbor who is planting gmo corn cross pollinated and I also have GMO crop! This is an awful way to leave farmers who are sure of the nongmo crop planted, but unsure as to what type of crop they are harvesting! Monsanto and seed companies need to spend some money on making self pollinating GMO crops if they are so good at technology.

I think GMO need MANY more years or research before I eat them or feed them to my family.

Rhonda Roggenbuck
snover, michigan


As a frequent viewer of Nova and Frontline, as well as a strong supporter of Public Television because of your usual unbiased presentation of news and events, I was sickened by the outrageous slant presented in "Harvest of Fear". Companies are motivated by one thing aand this is profit. Nobody spend billions of dollars on technology with a significant return on their investment. Those who control the food supply, control the world. When one or small number of companies are the only ones who create the seeds for the world's food, then who has the power?

The arguments these companies are using are the same claims made years earlier about chemicals. Look how the chemicals were later proved to be dangerous.

The greatest injustice presented in your program was comparing organic farming to subsistance farming in Africa. Organic farming practices work to improve the soil, create greater sustainability, and works with environmental factors to help manage pests and diseases. The piece on the farm in Kenya was not organic. Organic farming is not about giving up conventional fertilizers and chemicals.

The argument presented from the Cornell plant breeder concerning that all plant breeding manipulates genes so it is also genetic engineering. I am a plant breeder. Crossing two like species is a far cry from inserting genes from life forms not even in the same family, or even in the same botanical classification.

I honestly believe you need to broadcast a much better presentation as to what organic farming is, the reason why people are farming organically, and the scientific research that is beginning to emerge concerning organic farming practices.

There are several very good research programs going on in North Carolina, Iowa, and Minnesota. Get your facts straight.

new ulm, mn


I found the report: Harvest of Fear disingenuous and flawed towards the corporate scientists' and agribusiness position on GMO’s, apparently in the interest of “balance”, for the following reasons:

1. The opening and closing example of Papaya in Hawaii is not relevant to the main economic concern of this research. Papaya is an exotic tropical fruit, not a staple, which can be avoided by consumers easily. The Japanese ban on GMO’s is similar to their refusal to accept irradiated Papayas in the 1980’s, another dangerous technology which the food industry tried to foist on unsuspecting consumers in its effort to cut their costs. (Japan, though a modern nation, is also a culture still in touch with the chain of food production through its traditional rice culture. Hence Japan is more like the European countries example in its willingness to forgo cheaper food for safety.)

In the US food market the connection with farming and traditional agriculture has been severed as family farms have been bought out. The papaya example only distracts from this contested setting. The focus on corn and soy, large scale-staple crops, is the real issue for GMO and where the Bio-tech and food companies profits lie. Hence we get corporate obfuscation in their refusal to allow GMO labelling in the US.

2. Developing countries and rural poverty are a complex issue and not sufficiently covered in this broadcast. GMO’s are not going to be a quick fix and the chemical companies do not develop them to solve world hunger; any money they spend is only for PR to promote the technology which is directed to make money in the developed world. Transportation, education, health care and investment in infrastructure are much more critical to combating world hunger in the developing countries. Many of these solutions exist now and its only a lack of public interest and will, not lack of new technology, that prevents their use. Sustainable farming works, in Africa as well as in the new world, when the root causes of poverty and disease are addressed.

3. Much of your coverage of the environmental movements opposition concerned their tactics rather than the reasoned scientific evidence of non-food industry spokespeople. The contrast positions Greenpeace and the environmentalists as Luddites and terrorists against the poor people of the third world, which is egregiously false and misleading. Tactics on this issue are a necessary result of not having a huge advertising budget, as the bio-tech and food industries do. Without these protests and tactics I doubt Frontline/Nova would have done a story. None of us would know about these issues as the heavily invested corporate interests would keep us from questioning their strategies.

I hope you can rebut or examine these issues in later programming.


William Murdoch

William Murdoch
santa barbara, ca


You did a great job of covering several aspects of a complex issue. However, as a whole, you represented opposing sides of the argument as the "pro-biotechers" vs. "the activists." Many actions and approaches of the activists severely damaged their credibility. Thus, the audience was left with the impression that scientists engaged in biotechnology are heroines and heroes fighting a battle against the far left.

I believe you may have represented the activists in a reasonable manner, but you failed to include views from more credible opponents of biotechnology. For example, many scholars in the social sciences devote entire careers to the economical, sociological and philosophical aspects of this controversy without burning buildings or participating in theatrical performances. By including these views, you could have offered a story that was balanced in a credible manner.

Katherine Canada
madison, wi


Dear Frontline:

I was quite disturbed by the lack of impartiality “Harvest of Fear” displayed. As I watched more of the episode it became increasingly clear, through the continual use of such terms as "genetically modified organisms" and even through the programs title, this program was designed with the single purpose to scare and enflame the public against biotechnology.

In addition I felt it highly unprofessional that the editors of the program attempted to tie unrelated tragedies such Mad Cow disease to that of genetically engineered foods.

I am eager to hear a discussion on the negative effects of biotechnology advances in foods, but this discussion must be based on data collected by scientists instead of fear perpetuated by journalists.

Daniel Nemiroff
folsom, ca


As a primere program for presenting ideas and topics Frontline fell in line with blinders on. "Harvest of Fear" was a disapointing limited view. Discussion was limited to GMO's or pesticides. An organic farm was shown but only superficially no discussion was given to the sucessful tools used that do reduce diesease and increase production.

Frontline also equated current African subsisting farming practices as subtaining. However, the methods of farming are not substaining. Soil management is not practiced and erosion is a problem.

I was disapointed that Frontline chose only militant groups to appose view point to the use of GMO's. There are several Scientificly based research orginizations that are as respectable as Cornell University or the University of Michigan. The Rodale Institute of Pennsylvania is one.

The answer is not, to use GMO's or not to use GMO's, buy some place in the gray middle.

milford, ohio

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Our report shows how opposition to GMOs ranges from militant groups to reasonable ones like the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Rodale Institute is an organic food center. Its arguments were well expressed in this report by Paul Muller. To our knowledge Rodale has done no empirical research on GMO safety.


Harvest of Fear fell far short of the usual standard of Frontline & Nova excellence in reporting.

Molaku Woredy (sp?) reciever of the alternate Nobel Prize for Right Livelyhood, who set up Ethiopia's living gene bank would add balance to what's said by any of those now trained by Monsanto. Pat Mooney of Rural Advancement Foundation International, could show how our seed rights have been robbed. Wouldn't Vandana Shiva give voice to how current transnational agendas are impacting some 800 million of the worlds population? (Why did those Indiand throw out and burn up Cargill's office contents?) John Ikerd, might put new American options before us. There are a multitude of reputable sources that have yet to give voice to real cogent concern.

I would ask, .... what of the associated problems of genetic reduction (not covered very well in the show) and the removal of "Fourth World" people (we're all in this now) from the land, by our new corporate version of the great Genghis Kahn?

What do producers of this program suggest will halt nature in her tracks, as she decimates one gene reduced mono plots after the next, of agri-industry's "takings" from the rights of the farm? Do we think she will stop at "invention"? Diversity's what she respects.

Why do the producers think Indonesia turned away from the exclusive use of only one single strain of IRRI rice? (350 Million in famine if, like Texas Corn Blight, the rice crop is hit?)

What does happen when you de-populate the landscape to make way for "virtual" (ag-industry) reality when advocates try farming from way outer space? Creating a hundred and fifty new Calcuttas, to become the new recieving areas for population drift, now mandated for the "brand" new disposessed, associated with the imperialist imposition of corporate capital over the rights of country dweller, is no solution for this order of World. (And what of Chiapas on this)

The biggest food problem of Russia, was a state centralist farm control crash. Our corporate centrist reduction of farming will equally bring us to ruin.

A Farmer

John Wilcox
salt spring island, bc canada


What about "terminator technology" and Monsanto's going after farmers that plant their "Roundup ready" seed?

The UN Food and Agriculture Org's Ethics Panel concluded that GM crops are risky, Terminator technology is immoral; and that patenting genes and other genetic material leads to crop genetic erosion and unacceptable monopoly.

If GMO's are as safe as their proponents claim, they should't have any qualms about labeling.You never explained how planting a GMO crop in a place with poor soil would improve the soil( it won't). Another major omission is the amount of money given to politicians by these companies to keep the regulatory pressure off and prevent things like labeling.

John Proctor
eugene, or


Your report left me with several questions unaddressed. 1)Why didn't you mention how the cost of GMOs has been passed on to the consumer? The rising cost of packaged cereals over the past decade must surely be a reflection of research costs being passed to consumers.

2)Why didn't you mention quality and taste in a discussion on food? The taste of our food has deteriorated over the last century with large scale farming, soil depletion and wide spread pesticide usage. My great grandmother, who was born in 1888 and lived into her 90s, told me "You people don't know what food taste like. That stuff you buy in the supermarket doesn't taste like it should". She was raised on organically grown food when most food was raised organically.

3)Why didn't you address the issue of why organic food is more expensive? If more farmland in America were converted to organic farming, surely supply and demand would eventually bring down the price. Do taxpayer funded, government subsidies to agribusiness encourage organic farming?

4)Why do you have no one to refute the claim that organic farming cannot feed the world? This is the most one sided aspect of your program. No one speaks on the advances made in organic farming. No one speaks to alternative solutions for the developing world. Why? Because these alternatives technologies are not yet in wide spread use in this country, because there are no huge corporations to fund their development and later export them for huge profits.

Marcella Guerriero
charleston, sc


While I understand it is difficult to explain all the complex issues that surround GMOs in just two hours, I am still disappointed in your treatment of the program's section titled "can GMOs feed the world"?

The proponents of GMOs were two farmers in developing countries whose research was paid in part by biotech companies. The opponents that you showed were only the 'western' reactionaries such as Greenpeace and ELF. Why did you not interview opponents of GMOs who are nationals of developing countries? There are plenty out there.

And why did you not go into more specifics over the reasons why developing countries also oppose the technology? A brief description of the Green Revolution and its failure to bring about food security in Africa, as it promised, may have shed more light on this. Also a more thorough discussion of why people are hungry and malnourished in developing countries may have shown why biotech's benefits may be more promise than reality. It is most disappointing that people walk away from your show thinking that opponents of biotech are self-serving, rebellious westerners ready to set fire to labs and kill farmers' crops, rather than scientists and developing country nationals who take a precautionary approach to the technology based on sound science and an understanding of socio-economic and ecological realities.

Once again it seems that the American public has not been given the whole story.

Heather Christiansen
washington, dc


Thanks for airing a thoughtful, balanced and well researched show on an issue that has become so politicized that most lay people don't know who to believe. I especially appreciate your effort to bring in the perspective of the developing world where this issue is a matter of life and death.

We in the developed world can afford the luxury to demand near-zero risk in biotech crop introductions while delaying potential benefits indefinitely. After all, our stomachs are full to the point where many of us spend huge sums of our money on figuring out how to reduce, not increase, our caloric intake.

Let's not forget that the rest of the world has a fundamental right to feed themselves in the most efficient way possible. The idea that "organic" or "subsistence" agriculture is going to solve the world's hunger problem and is an alternative to technology innovations in farming is so ludicrous it doesn't even warrant discussion. On applying biotech, let's be safe, but let's get real!

laurel, md


What has got me worried most about GM soy beans is that the gene that Monsanto implanted in them gets them Roundup Ready. Which means that the farmer can soak the field of this Monsanto herbicide and the soy will not die. How much of that extra herbicide gets into my morning cereals ( I use soy milk ) is what's worrying me.

Not only did your program not say a word about that use of GM crops, but it said several times that Monsanto is doing GM to lower the world's dependance on chemicals. Which is not what is happening, it encourages it. I had hoped that Frontline/Nova would have helped me get more information about this. It was a disappointment.

alain martineau
montreal, canada


As a botanist, I don't feel that these engineered organisms are safe, especially without actual long term human testing.

Need I say it-there would be no world hunger or poverty driven disease if humanity was the major concern rather than profit. We Americans consume and consume, and we are rich. Perhaps Monsanto could donate a small portion of their millions to develop real sustainable agriculture from which they will derive no profit and no strings attached.

Pullman, the railroad car manufacturer, literally starved his workers (He lowered wages due to the 'bad economy'), while still netting a million per year in personal profits, not to mention the company profits. Hooray for the capitalist system, but it often is truly evil.

Susan Claymore
milwaukee, wi


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