Harvest of Fear (home)NOVA


should we grow them?
engineer a crop
what's for dinner?
What are your thoughts on the risks and benefits of genetically modified food? Are you wary of biotech food products?

share your thoughts


It appears that those most militant against genetically altered foods appear to be white, middle/upper class with full bellies. Walk the walk before talking the talk and spend some time in a subsitance farmed region.

PS I'm white, middle class with a full belly but don't suffer from tunnel vision.

scott martinez
long beach, ca


It is true that we in North America don't have to face starvation. That having been said, I dispute what the scientist from Kenya was saying. Kenya while being quite poor has been able to feed itself. Where were non-GMO solutions to the farmers problems with viral infection. CROP ROTATION-that is the great cure for disease in soil and fertility of soil. All the GMOs for crops are also not going to produce fire-wood.

That segment was a sop to Monsanto and didn't explore natural solutions to Africa's food problems.

Kit Grandon
manlly, iowa


I too was very upset when I took your "poll" on the website. This could not have been presented in a more onesided manner.

Yet, I'm also amazed that over 70% of the respondents stated that we should not use GMO technology. Maybe there is still hope for this country!

Although I feel that you tried to present at least some of the ideas from both sides, I think that you avoided several very pertinent points on the side against GMO's.

1. Several past directors of both the FDA and the EPA have taken jobs with Monsanto and Dow chemicals after leaving government service. If I'm not mistaken at least one former executive of Monsanto now works for the FDA. These are the "unbiased" agencies that make the decisions that ultimately determine whether the GMO's are "safe". This smells of the fox guarding the hen house to me.

2. You totally omitted any dealings of "Terminator" technology developed by Monsanto and others. This is one of the most frightening things about GMO's! Monsanto could afford to be the savior of the poor, under-developed countries by giving them all the "free" seed the countries wanted. Then they could allow the governments of these countries to control who would get the seed from then on. The end result being that since seed could not be saved from season to season, the farmers would be at the mercy of their governments for the seed they needed to survive.

3. Labeling deals with choice. Anytime someone tells me that they know what's best for my family and me and not to worry about the details, I WORRY! It should be my right to choose to eat GMO's or not.

Mark Schoonover
portland, oregon


Can the development of GMOs lead to less biodiversity, or a monoculture of particular species? Aren't we putting all of our genetically engineered eggs into one basket?

If the only viable crop, catch, herd, or flock that can compete in the marketplace is one or a few GM food species; what happens to 'native' species? Could Kenya, or Africa even, ten or more years in the future grow a monoculture of Monsanto sweet potatos, for example? What then if the next blight/virus that can devastate the crop infects a monoculture with nearly, if not entirely, identical genetic make-up throughout the country or continent? Doesn't biodiversity the ensure the sustainability and viability of our food?

R. W. Whiting
mobile, al


I was just wondering if anybody else in this discussion group see the movie, "Left Behind", in which an Israeli scientist's genetically altered wheat crop becomes used as the anti-Christ's way of control the world's food supply.

In this way Tim LaHaye, the author of the novel in which the movie is based, does make a intresting commentary about how the ultimate evil power might use the powerful corporations that patent genetically modified food.

However if the " rapture" doesn't happen as LaHaye portrays it in his novel, it is going to be difficult for Christians to get any food without it involving the anti-Christ.Just in case believers in Christ are not suddenly wisked away before the tribulation period, more Christians should learn how to farm their own organically grown food.

Michelle Kunert
sacramento, ca


When forign speicies have been introduced into their non-native habitats, their have been some serious outcomes (i.e. rabbits to Austrailia, Zebra mussels to the Great Lakes, Cudsue[sp?] to the South). These species are naturally developed ones. Imagine the possibilities of a GMed organism that has never existed before on the face of the earth, that has perhaps bypassed 100,000 years of evolution! I would have thought by now we would have learned that nature in a delicate balance, and not to leap into it's very structure.

Cory Johnson
makinen, mn


I was appalled at the bias shown in this report . Examples of sustainable ORGANIC farming practices have been shown to produce MORE calories per acre in both the United States and Africa than standard agricultural practices. Test and demonstration stations have been run by the Rodale Institute and Oxfam.

The true cause of starvation and malnutrition is lack of distribution of the current food supply along with poor storage practices. Overpopulation is another source of stress on agricultural systems. Completely ignored was the fact that Kenya's present birth rate will quickly overrun any possible agricultural system.

There is a finite amount of land that can be put into production, this land must be managed for the long term. Current agricultural practices are quickly ruining that land by erosion and saltification. The solution is not to genetically engineer plants that will grow in salt flats but to limit our growth and use resources wisely.

Biotechnology is radically different from our common experience. A new car engine with a computer virus does not threaten every other car on the road. The same cannot be said for a new genetically engineered breed of corn that has a corn virus. This technology must be handled with extreme caution.

John Poteet
chico, ca


In teaching issues of technology and foreign affairs I have long sought a balanced report on the myriad of issues surrounding food. One of these, GMO, is an increasingly important foreign policy debate. As you point out, these are issues which divide not only the US from Europe, but also activists in the developed world and producers in the developing world. Congratulations of filling a major gap in fair, balanced reporting.

You handled a controversial subject with balance and good science. The issue is ultimately a political one. I am reminded that in the 1930s the United Kingdom took much the same attitude towards the issue of smallpox vaccination. In their opposition, UK scientists warned of the potenial risks of an "unproven" technology, a position which cost them dearly as thousands of British troops were exposed to smallpox during WW II. The UK reversed its position overnight.

The only element I would have added would have been a deeper analysis of the origin and subsequent funding of anti-GMO organizations in Europe, some of which (perhaps unknowingly) were used by farm lobbies who saw a largely American technology as posing a serious competitive threat to inefficient European farming practices. The EU ban on US beef which contains artificial growth hormone is an example of an artificial barrier to trade that originally had nothing to do with health and everything to do with maintaining protection for local producers. So, too, I believe with GM foods.

Ambassador David Fischer
san francisco, ca


As a citizen and a scientist from an Third-World country, it is scarry to realize that the people of the most influential nation in the world are so ignorant about this complex issue.

Increased food production will not solve hunger worldwide. Giving out food or money will not address the causes of hunger: unjust distribution of land and resources, huge unequal access to education, health services, corruption. And, yes, eventhough they might have more children than they can support, they still have their pride. Having many kids might mean that one will survive to take care of his parents. Such are "life stiles" out of your (narrow) world of internet and malls, you know?

I cannot help to simphatize with the Kenyan scientist: certainly, these people don't know what they are talking about !!

Miguel Villegas
oxford, ms


as someone who has been watching the biotech industry, the resistance against biotech, and the media i was entertained by your carefully crafted and very manipulative program.

while it played at presenting both sides of the argument a careful analysis of the program structure and the presentation can only lead to one conclusion: an extended pro-biotech commercial. everything from the background music and lighting that was used during the interviews (surely these are important considerations when designing such psychologicaly savy propaganda) to the obvious skirting of important food issues such as the role of global economic institutions such as the IMF, WTO which function largely by the design of multinationals such as Monsanto.

denny henke
memphis, tn


Excellent report. I thought it quite objective. One thing you failed to point out. After the anti-GMO advocates in Europe had just about ruined Monsanto's business and tanked its stock price, Monsanto had to be bought out by a European pharmaceutical company, Pharmacia. Almost immediately, the European Union changed its tune and began to support GMO.

It is obvious that a lot of the falderol was anti-US based and not really concern over the technology, because as soon as the Europeans got control of the biotechnology, they became proponents of it.

dallas, texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Monsanto did merge with Pharmacia-Upjohn. The company is a U.S.-based multinational with global offices, so it's not really accurate to call it a European company. Europe's changed attitudes is largely explained by a change in EU commissioners; a tiring of anti-GM activities; a realization that 2nd generation GMOs would offer great commercial opportunities.


Who is paying for your liberal viewpoint? Is it the genetically altered big business or our soon to be genetically altered government?

st. petersburg, fl


This was the longest commercial I've ever seen. You posed what you tried to formulate as a "scientific" argument against a carefully-constructed view of your opponents as hysterical fear-mongerers. The worst half-truths were in the segment on third world food production. You chose to describe failed farm practices ignoring successful ones; you ignored the long history of colonialism and western invasion that altered the many sustainable cultures of the African, South American and Asian lands, destroying their forests and wetlands, depleting their soils and forcing the people to adopt unsustainable, depleting, western-influenced market-oriented farming displacing the family/community-based food production. You ignored the history of desertification and mass-displacement of populations. You ignored the deliberate overthrow of indigenous societies that have been replaced by corrupt regimes designed to feed the needs of our industrialized nations. Next most obnoxious was your attack on organic farming (not unconnected with the above discussion). You failed to present the viewpoints of the many organic growers' organizations which could have shown the economic and nutritional advantages of locally-grown and marketed foods. We, my husband and I, would like to know who funded this outrageously-biased commercial for the Monsanto Corporation and its ilk. Before viewing this program, we were commenting and laughing about the advertisements on this previously non-commercial station but this "Harvest of Fear" program proves that it is no laughing matter. Shame!

Mitzi Bowman
new haven, ct


What was particularly striking about your program is that it presented creators and destroyers. The Kenyan scientist got it exactly right: any hooligan can knock down a building. Rifkin and Greenpeace, THEY are the hooligans. When was the last time Rifkin was right about anything? Greenpeace needs to stir up fear to keep their donations coming in. If anyone in this story is prostituting themselves for money it is the opportunists who stoke up public fear for their own enrichment.

George Purcell Jr.
austin, tx


The American Indians made their tribal decisions based on the effect it would have on the seventh generation. Monsanto makes global decisions based on the effect it will have on the next twenty years.

The Kenyan scientist argues that Kenyans have the right to feed their children because it's a matter of pride. Where was the Kenyan pride when they decided to have children in an environment that they KNEW could not sustain them.

It's argued that Genetically Manufactured food is necessary to sustain the growing population. I argue that the lack of food is evidence that the population should STOP GROWING.

ronda fulfer
fort worth, texas


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