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Should We Grow GM Crops?

If you answered Yes the first time:
What if you knew that detractors fear that GM foods might pose health risks for certain people?
Some people, including children, are highly allergic to peanuts and other foods. Some critics of GM foods feel the possibility exists that those genetically modifying food crops may unintentionally introduce a new allergen. Given that genes can be introduced from unrelated species -- for example, a fish gene can be put into a plant -- some critics argue that the possibilities of allergies might be greater than with traditionally bred crops.

Another potential hazard to human health is the possibility that bacteria in our guts could pick up antibiotic-resistance genes found in many GM foodstuffs. (Food geneticists often add such genes to GM plants as 'markers' to tell them which plants have taken up exotic genes.) If this transfer happens, in principle it could exacerbate the already worrisome spread of disease-causing bacteria that have proven able to withstand our antibiotics.

"Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent. Such conduct is illegal and unethical. Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history."
--Dr. Martha R. Herbert, pediatric neurologist [1]

"With genetic engineering, familiar foods could become metabolically dangerous or even toxic. Even if the transgene itself is not dangerous or toxic, it could upset complex biochemical networks and create new bioactive compounds or change the concentrations of those normally present. In addition, the properties in proteins may change in a new chemical environment because they may fold in new ways. Further, the potential toxic or carcinogenic effects could have substantial latency periods."
--from The Need for Greater Regulation and Control of Genetic Engineering: A Statement by Scientists Concerned About Trends in the New Biotechnology [2]

"Lots and lots of people -- virtually the entire population -- could be exposed to genetically engineered foods, and yet we have only a handful of studies in the peer-reviewed literature addressing their safety. The question is, do we assume the technology is safe based on an argument that it's just a minor extension of traditional breeding, or do we prove it? The scientist in me wants to prove it's safe."
--Dr. Margaret Mellon, director of the agricultural and biotechnology program, Union of Concerned Scientists [3]

If you answered No the first time:
What if you knew that proponents assert that GM foods will promise many health benefits?
Advocates hold that GM foods will leave traditional crops in the dust. They will have longer shelf life. They will be better for us, with some products already in the works benefiting our waistlines (low-calorie sugar beets and oils with lower saturated fat content, for example) and others bearing higher nutritional content (high-fiber corn and high-starch potatoes). And they will be safer to eat. GM corn has lower fungal toxin content than non-GM corn, and farmers typically produce GM crops using fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

GM foods will have even greater benefits for the world's poor, supporters state. In developing countries, malnutrition is a grave problem, because people often have to rely on a single staple, such as rice, that on its own doesn't supply sufficient nutrients. Food scientists hope to genetically modify crops to add vitamins and minerals. One of the most promising is "golden rice," which can stimulate our bodies to generate vitamin A. In the developing world, vitamin-A deficiency kills two million children each year, and another 500,000 become permanently blind.

Eventually GM plants will serve as environmentally friendly 'factories' that mass-produce useful substances such as pharmaceuticals. Scientists are hard at work, for instance, trying to genetically add vaccines to tomatoes or bananas. Traditional vaccines are costly to manufacture and require specialized storage not always available in developing countries. "Eatable vaccines," developers say, will be easier to ship, store, and administer.

"The benefits of biotechnology are many and include providing resistance to crop pests to improve production and reduce chemical pesticide usage, thereby making major improvements in both food quality and nutrition."
--World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Biotechnology and Food Safety [4]

"Biotechnology will be a crucial part of expanding agricultural productivity in the 21st century. If safely deployed, it could be a tremendous help in meeting the challenge of feeding an additional three billion human beings, 95 percent of them in the poor developing countries, on the same amount of land and water currently available."
--Ismail Serageldin, The World Bank [5]

"It is possible to kill someone with kindness, literally. That could be the result of the well-meaning but extremely misguided attempts by European and North American groups that are advising Africans to be wary of agricultural biotechnology....If we take their alarmist warnings to heart, millions of Africans will suffer and possibly die. Agricultural biotechnology...holds great promise for Africa and other areas of the world where circumstances such as poverty and poor growing conditions make farming difficult."
--Hassan Adamu, Nigeria's minister of agriculture and rural development [6]

If you answered Yes the second time:
What if you knew that many feel GM crop technology will hurt small farmers?
Critics of GM agriculture insist that patenting genetically altered crops, as agribusiness is rushing to do, will make small farmers indentured to big firms. Monsanto, one of the biggest players in the field, is currently suing dozens of North American farmers whom it claims have raised its patented GM crops without paying for the privilege. (Farmers have responded that pollen from Monsanto crops blew in from neighboring fields.)

Some fear that GM crops might prove too expensive for poor farmers in developing countries, thus further widening the gap between rich and poor, or that they could repeat an often unspoken side effect of the Green Revolution. In countries like India, higher yields were achieved at such a cost in inputs that smaller farmers were often no better off, and many were forced into debt or off their land.

Even if farmers in developing countries don't grow GM crops, they could still be hurt by them. If GM technology enables the industrial North to raise crops it traditionally imported from the developing South, it could take a heavy toll on Southern farmers. In 1996, the Canada-based non-governmental organization Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) called attention to a newly issued patent for quinoa, a high-protein grain traditionally grown in the Andes. The patent was awarded to researchers at Colorado State University, who were trying to improve yields of the crop. As RAFI pointed out, if U.S. farmers started growing quinoa, Bolivian farmers who supply the quinoa for that country's $1 million export market would take a severe blow. (The patent was later withdrawn after protests.)

GM crops will also further our reliance on vast monocultures, objectors state. (Just 15 food crops today supply 90 percent of the world's food and energy intake.) Many small farmers in the developing world maintain a rich diversity of flora; in India alone, farmers raise some 50,000 plant varieties. These plants thrive under different climatic and environmental conditions, providing insurance against drought or disease or locust swarms.

Lacking such insurance, farmers of monocultures are vulnerable to lethal attacks by disease and pests. In the 1970s, for example, corn blight devastated the U.S. corn crop; in 1975 Indonesian farmers lost half a million acres of rice to the rice hopper insect. GM monocultures will possess similar susceptibilities. If pests evolve tolerance to a crop's built-in insecticide, say, or if weeds develop immunity to weed killers sprayed over fields of herbicide-resistant GM plants, that crop -- and the people who count on it -- could suffer.

"Some researchers have shown that none of the genetically engineered seeds significantly increase the yield of crops. Indeed, in more than 8,200 field trials, the [genetically altered] Roundup seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar natural varieties, according to a study by Dr. Charles Benbrook, the former director of the Board of Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences. Far from being a solution to the world's hunger problem, the rapid introduction of genetically engineered crops may actually threaten agriculture and food security."
--Dr. Peter Rosset, director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy and co-author of World Hunger: Twelve Myths (Grove Press, 1998) [7]

"The Green Revolution was immensely successful in increasing crop yields because of the development of high-yielding crop varieties and the use of chemical inputs, but this resulted in the disruption of many sustainable agricultural practices. Farmers using transgenic varieties risk being caught on a similar chemical treadmill, with crops requiring high chemical inputs to achieve their promised yields, particularly high fertilizer applications."
--Dr. Stephen Nottingham, a biologist who specializes in crop protection and author of Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food is Entering Our Diet [8]

"Centers of [plant] diversity are already eroding under pressure from loss of habitats and the tendency of modern agriculture to rely on a few elite varieties of important crops. Hundreds of thousands of varieties of crop relatives have been lost. The U.S. government, however, shows no inclination to assess risks posed in other parts of the world by crops engineered in the United States."
--Drs. Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon, scientists at the Union of Concerned Scientists and authors of The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops [9]

If you answered No the second time:
What if you knew that GM patrons insist that farmers will reap great benefits from biotechnology?
Insect pests cause stupendous crop losses every year, resulting in harsh financial setbacks for farmers. With crops genetically engineered to resist pests, GM proponents say, growers can avoid such losses and bring their produce to market at less cost. By the same token, weeds rob crops of vital nutrients. To do away with them, farmers often have to spray large amounts of weed killers, a time-consuming and expensive process. With, say, GM soybeans that are resistant to a single broad-spectrum herbicide, farmers only need to use a single weed killer rather than multiple kinds, and they may have to make only a single application rather than several.

Using a single broad-spectrum herbicide can also help reduce land degradation, advocates say, by enabling farmers to optimize their use of "no-till" agriculture. Leaving dead plants where they lie rather than plowing them into the ground can reduce soil erosion by 70 percent, industry officials claim. Soil erosion is a serious global problem, with farmers losing an estimated 25 billion tons of topsoil through runoff and wind every year.

Scientists are developing GM technologies to help farmers battle other scourges as well. To reduce losses from sudden frosts, which can kill young plants, geneticists have experimented with putting an antifreeze gene into tomato plants. To help crops cope with disease, researchers are trying to genetically confer disease resistance to food plants. And to help farmers in an increasingly land-hungry world sow crops on marginal land, agricultural scientists are working to craft plants that are drought- and salt-tolerant.

Perhaps most important, GM crops will improve harvests, backers profess. Monsanto reports that yields from GM crops of corn, cotton, and soybeans in the U.S. have increased by between 5 and 8 percent. This compares to increases of 1 to 2 percent expected from new conventional varieties. Ultimately, some proponents warrant, biotech could triple crop yields without requiring any additional farmland.

"We'll soon be able to produce more crops with less pesticide, less fuel, less fertilizer, fewer trips over the field. We'll produce much more with much less....A couple of years ago I wouldn't have predicted this. But I now think that within a decade it will be possible to have crops that can withstand the stresses of early spring and late fall to such an extent that farmers could plant two crops of corn, soybeans, or wheat each year."
--Dr. Ray Bressan, professor of horticulture and director of the Center for Plant Environmental Stress Physiology, Purdue University [10]

"While we in the Northern Hemisphere can afford to pick and choose how our food is produced and may for the moment eschew GM, there are many people -- perhaps a billion worldwide -- who are in a different position. The overwhelming message from developing countries at [a 2000 conference on GM food safety in Edinburgh, Scotland] can be paraphrased as: 'We would like to be like you, with plenty of food for our people. We need every tool at our disposal to achieve this, including biotechnology, which will allow us to grow things without costly chemicals and irrigation systems that we cannot afford. We do not want to be dependent on aid or redistribution, we want to be in control of our destinies.'"
--Sir John Krebs, chairman of Britain's Food Standards Agency [11]

"I am particularly alarmed by those who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World -- and especially those in sub-Saharan Africa -- access to the improved seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs....While the affluent nations can certainly afford to pay more for food produced by the so-called organic methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low-income, food-deficit nations cannot."
--Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel-Prize-winning agriculturalist and father of the Green Revolution [12]

If you answered Yes the third time:
What if you knew that opponents fear that GM crops could harm the environment?
Many critics believe we're opening a Pandora's lunchbox with GM technology, that raising GM crops is an uncontrolled experiment with unknown consequences for surrounding ecosystems. Remember, they admonish, the ravages of the now-banned pesticide DDT. Or PCBs. Or dioxin. Or leaded gas.

One of their greatest worries is that GM crops could harm other wildlife. A 1999 article in Nature about detrimental effects on monarch butterflies stoked that fear. Cornell University researchers found that only 56 percent of monarch larvae survived when fed milkweed plants covered in GM corn pollen, whereas all those fed milkweed leaves with traditional corn pollen lived. About half of monarchs in the U.S. spend their summers dining on milkweed in corn-growing regions, so to environmental activists this proved dire news.

GM defenders point out that the monarch study was held in a laboratory, not in the field, and that follow-up studies by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and others suggest the original study may have been flawed. But those concerned about the study say that, at the least, it should serve as a cautionary tale for those who dread unwittingly harming species.

Citing the case of mosquitoes that became tolerant of DDT, critics also shudder at the thought that insects will become 'superbugs' resistant to pesticides engineered into GM crops. By the same token, they also predict the evolution of 'superweeds' that become immune to a broad-spectrum weed killer after crossing with and assuming the herbicide-resistant gene from a closely related GM plant. GM crops themselves can become weeds, they note. Canadian farmers have reported that herbicide-resistant canola plants have invaded nearby wheat fields with the impunity of a feared superweed.

Naysayers also worry that viruses will snatch resistance traits from GM crops bearing genes from crop viruses. These gene-thieving viruses might then evolve into entirely new strains that could infect a whole range of plants previously unaffected.

"Unrelated multiple side-effects of introduced genes cannot be predicted in advance and are not always visible or easily detected."
--Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, Women's Environmental Network, London, U.K. [13]

"[Genes jumping to wild relatives, possibly leading to 'superweeds'] could be particularly significant in countries where crops have weedy relatives. In the USA, where many of the transgenic crops are being forged, there are no weedy relatives of soya beans, maize, wheat, or cotton. Weedy relatives of these crops, however, exist in other regions where the genetically modified crops are targeted, including Central America, Asia, and the Middle East."
--Topsy Jewell, Pesticide Action Network U.K. (formerly Pesticides Trust), London, U.K. [14]

"Ecologists are unsure of the impacts of bypassing natural species boundaries. Consider, for example, the ambitious plans to engineer transgenic plants to serve as pharmaceutical factories for the production of chemicals and drugs. Foraging animals, seed-eating birds, and soil insects will be exposed to a range of genetically engineered drugs, vaccines, industrial enzymes, plastics, and hundreds of other foreign substances for the first time, with untold consequences."
--Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World [15]

If you answered No the third time:
What if you knew that advocates maintain that GM technology will help the environment?
In the U.S. alone, farmers spray, spread, and otherwise administer more than 970 million tons of insect- and plant-killers every year. These pose threats to the environment. Pesticide residues linger on crops and in soil, find their way into the guts of wildlife that eat contaminated foliage, and leach into groundwater and wash into streams.

If a crop boasts its own ability to resist invertebrate predators, then farmers can use far fewer chemicals. In 1999, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, cotton farmers in states raising significant amounts of cotton genetically modified to withstand pests sprayed 21 percent less insecticide -- that is, they sprayed one to two times rather than eight to ten.

Similarly, endorsers profess that farmers raising crops bearing herbicide resistance -- such as those using the Monsanto-crafted soybean that is resistant to the company's broad-spectrum weed killer Roundup -- will use fewer chemicals in a season than they would while growing conventional soybeans.

Industry spokespersons acknowledge the possibility that cross-pollination could occur between some types of GM crops and weeds. But they claim there are ways around that, such as creating GM crops that are male-sterile -- that is, produce no pollen -- or modifying a GM plant so its pollen doesn't have the introduced gene. As for the danger of pests growing tolerant of plant-borne insecticide, farmers can create buffer zones of conventional crops around GM fields to give harmful insects something to feed on, reducing the selection pressure to adapt to the anti-pest plant. Buffer zones would also deter cross-pollination and provide a refuge for harmless and beneficial insects.

"The benefits of biotechnology are many and include providing resistance to crop pests to improve production and reduce chemical pesticide usage, thereby making major improvements in both food quality and nutrition."
--World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Biotechnology and Food Safety, October 1996 [16]

"[T]here is no scientific justification for assuming this [the possibility of cross-pollination between GM plants and wild relatives] to be either undesirable or harmful in principle - each case needs consideration on its own merits."
--Dr. Phil Dale, GM plant scientist at the John Innes Centre, a U.K. agricultural research institute [17]

"The risks of modern genetic engineering have been studied by technical experts at the National Academy of Sciences and World Bank. They concluded that we can predict the environmental effects by reviewing past experiences with those plants and animals produced through selective breeding. None of these products of selective breeding have harmed either the environment or biodiversity."
--Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States [18]

If you answered Yes the fourth time:
What if you knew that many people feel genetically modifying organisms goes against Nature?
Many opponents of the genetic revolution -- whether it involves sequencing the human genome, owning genetic material, or devising GM crops -- pronounce that fiddling with the genetic makeup of plants and animals is unnatural. Nature takes millions of years to effect genetic change. What right do we have to make changes overnight, as it were?

Nature also does not mix apples and oranges, much less flounder and strawberries. (Scientists placed an antifreeze gene from the fish into the fruit in a failed attempt to help strawberries withstand frost.) In short, do we have the wisdom to substitute human for natural selection? To play God?

Many argue we do not, and that such acts are immoral. For some, GM technology flies in the face of cherished principles about the relationship between humanity and nature. If you are vegetarian, how would you feel if you learned that a vegetable you just ate bore an animal gene? For others, such pursuits offend deeply held religious beliefs. If you are observing kosher dietary laws, how would you feel knowing the tomato you just enjoyed in your salad carried a pig gene? For some people, genetic manipulation is nothing short of sacreligious.

Such detractors are horrified by the thought that the dozens of GM crops so far approved for use in the U.S. and elsewhere are just the vanguard of an army of GM flora about to appear. In coming years, they say, we will see such oxymoronic man-made natural creations as GM trees and GM ornamental plants. Even now, Monsanto is developing new varieties of GM grass that will give homeowners the chance to choose the color of their front lawns.

"If Nature has spent millions of years building a structure with natural boundaries, it must be there for a purpose. It is there to guide the evolution of life and to maintain its integrity. Using genetic engineering in agriculture is like trying to fix something that has nothing wrong with it in the first place."
--Dr. Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Genetics, GKT Medical School, Guy's Hospital, London, U.K. [19]

"For centuries we have purchased food from people we trusted. The reliable qualities and properties of food have allowed it to play a role in rituals and religious practices. Altering food may deprive believers of the assurance that food is pure or kosher. Fear of food's content can alter one's sense of well-being."
--Dr. Paul R. Billings, a director of the Council for Responsible Genetics [20]

"While human beings may rightfully improve the world through many types of technologies, the enterprise to restructure the genetic blueprints of Earth's plants and animals is so unprecedented, so invasive of the realm of the Creator, and potentially so irreversible that it warrants the most careful consideration and reverential restraint. Human intelligence should not undertake such a venture without sincere acknowledgment of its own limitations and full appreciation of the complexity and majesty of God's design."
--Alliance for Bio-Integrity [21]

If you answered No the fourth time:
What if you knew that scientists submit that genetically modifying plants is completely natural?
Genetic modification couldn't be more natural, geneticists say. Plants (and animals) genetically modify themselves all the time. That's the basis of evolution. We've been genetically modifying plants (and animals) for millennia. That's the basis of agriculture.

Our manipulation of a single mustard species has generated such diverse vegetables as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Altogether, the wild ancestors of grapes, potatoes, and all other fruits and vegetables you find today on grocery-store shelves are but pale shadows of their modern, highly modified descendants. All have gone through countless generations of careful hybridization and genetic breeding to improve yields, taste, size, texture, and other attributes.

Modern GM methods are simply more precise, scientists stress. Whereas traditional plant breeding involves thousands of shared genes every time two plants are crossed, GM technology allows, if desired, for the exchange of a single gene between plants. GM procedures are also much faster. In months or years, molecular scientists can accomplish the same degree of alteration that might have taken Nature millions of years to achieve.

"Biotechnology's been around almost since the beginning of time. It's cavemen saving seeds of a high-yielding plant. It's Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, cross-pollinating his garden peas. It's a diabetic's insulin, and the enzymes in your yogurt...."
--Dan Glickman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, March 13, 1997 [22]

"All plants, and all animals including humans, are genetically modified. That is what evolution means. They are genetically modified by natural selection of random mutations and recombinations. Some, such as maize, wheat, cabbages, and roses, are additionally modified by domestic breeding. And some are modified by engineered mutation or recombination. Any of these three kinds of genetic modification can have desirable or undesirable consequences."
--Prof. Richard Dawkins, author and expert on evolutionary genetics [23]

"We've been breeding hybrids of plants for decades. Biotechnology is really not that much different."
--Dr. Werner Arber, Nobel Prize winner and head of the International Council of Scientific Unions [24]

If you answered Yes the fifth time:
What if you knew that many critics inveigh against biotech companies for being profit-driven, with little concern for potential risks to people or nature?
GM seed firms invest heavily in research and development, and naturally, they want to recoup their investment. But in their rush to secure patents and reap profits, critics contend, big biotech firms are deliberately over-promoting the benefits of GM technology and underestimating possible health, socioeconomic, and environmental hazards.

Detractors say these companies are also concentrating their efforts in high-volume crops, such as soybeans, corn, and cotton, and not in crops that might help feed the billions of people who live in poor countries. A World Bank report in 1997 found only four "coherent, coordinated" GM research programs on developing-world crops at the time.

This "greed-not-need" ethic, GM opponents assert, may soon operate in an Orwellian agricultural climate, in which the power to produce and distribute food is concentrated in the hands of a few gigantic biotech firms. In 1998, the top ten seed companies controlled an estimated 30 to 40 percent of worldwide seed sales, which reach $45 billion a year.

"The dramatic increase in the development, marketing, and sale of genetically modified seed and crops has far more to do with inflating corporate profits than with the sustainability of America's family farmers or the health of its consumers."
--Howard Vail, president of Farm For Profit Research & Development, a sustainable agriculture organization based in Embarrass, MN [25]

"Genetically engineered (GE) rice -- such as the now-famous vitamin A rice or 'golden rice' -- is being heavily promoted as a solution to hunger and malnutrition. Yet these promotional campaigns are clouding the real issues of poverty and control over resources, and serving to fast-track acceptance of genetically engineered crops in developing countries."
--Joint statement to the press on 6/2/00 by three farmer organizations in Southeast Asia: BIOTHAI (Thai Network on Biodiversity and Community Rights), KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), and MASIPAG (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development, Philippines) [26]

"The feeding-the-world argument is a very carefully engineered P.R. exercise to create some moral legitimacy for this technology."
--Brian Halweil, analyst at the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C. [27]

If you answered No the fifth time:
What if you knew that companies that fashion GM seeds maintain that GM crops hold the greatest hope for adequately feeding our rapidly expanding world population?
Biotech spokespersons have argued that, while the industry is indeed concerned about the bottom line, it is primarily driven by research and innovation. Their argument is straightforward: Innovation is the only way to meet the world's burgeoning needs for food and medicines in a rapidly shrinking and increasingly scarred natural environment. Innovation requires costly and time-consuming research and testing, which will only happen if it's paid for. The best way to ensure it's paid for is through intellectual property protection. Patents should operate worldwide, they maintain, because markets are increasingly global in nature.

The result of this innovation will be GM crops that will offer our best chance to adequately address the challenge of feeding the estimated six billion people who, in as few as 50 years by some estimates, will join the six billion of us already here. GM crop farming holds out greater promise than conventional farming of boosting production on the same amount of ground, adherents say, and of raising crops where none could grow before, such as on salt-laden land. In increasing yields and making marginal lands productive, GM promoters insist, lie our only means of staving off widespread famine in developing countries in the coming decades.

"The possibility that (biotech) crops could make a substantial contribution to providing sufficient food for an expanding world is, on its own, a solid reason for engaging in the research that underlies their development."
--The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1999 Report [28]

"Since there is no option in population-rich and land-hungry countries but to produce more per units of land, water, and labor, there is need for technologies which can promote and sustain an ever-green revolution rooted in the principles of ecology, economics, and social and gender equity. It is obvious that the challenge can be met only by integrating recent advances in molecular genetics and genetic engineering, information and space technologies, renewable energy technologies, and management science with traditional technologies and ecological wisdom, resulting in appropriate ecotechnologies. There should be no relaxation of yield-enhancing research, since there is no other way of meeting global food needs."
--Professor M.S. Swaminathan, agronomist and father of India's Green Revolution [29]

"'Solid scientific evidence' has been all too lacking in this debate [over GM foods] -- a war of words and slogans, not ideas and initiatives. Let us suggest some facts that must not be forgotten. Without dramatic improvements in crop yields, people will starve; they will suffer disease and death from malnutrition. The world's wildlife, habitats, endangered species, and entire ecosystems will be put at risk as we are forced to draw more agricultural land into production. Pest resistance, which we now know can be bred precisely into plants, will be supplanted by wider use of chemical pesticides. The promise of improving the nutritional value of indigenous crops in the developing world may be lost for a generation. Is this what the [anti-GM] radicals want? Surely not. Those of us in affluent societies have the luxury of pondering such questions. We have an obligation to give the benefit of the doubt to innovations in science and technology that will aid those who are less fortunate than ourselves."
--Jack Kemp, former U.S. representative and distinguished fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. [30]

If you answered Yes the sixth time:
What if you knew that many critics assert that GM foods suffer from dangerously poor oversight and regulation?
Anti-GM food activists have leveled much of their ire at the United States, which produces the bulk of the world's GM foods. (In 1998, American farmers raised 74 percent of all GM crops.) Biotech firms, detractors maintain, have been developing and deploying GM crops too quickly and too broadly, without adequate testing or public debate. And the three government bodies that oversee the industry -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency -- are too lax in their scrutiny and regulation, they say.

The FDA, for one, has long maintained that most GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to unmodified foods and are thus not subject to FDA regulations. Biotech companies are not required to consult with the FDA on new GM foods, and even those that voluntarily do so do not have to follow the FDA's recommendations. Even a new FDA plan announced in early 2001 to review new GM foods for safety falls far short of the current surveillance of food additives, critics say.

Labeling is another issue that raises the hackles of anti-GM food activists. In the U.S., producers do not have to label GM foods. The result, those who denounce the policy say, is that you as a consumer don't know what you're eating, you don't have the option of choosing not to buy foods with GM ingredients, and if you get sick from a GM food, no one will be able to trace your illness back to its source.

"[B]iotechnologies...cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of immediate economic interests. They must be submitted beforehand to rigorous scientific and ethical examination, to prevent them from becoming disastrous for human health and the future of the Earth."
--Pope John Paul II [31]

"Now is the time, while agricultural biotechnology is still young, for Congress and regulatory agencies to create the framework that will maximize the safe use of these products, bolster public confidence in them, and allow all of humankind to benefit from their enormous potential."
--Dr. Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest [32]

"Industry has decided to silently invade food market shelves by denying any visible identifiers of genetic engineering....The net effect is to subvert the normal process of consumer choice by suppressing the knowledge needed to freely choose. The cornerstore of such a privilege is labeling."
--Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey, authors of Against the Grain: The Genetic Transformation of Global Agriculture [33]

If you answered No the sixth time:
What if you knew that GM seed companies maintain that GM crops are the most thoroughly tested and highly regulated food plants out there?
Biotech firms hold that every GM food crop is thoroughly tested for possible health effects. They conduct these in-depth analyses, they say, because they are legally required to ensure foods they sell meet federal safety standards.

Industry scientists start by comparing a GM plant with conventionally bred plants of the same variety. Their goal is to see whether an introduced gene alters the GM plant's chemical makeup and nutritional value. If the protein made from the new gene is the only discernible difference between the two plants, scientists test that protein for toxicity by feeding it to animals in amounts thousands of times higher than a person would ever eat. Scientists also test for allergy-inducing potential by checking the chemistry of each new protein against those of about 500 known allergens.

Industry spokespersons argue the testing system has worked well. When scientists realized a gene from Brazil nuts they were planning to splice into soybeans might sicken people harboring allergies to nuts, they discontinued the experiment. Similarly, when other researchers discovered that a protein in one type of GM corn might be allergenic, regulators approved that corn only for animal feed.

Biotech firms point out that not one but three U.S. government agencies have their say about each GM crop. The Department of Agriculture judges whether it is safe to grow. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses whether it's safe for the environment. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems whether it's safe to eat. Under pressure from activists, these agencies have stepped up their vigilance. In 2000, the EPA began requiring farmers to plant 20 percent unmodified corn whenever they planted Bt corn (a GM corn modified to contain a natural pesticide). And in early 2001, the FDA proposed to begin reviewing all new GM foods for safety.

"All of our products, including those based on biotechnology, undergo thorough human, animal, and environmental safety evaluations. In order to be released commercially, they have to obtain the respective regulatory authorization. This involves rigorous governmental safety reviews and approval processes."
--from the Web site of Aventis CropScience, a world leader in plant biotechnology [34]

"I think the company is making an effort to address people's concerns about GM foods more openly. We've recognized that some genetic modifications are particularly bothersome. Among vegetarians, for instance, the idea of eating a vegetable that has an animal gene in it might raise questions. For certain cultures or religious groups, there could be similar concerns. So we decided it was better to avoid using animal genes in food crops."
--Dr. Robert B. Horsch, vice president of product and technology cooperation at Monsanto Company, and winner of the 1998 National Medal of Technology for his pioneering experiments in the genetic modification of plant cells [35]

"Government regulation, consumer acceptance, and private-sector investment are all important factors in the future status of foods produced by modern biotechnology. It would be tragic if fear and superstition were allowed to impede the development of this incredibly valuable technology."
--Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, President, American Council on Science and Health [36]

1: Herbert, Martha. "Genetically Altered Foods: We Are Being Exposed To One Of The Largest Uncontrolled Experiments In History," Chicago Tribune, 9/3/00.
2: Published by Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia, 1995, p.18. Quoted in "Why the Genetic Engineering of Our Food Offends Principles of Most Religions," www.bio-integrity.org/RelReject.html.
3: Quoted in "Does the World Need GM Foods?," Scientific American, April 2001.
4: Held October 1996. Quoted in "The Benefits of Biotechnology," www.biotechbasics.com/benefits.html.
5: Quoted in "Why Biotechnology Matters," www.biotechbasics.com/why.html.
6: "We'll Feed Our People As We See Fit," op-ed piece in The Washington Post, 9/11/00.
7: "Why Genetically Altered Food Won't Conquer Hunger," op-ed piece in The New York Times, 9/1/99.
8: Eat Your Genes (Zed Books, 1998), p. 162.
9: The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), p. 127.
10: Quoted in "Agriculture Genomics May Bring Benefits Faster Than Human Genomics: Tips from Top Plant, Animal Experts at Purdue," www.biotechknowledge.com/showlib.php3?uid=4972&country=us.
11: "Seeds of Hope," op-ed piece in New Scientist, 8/5/00.
12: From a Borlaug lecture at De Montfort University, Leicester, U.K., 5/6/97.
13: Quoted in "Greed or Need? Genetically Modified Crops," www.oneworld.org/panos/briefing/brief30.htm.
14: Ibid.
15: "Unknown Risks of Genetically Engineered Crops," op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, 6/7/99.
16: Quoted in "The Benefits of Biotechnology," www.biotechbasics.com/benefits.html.
17: "Genetically Modified Crops: Impact and Behavior of Transferred Genes," Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, U.K., January 1998.
18: "Who's Afraid of Genetic Engineering?" op-ed piece in The New York Times, 8/26/98.
19: Quoted in "NLP Conference Presents Convincing Case Against Genetically Engineered Foods," www.non-gmos.com/Zeitung/1998/981219.htm.
20: "Modified Foods Are Like Drugs," op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, 8/28/99.
21: "Why the Genetic Engineering of Our Food Offends Principles of Most Religions," www.bio-integrity.org/RelReject.html.
22: Quoted on "Biotech Basics," www.biotechbasics.com
23: Letter to The Independent, London, 8/14/98.
24: Quoted in "Panel Sees Use for Genetically Altered Crops," Detroit Free Press, 10/14/97.
25: From a 11/13/98 press release, www.farmforprofit.com/PRels.html.
26: Quoted in "The False Promise of Genetically Engineered Rice," www.non-gmos.com/Zeitung/2000/001015a.html.
27: Quoted in "Critics of Biotechnology Are Called Imperialists," by Andrew Pollack, New York Times, 2/4/01.
28: Quoted in "Why Biotechnology Matters," www.biotechbasics.com.
29: "ICRISAT in the 21st Century: Towards Sustainable Food Security," Environmental Awareness, Vol. 20 No. 4, October-December 1997.
30: "Poorest Nations Lose in Attacks on Bioengineered Food," op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, 12/10/99.
31: From a speech to an estimated 50,000 farmers at the Vatican on November 11, 2000. The speech, "Jubilee of the Agricultural World, Address of John Paul II," can be found at www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2000/oct-dec/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20001111_jubilagric_en.html
32: Quoted in "Gene Altered Foods: A Case Against Panic," by Jane Brody, New York Times, 12/5/00.
33: Against the Grain (Earthscan, 1999), pp. 117-18.
34: The Web site address is
35: Quoted in "Does the World Need GM Foods?," Scientific American, April 2001.
36: Quoted in "Health Panel Affirms The Many Benefits Of Modern Food Biotechnology," www.biotechknowledge.com/showlib.php3?uid=3900&country=us.

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