Magazine article World Watch

Why Should We Be Novartis's Guinea Pigs?

Magazine article World Watch

Why Should We Be Novartis's Guinea Pigs?

Article excerpt

Things move fast in the brave new world of biotechnology. In 2003, only a few years after the first widespread plantings of genetically modified (GM) crops, American farmers sowed 43 million hectares of GM corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola. The first drug-producing crops may soon follow. These developments are troubling enough: an analysis by the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center found that the planting of GM crops in the United States since 1996 has increased pesticide use by a total of about 23 million kilograms, contrary to the producers' pesticide-reduction claims.

But there's also a new and disturbing form of pollution to consider. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently tested ordinary American seed varieties and found that at least 50 percent of the corn and soybean varieties and 83 percent of the canola varieties were contaminated with DNA from GM versions. Such widespread contamination risks creating totally unintended combinations of engineered traits--and biotechnologists are now field-testing, or seeking to test, hundreds of varieties genetically tweaked to produce drugs, vaccines, plastics, industrial chemicals, and even human proteins (see "Silent Winter," May/June World Watch). Are we ready for Viagra in our cornflakes?

Yet that might be the least of our worries. Such scattershot contamination will eliminate choice in the marketplace, neutralizing one of the most powerful tools wielded by common citizens. It will doom organic farming, which bans cngineered seeds. …

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