It is an issue capturing attention from Paris to Peoria: Are
genetically altered crops safe?
In Europe, a public backlash has forced many food companies to ban
genetically engineered products from store shelves.
In the US, acceptance of the technology is widespread: Most of the
nation's wheat and corn, for example, is genetically modified.
Now, however, new evidence is showing that some genetically
altered crops can cause unintended consequences - which could spur
more resistance to the booming bio-agriculture industry in the United
The latest sign: A study in the journal Nature that implies
genetically modified cotton can promote resistance to pesticides in a
well-known - and much feared - parasite.
The research comes in the wake of a study in May showing Monarch
butterflies die after contacting pollen from genetically engineered
Moreover, last week the country's largest baby food manufacturer,
Gerber, announced it would stop using genetically engineered soy and
corn products because of public concern - warranted or not - about
"I think this is another small piece that tells us to be
conservative," says Fred Gould, a North Carolina State University
entomologist, of the news in Nature. "I think that what we need is a
lot more science and a lot less talk."
Yet one group that is talking a lot more is environmentalists.
They have seized on the latest research to buttress their claims that
genetically engineered crops could pose a danger to people and the
"There may be long term effects that we may not see for many years
but could have serious detrimental impacts on brain development and
organ development," says says Charles Margulis, a genetic issues
specialist with Greenpeace.
But it is safe
For their part, the big biotechnology and agricultural companies
argue there is no conclusive evidence that the crops are dangerous.
In fact, they see them as beneficial to both the environment and
consumers, since the crops require fewer pesticides.
"It's had a tremendous impact on the reduction of insecticide
use," says Gary Barton, a spokesman for Monsanto Co., the big US
chemical company. "The activist communities seem to ignore the
nearly 1 million gallons of pesticide that hasn't been used on the
cotton crops over the last three years. And that's just the cotton
But it is precisely these claims, along with the lack of public
opposition in the US, that make the Gerber announcement so
surprising. Furthermore, Gerber's parent company, the Swiss
pharmaceutical and agriculture conglomerate Novartis AG, has invested
millions in developing the genetically altered plant strains that it
now refuses to buy for Gerber baby foods. …