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GM Food Scandal

After reading the Dick Taverne article, “The real GM food scandal�, I feel much more informed on the issue of genetically modified foods. This is an issue in which I, frankly, had not taken enough interest, most likely because I do not do the grocery shopping for my family and I trust in my mother’s food purchasing decisions. In his article, Taverne’s objective is to first refute the claim that genetically modified foods are unsafe for consumers to eat, and secondly to show why so many people are so strongly against the genetic modification of their foods.

Taverne cites research studies completed in several countries such as India, China, Mexico, France, Brazil, and the United States that all find that the risk for genetically modified crops to be unhealthy is no greater than the risk for conventionally grown crops in order to refute the arguments of those objecting to the genetic modification of crops. He also acknowledges a 2001 study conducted by a European Union commission and also funded by the EU that recorded that not only is the genetic modification of crops healthy for humans, it is also not harmful to the environment. For those that have realized that a safety argument holds no water, and prefer to argue from and environmentalist stance, Taverne recommends a recently concluded study performed by Graham Brooks and Peter Barfoot of PG Economics. The study monitored the environmental effects of genetic modification in the first ten years of its use from 1996 through 2005, and found that any negative externality genetic modification might have on the environment is far outweighed by its positive externalities. Genetic modification of crops reduces agrochemical spraying, saves, energy, reduces need for fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gasses, and uses land more efficiently. Taverne also argues that traditional methods of modification, in other words cross breeding, is expensive, time-consuming, and is successful much less often than genetic modification. Finally, he shows how many of the people opposing genetic modification are hypocrites because they often embrace this technology for medical purposes. Scientist were able to transfer the human gene that codes for insulin into bacteria and yeast to treat diabetics.

So why is the genetic modification of crops so universally conflicted and disliked? Why would regulations in the US and Europe make entering a genetically modified crop into the market so much slower and more expensive than a traditional crop? Taverne believes the problem lies within the fact that the large companies with resources to enter genetically modified crops into the market care more about financial gain than the overall welfare of the world’s people. The Reagan administration fought to abolish these regulations and convince lawmakers that genetically modified foods should be viewed as simply a new product rather than looking at how it was derived. However, large companies like Monsanto were able to strike fear of new technology to the American public and stave off change. Another contributing factor is the regulation laws being passed in the first place. Rather than provide comfort and security to the American public, they made the public suspicious, they thought genetic engineering must be dangerous if the government feels the need to regulate it.

I agree with Taverne in support of genetic modification of crops because there are scientific studies that have torn apart arguments of health issues and problems for the environment. The fact that a multitude of countries have all performed studies on genetically modified foods and have all come to the same conclusion is enough evidence to favor genetic modification. Another factor leading to my support of genetic modification is that all of the arguments against it are purely speculation. The fact that the opposition has little or no data to back up its arguments is almost as convincing as supporting data.

Michael Arens


Dear Michael,

Like yourself, I too had no prior knowledge of genetically modified foods. I still don’t really understand why everybody cares so much about genetically modified foods, as well as genetically modified plants—which I guess are the same thing, I think. The only thing I know about genetically modified plants before reading this article was that Norman Borlaug helped create plants that would be able to produce a larger yield in comparison to normal plants thus helping impoverished countries provide food for themselves in trying times and saving millions of lives.

I also agree with you Michael when you said “The fact that the opposition has little or no data to back up its arguments is almost as convincing as supporting data.� How are we supposed to take sides when one group isn’t willing to make their statements known? It is one of my absolute pet peeves that reporters can make their stories biased or simply choose to leave out or manipulate changes in the opposing side. Here in this article I am not sure what is happening.

All-in-all I support genetically modified foods after I read this statement in the article “In the next half century, the world will have to more than double its food production to feed the over 800 million people who now go hungry, the extra 3 billion expected by 2050 and the hundreds of millions of people who will, as living standards rise, acquire a more western lifestyle and eat a great deal more meat. At the same time, the world is running out of good farming land and water resources.� I quickly decided that it is time for change and I only see one major way of doing it fast.

Dear Michael,
I found your reply to this article very interesting. The topic of genetically-modified food has become very prominent in the news in the past few years. The discrepancy between whether genetically-modified foods are good or bad for society is debated all through the public.
Some advantages for GM foods are that they, as you mentioned, may help decrease the application of chemical pesticides, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, nutrition (for third world countries), etc (Whitman). Also, researchers are seeking out a medical vaccine in tomatoes and potatoes that are easier to package and send to other countries than injectable vaccines (Whitman).
There are some other disadvantages, other than the overpowering large companies that were not considerate of the health and well-being of our society that you mentioned, that contribute to the disadvantages to GM foods. There are environmental hazards that harm other organisms when GM foods are produced. Insects and other pests may become resistant to the genetically-modified pesticides. Humans are prone to health risks such as a new allergen that may be created when a new gene is formed (Whitman).
The question of whether to continue the use of genetically-modified crops is difficult to take a position on. You chose the position that we continue the use of genetic modification, which is a plausible standpoint, but what about the health risks and discrepancies that may be created when a new gene is introduced into the production of more-efficient crops? As of right now, the risks are about equal to the “positive externalities� that you mentioned. We need to know more about the major effects that will occur when we use genetics to adjust our plants for efficient consumption.


Your response to the article really helped clarify the points Taverne made in his paper. This article made me think deeper into the benefits of science and food. If we were able to genetically altar plants to produce more crops in a smaller area, think of the possibilities that could come for the poorest nations in the world! If scientists were somehow able to modify plants into needing very little natural sources in order to grow, we could eliminate quite a bit of world hunger and poverty. We are in a time where we can see a lot of potential goodness from the benefits of science. However, many people are turned off by this kind of “unnatural� production because they fear the negative side effects.
The only problem I have with “unnatural� food has to do with meat processing, which has no relevance to genetic modification. I think there can be a lot of room for error when food is ran continually through factories, spreading contaminants across conveyor belts. This is not the case when talking about genetically modified food. If we can make our food healthier, taste better, and produce more, why wouldn’t we jump at the opportunity?
I do think that genetically modifying food could invoke fear in people. It’s a legitimate concern to have- we do not know what they’re putting in our food. How do we know it’s all that safe? Personally, I do not want kids with five eyeballs and three fingers. I don’t think it would hurt to have more thorough studies conducted on food so that consumers can see the benefits of genetically modified food versus production by completely organic means.