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People and Politics Forum 27. 03. 2009

"Should GM foods be banned?"

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More Information:

GM Sweet Corn, No Thanks! - Call for Ban on Genetically Modified Crops Divides Germany

One German farmer has been planting GM sweet corn in his farm in Bavaria for years. The modified crop is resistant to a pest whose caterpillars eat the unmodified corn. Now the farmer may soon be forced to return to genetically unmodified corn. Environmentalists and German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner, from the Christian Democrat's Bavarian sister party CSU, are calling for an general ban on planting genetically modified maize. But some Christian Democrats are opposing the move, and Research Minister Annette Schavan has come out against the ban.

Our Question is:

"Should GM foods be banned?"

Side-stepping our question, Finland’s Herbert Fuchs thinks that GM food’s future is secured:

"The whole question of whether to use GM food is entirely superfluous because the Genetic Modification ‘Genie’ was let out of the bottle long ago. From what I’ve heard, most farmers now feed their animals with genetically altered corn, most of it from overseas. We eat beef, chicken or pork that were raised on it. Most customers have no idea what is in the food they eat on a daily basis. Ships from overseas, fully laden with GM corn, are unloaded and sold to farmers whose primary concern is that the price is right. Under heavy economic pressure, these farmers must make every penny count just to survive. In the future, GM food will firmly establish itself across the globe, for good or bad. Most people are simply grateful to have sufficient, inexpensive food. Even if, in retrospect, GM brings with it many misgivings, mankind will not make too much of an issue of those points."

Adalbert Goertz from the USA wastes no words in his unequivocal support for GM foods:

"Genetically modified corn should be allowed. Fears surrounding its use are exaggerated."

George Rodenhurst laments and opposes GM food’s advance in his country, the USA:

"Having no laws in the U.S. to ban GM foods we're really not sure what we are eating over here and I'm not too happy about that. Every time science tries to "make things better for humanity" there are always unintended side effects. Think about what was done with the Atom. Nature builds what it needs. If it needed poison spewing corn it would be quite capable of producing it if that was part of the intended design. Have we really improved the condition of the earth or its inhabitants in our last 300 years of meddling with forces (of nature)? I think not. Go back to nature and nurture the real thing while you still have that option."

Karl Heinrich Pflumm from the USA cites more recent food ‘solutions’ in taking his stand:

"I feel that given the worldwide food supply needed in the future, genetically altered foods seem like the "cheap" solution. I think the only good approach is organic food. So called "safe" substances like pesticides turned out to be lethal and have caused illness and death. Genetically altered foods need first to be tested for a generation or two. Only independent studies and not the studies conducted by the companies that produce genetically altered foods should be allowed to determine the results. To me there is nothing better than a natural product. The standoff here is like always: greed vs. integrity."

Lee Davis gets down to Earth in his call from the USA for a ban on GM foods:

"Yes (to the ban). I don't believe we should mess with Mother Nature."

Egmont Schleich from Austria claims GM farming would mean more pesticide use:

"Yes!. There’s no need for genetically modified food, except to serve the economic interests of the food and transportation industries. Genetic modification would allow them to spray more poison onto the crops and then transport the harvest thousands of kilometers for processing. This helps neither farmers nor consumers!"

Harry Sauer from the Dominican Republic measures genetic modification against current farming practices in support of GM:

"I’m basically for the farming of GM food as long as proper research and testing has been conducted. Every species has come about through the coincidental genetic ‘crossing’, or rupturing of chromosomes or some similar phenomenon. That’s why corn, oats and rye differ from grass. I see a clear benefit in the process, if targeted genetic modification reduces or removes the need for pesticides and herbicides. After all, these materials also have a negative impact on our health and drinking water."

Michael Stanek from Brazil takes an entirely different perspective on the issue:

"Why should we employ genetic engineering? To keep prices stabile in the EU, crops which are over-produced are destroyed, while at the same time millions of Africans are dying of hunger. There is, of course, ample food to feed everyone. Before we start to tamper with God’s creations, we should ensure that people are fed first. It would also help if we learned to share fairly and stopped being so selfish."

In the Philippines, Gerhard Seeger wants to move forward with GM food, cautiously:

"A kind of genetic modification has been taking place since mankind began farming, albeit without all the possibilities available at the present, which are safe –at least over the short term. What the long term holds in store, nobody knows. That could take decades to figure out. But genetic modification of food cannot be held back forever. The process will one day prevail over its detractors, like so many other new developments have. It will be necessary to take risks in order to address the issue of world hunger. Of course we cannot just give a free reign to the companies producing our food, and it would be unwise to trust them to regulate themselves voluntarily. Independent organizations should be brought in to do that."

Helge Weyland from Argentina directs his criticism to the opponents of genetic modification:

"Sometimes I suspect that the very people who are against the novelties and development of GM are themselves products of 12th century genetics, and are afraid they’ll be ‘infected’ by 21st century genes."

Andrei Bolshoi from the USA recalls images of mad cows in his call for a ban:

"I think it should be banned. Look at what happened by simply feeding cows the wrong (non-vegetarian) foods, we got mad-cow illness. GM food can be much more unpredictable."

Rosemarie Jones from New Zealand thinks it imprudent to continue using GM seed:

"I am opposed to raising genetically modified corn, and all crops, for that matter. We have no idea "where this road leads to". We have no idea what the long term effects to humans would be of adding to the genetic make-up of a seed a poison which pests cannot tolerate. And once such a crop has been introduced, it will spread, and there’ll be no turning back."

Chris Fonseca from the USA is clearly against genetic modification of food:

"Yes, to food as nature intended. ‘No’ to genetically modified food. As a fellow countryman told me, the adaptations in natural food comes from a multitude of naturally occurring substances in our soil and generations of successive gene survivals. Keep agriculture clean."

The USA’s Paul Bredderman would like to see less hype and more science determine the answer:

"The best answer will not come via heated inflammatory debate, but via cool rational assessment, just as is the case for nuclear power. The objective should be to balance the probable risks against the probable benefits. The key word here is "probable". It is determined via appropriate scientific trials, not by inflammatory umbrella labels, such as "frankenfoods". In science, and in society generally, we can never expect certainty, but have to accurately arrive at probabilities via risk/benefit analysis. In the end, it might still be possible to give each consumer a choice about eating GM foods, rather than by an up or down vote for the entire population or for all GM foods."

Martin Burmeister from Venezuela finds our question superfluous:

"Why are we asking this question? Are there any known health threats coming from the consumption of genetically modified food? Can anyone really say what, exactly, is contained in the food people and animals eat? Who monitors the imports of human- and pet-food grown in foreign countries? Over the past centuries, especially in recent years, natural breeding and selection has changed natural composition so much that, in the case of corn for example, it’s impossible to differentiate the genetically modified variation from the one resulting from natural selection."

In the USA, Albert Feucht is hopeful for a successful future for genetically modified foods:

"The question surprises me. From infants to old geezers, every one of us comes into direct skin contact with cotton materials. Nobody has died or become ill from the use of genetically modified cotton, and cotton was the first genetically modified crop to reach consumers. Let’s hope that they are successful in modifying rice in a manner that allows it to be watered with salt water from the ocean. Otherwise, how are we going to feed 8.5 billion people?"

Poet Erwin Scholz from Costa Rica writes:

"These Genes excite us as expected,

And each one of us as if infected,

Starts looking at the world in fear

As someone’s nose becomes one’s ear.

The Genome cries out loud I’m here!"

Rolf Bockmuehl from the Philippines thinks GM foods are potentially harmful:

"Yes, no matter what, because the long-term consequences can’t be calculated! After researchers opened a Pandora’s Box with atomic energy ... it seems to me that GM foods are the newest wave, the effects of which can’t be ignored. The deliberate or involuntary introduction of non-indigenous species is more than sinful (see Australia, the Galapagos Islands, South America and more), and we still feel the ramifications. We’ve had enough of blind faith in the future. We need to reflect on nature and its intrinsic strengths. It might not be too late to turn this around. And enough has already been written about global warming for everyone to understand the dangers. How far have humans gone, all in the name of progress!"

René Junghans from Brazil says the pros of GM foods outweigh the cons:

"I am against a ban on GM foods. In my opinion, GM technology has many more advantages than disadvantages. Such products are more resilient, we don’t have to worry about pests destroying the crops, and as far as health is concerned, I believe that GM technology has no identifiable disadvantages. In any case, here in Brazil we eat whatever we find at the supermarket and weekly markets, and we’re never completely sure if these foods were genetically modified or not. But I can say that I’ve yet to get sick from eating them. The main thing is, they taste good. Here in Brazil we’re in the habit of saying, "What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger!"

The editorial staff of ‘People and Politics’ reserves the right to shorten letters received.