Publication date: 15/09/2015


The debate over GM food crops has been going on since the 1990s. The debate ranges over a wide spectrum of issues, which can be grouped under three main headings. First, and of most immediate concern, is the debate over the possible effect of GM foods on human health. Second is the debate over the impact of GM crops on the environment. And last is the socio-economic impact of GM agriculture.

This paper addresses the first debate, the possible health hazards of GM foods, and why it has not yet been resolved. The impact of GM crops on the environment is now well known – the rise and spread of “superweeds”, weeds resistant to herbicides, is well documented [1-3] and the engineering of resistance to even stronger herbicides is well underway with the US EPA approval of plant varieties that are tolerant of the herbicides 2,4-D [4] and approval imminent for the use of dicamba in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready XTend crop system [5].

The socio-economic debate is mainly concerned with the role of the agro-chemical industry in developing nations. This is still an open debate. On the one hand, critics of GM crops worry that the agrochemical industry will exploit the land and labour resources of developing nations, while advocates of GM crops believe that the technology can make a positive contribution to food production in these countries.

It is important to note that many advocates of GM crops are motivated by the possible benefits that GM technology may bring to humanity, and especially to the hungry people in the developing world. Other advocates, in the commercial world, are motivated by the profits that GM technology may bring to farmers and, of course, to their own industry.

This paper will provide a careful analysis of a debate over the safety of GM crops and food that took place in 1999, a debate that marks the turning point in popular attitude towards GM technology. The values underlying these two different sources of GM advocacy will be identified in that analysis. Their role in the shift from an open and reasoned debate over the science of GM to an ongoing, and often emotional, attempt to silence the critics of GM technology will be discussed. This will show how and why many advocates of GM are entirely opposed to any research that indicates possible hazards of GM crops and food.

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