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PBS: Harvest of Fear


Fair Use Statement
Source: Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

<-- Return To BioTechEffect

Full Program Transcripts Now Available

News Update From The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods


Dear Health Freedom Fighters,

The two PBS shows Nova and Frontline have teamed up to produce a special two-hour documentary on genetically engineered foods titled "Harvest of Fear."

The show will air this Tuesday night, April 24th, from 9:00-11:00 pm. Please check your local listings to verify the time in your area.

The show will explore the debate over genetically engineered foods from both points of view. The show includes interviews with scientists, farmers, biotech industry representatives, government regulators, and "anti-GM" activists.

Posted below is the description of the show from the web site that has been set up at:

PBS also featured another show on genetically engineered foods that ran this past Sunday on their RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY program. I have included the transcript of that show below the Harvest of Fear show synopsis.

Craig Winters
Executive Director
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

The Campaign
PO Box 55699
Seattle, WA 98155
Tel: 425-771-4049
Fax: 603-825-5841
E-mail: [email protected] Web Site:

Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."


Harvest of Fear

A gene from a jellyfish is placed in a potato plant, making it light up whenever it needs watering. Rice plants are genetically transformed to produce vitamin A, preventing millions of African children from going blind. Crops are engineered so that they can grow in aluminum contaminated soil. Plants are modified to produce plastic or pharmaceuticals.

These are just a few of the touted benefits of genetically modified agriculture-the use of genetic engineering to alter crops for the benefit of mankind. But while proponents say this new technology has the potential to end world hunger and dramatically improve the quality of life for billions of people, others argue it may constitute the biggest threat to humanity since nuclear energy. Dubbing such genetically altered products "Frankenfoods," critics argue that the technology has been rushed to market and that scientists are tampering with nature, risking potentially catastrophic ecological disaster.

In "Harvest of Fear," airing Tuesday, April 24, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE and NOVA join forces to explore the growing controversy over genetically modified agriculture. Through interviews with scientists, farmers, biotech industry representatives, government regulators, and "anti-GM" activists, the special two-hour documentary presents both sides of the debate, exploring the potential benefits and hazards of this new technology.

"Basically, this is a story about the increasing power of science to alter our world and the fear this power generates," says producer Jon Palfreman. "The fact that the story is about food-a subject about which people have entrenched opinions, tastes, and beliefs-makes it that much more controversial."

FRONTLINE and NOVA speak with representatives of large biotechnology companies as well as farmers, who tout the advantages of genetically modified crops. Far from being the environmental disaster that opponents claim, they say, these improved crops can actually help preserve the environment. For example, by inserting a gene from the organic pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) into crops such as cotton, corn, and apples, proponents say, farmers can grow these crops using very little pesticide. And for a crop like cotton-which accounts for twenty-five percent of the world's pesticide use-the positive impact on the environment could be significant.


In some cases, supporters note, genetically modified crops have prevented the destruction of whole plant species-and the economies based upon them. Take the papaya. Hawaii's second largest crop behind the mighty pineapple, Hawaii's papaya crop was found several years ago to be infected with Ring Spot virus. Despite numerous efforts to stem the spread of the virus, nothing worked, and it was predicted that Hawaii's papaya industry would be wiped out within a decade.

Then, Cornell University scientist Dennis Gonsalves hit upon the idea of using biotechnology to make the papaya immune to the Ring Spot virus. "You put a gene from the virus into the chromosome of the plant," Gonsalves says. "You make the plant resistant, because it has the gene from that virus that's attacking it. So it's like a vaccination."

Gonsalves's idea worked and Hawaii's papaya crop was saved-along with the livelihood of the state's papaya growers.

Perhaps even more promising is the possibility that genetically modified crops could play a pivotal role in alleviating-or even eliminating-world hunger. Proponents argue that by developing fertilizers designed specifically to work in some of the world's poorest soils-and by allowing farmers in developing countries to grow crops without the use of expensive pesticides or herbicides-genetically modified agriculture may hold the answer to feeding a world population that's expected to reach twelve billion or more by 2100.

But others aren't so sure. Concerned about the unknown hazards genetically altered foods may present, many of the world's so-called "green movements"-including such groups as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Union of Concerned Scientists-have mounted a vocal opposition campaign that has effectively stopped the development and use of genetically modified foods in Europe. Critics say modern scientists are playing with fire, creating new organisms with little thought to how these new hybrid plants will affect the environment or mankind.

"We feel that this is a mass genetic experiment that's going on in our environment and in our diets," says Charles Margoulis, who heads Greenpeace's anti-GM campaign. "These genetically engineered foods have never been subject to long-term testing and yet there are millions of acres of them growing in the United States and pervading the food system here."

By putting new genes into plants, opponents say, mankind runs the risk of these genes migrating to other plants not intended to receive them. New, potentially lethal toxins, allergens, and resistant organisms could be created, they argue, while the safety of the world's food supply could be dangerously compromised.

Critics also fear that genetically modified crops grown outside in uncontrolled environments could prove harmful to "non-target organisms"-animals, insects, or other wildlife that may come in contact with these experimental plants. Moreover, by favoring mass production of a few lucrative cash crops, they say, genetically altering foods could result in reducing the world's biodiversity.

What's more, opponents say, genetically modified food is only the beginning. "In the next few years, they want to introduce not just genetically engineered foods, but genetically engineered grasses, ornamental plants, trees," warns environmental activist Jeremy Rifkin, "They want to re-seed the planet with a second Genesis."

In "Harvest of Fear," farmers and scientists say such alarm is unfounded. Noting that genetically modified crops and food are the most regulated on the market-coming under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration-supporters say the world's food supply has contained genetically modified ingredients for years. Virtually all breads, cheeses, sodas, and beer, for example, are made with genetically engineered enzymes.

"Food companies have learned that the [anti-GM] groups are not intent on having a reasoned debate about biotech or helping consumers find out about biotech," says Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "It seems that their motive is to scare people."

"Harvest of Fear" contains footage of anti-GM demonstrations, including one at Kellogg's "Cereal City," where a demonstrator-dressed as a mutated Tony the Tiger-bemoans what genetic engineering has done to him. (A security guard arrives swiftly and blocks the camera.) But not all protests are so amusing: Some farmers have had their genetically modified crops hacked away during the night by "eco-terrorists." Members of the Earth Liberation Front, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for a fire at Michigan State University that destroyed a building being used for work related to agricultural biotechnology.

"Companies are not going to listen to morals," says Earth Liberation Front spokesperson Craig Rosebraugh. "If you cause them enough economic damage or economic sabotage to their industry, hopefully they'll see that it's in their best interest to stop their unjust acts."

Such demonstrations and protests have yet to deter the technology's most fervent supporters. Pandora's box has been opened, they say, and no amount of protests or alleged scare tactics will be able to put the lid back on.

"We will not be able to stop this technology," says USDA Secretary Dan Glickman. "Science will march forward."



Genetically Modified Foods

TIM O'BRIEN: To hear the bio-tech industry tell it, modern science has the potential to feed the world and provide all of us with healthier lives.

SYNGENTA COMMERICAL: From medicine to agriculture, biotechnology is providing solutions that are improving lives today, and could improve our world tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: The industry may have a hard time persuading Dr. Keith Finger, a Florida optometrist, who says he went into what's called "anaphylactic shock" after eating what he believes to have been genetically modified Starlink corn.

DR. KEITH FINGER (Optometrist): I had hives covering probably 90% of my body except for my face. That big - like raspberries. Raised, red, bloody-looking raspberries. My throat was constricting so that my breathing was becoming labored.

O'BRIEN: Could it have been the tortillas he had for dinner? Or the black beans and rice? Nobody knows yet, but the Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether corn products in both the tortillas and the black bean dinner may have been the same genetically modified Starlink corn which, although only approved as animal feed, recently found its way into the human food chain.

MS. LISA DRY (Biotechnology Industry Organization) Starlink is a mistake that should never have happened.

O'BRIEN: And a public relations disaster for the bio-tech industry.

MS. DRY: Somehow, and we still don't know how it happened, it made itself into the food system.

O'BRIEN: The company that produces Starlink corn, Aventis CropScience, has since tried to pull it from the market, but company officials say it's too late, that the modified corn is now cross-pollinating with traditional corn and it may be impossible to separate the two.

Whatever the reason, the Starlink debacle has only added fuel to the ongoing debate over genetically modified food. McDonald's and Burger King have told their suppliers they no longer want genetically modified potatoes for their famous French Fries, citing concerns about consumer acceptance. Some upscale supermarkets are similarly backing off.

More than 40 states are considering new restrictions on genetically modified foods. North Dakota wants to impose a two-year moratorium on growing genetically modified wheat -- backed by farmers concerned about their ability to market their produce in Europe and Japan, where opposition is intense. Exports have dropped to a trickle. In an industry with such exceptional promise, what on earth has gone so wrong?

DR. JANE RISSLER (Union of Concerned Scientists): There have been hundreds of millions of dollars invested in developing new products for biotechnology. A mere pittance has gone to research on risk.

O'BRIEN: Critics, like Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists, complain the industry has paid inadequate attention to potential risks.

DR. RISSLER: There is the possibility that genetic engineering introduces new proteins in the food that people could be allergic to. If you became ill, would you say, 'Oh my gosh, it's because of genetically engineered food?' No. How would you know? You don't know whether you're eating it or not.

O'BRIEN: Religious groups, concerned about dietary restrictions, have demanded genetically modified foods be labeled as such. The industry has resisted, fearing labeling might be unduly alarming. To some, the mere idea of tampering with the gene pool -- even of vegetables -- violates scripture.

RABBI FRED DOBB: The major text that applies here is from Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 19. "So you should not let your cattle mate with a different kind, you should not sow your seed of a mixed kind and you should not put on cloth that is from mixed material, wool and linen."

O'BRIEN: We've had hybrid fruit and vegetables for years, but what science is tinkering with now is quite different -- introducing the DNA of living organisms, of animals, into the food we eat.

For example, there soon could be something fishy about the tomatoes you eat. Really fishy. Researchers have been toying with the idea of infusing the tomato with the DNA of the Arctic salmon, a fish that won't freeze in icy waters. The idea? It just might prolong the growing season and prevent tomatoes from being wiped out with the first autumn frost.

Biotechnology is already being used as a substitute for pesticides. Watch, as worms devour the cotton plant on the left; the plant on the right has not been sprayed with any pesticides, but its DNA has been altered to make it repellant to insects.

Professor Galen Dively, a researcher at the University of Maryland, has spent years studying the effects of inserting a bacteria gene, bacillus therangensis or "BT" into potatoes and corn.

PROFESSOR GALEN DIVELY (Researcher, University of Maryland): This bacteria is unique in that it produces a protein, a crystal protein, that has insecticidal properties.

O'BRIEN: Insecticidal properties?

PROFESSOR DIVELY: Insecticidal properties!

O'BRIEN: No farmer is going to send corn like this to market. His choice, if he wants it to look like this is either use the BT, the genetically modified corn, or he's going to have to spray it with insecticide 15-20 times?

PROFESSOR DIVELY: Exactly, definitely, with this type of pressure, at least ten or 15 times at least.

O'BRIEN: Actually, the question might not be which is better, but which is worse?


O'BRIEN: The Colorado Potato Beetle can quickly destroy an entire potato crop. But not if treated with BT.

PROFESSOR DIVELY: These are plants that have been totally defoliated; all the leaves have been chewed off and consumed, and basically you just have stems remaining. And adjacent, you have then the BT variety.

O'BRIEN: Now, no insecticide here?

PROFESSOR DIVELY: Absolutely no insecticide. It's 100% control.

O'BRIEN: Yet, because of the controversy, many farmers are choosing the old insecticides over the new technology.

(to Professor Dively): Does that dismay you?

PROFESSOR DIVELY: Definitely. And I talk to farmers and field supervisors that work with these companies, and they're very angry because they see this as a real benefit in their industry.

O'BRIEN: The industry acknowledges a growing public skepticism of bio-engineered food.

MS. DRY: The public doesn't know and that's because we've not done a great job at sharing information and that's something that's being addressed now. We're trying to be as open as possible.

O'BRIEN: The major corporate players -- companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, and Aventis -- all have elaborate Web sites in which they boast of their safety precautions. But given the recent rash of negative publicity, they are now declining most requests for media interviews, including ours. It's no secret that some companies are backing off from the new technology until the controversy subsides.

The outcome of Keith Finger's case could significantly affect public perception. He is now part of a class action suit against Aventis and others, alleging they "knowingly or recklessly" allowed Starlink corn to enter the human food chain. Meanwhile, other concerns linger about the wisdom of tampering with nature or, as some see it, "God's handiwork." The questions so outnumber and so outpace the answers, they have essentially put genetically modified foods on hold -- at least for now -- for better or for worse.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Tim O'Brien in Washington.

Full Program Transcripts Now Available

<-- Return To BioTechEffect

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