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Fooling with Mother Nature.

Can genetically altered crops help feed the world?

YES Corn that is genetically modified to include a natural insecticide, cotton engineered to tolerate herbicides--if you've been reading about genetically altered crops, you may be asking yourself, "Why do we need this stuff?"

It's true that, so far, genetically modified crops have not led to such promised advances as big reductions in the need for agricultural chemicals. And while there is no evidence that such crops in the field have harmed human health or damaged the environment, planting them does risk unwanted ecological effects.

But the genetically altered crops in the news today are just the first manifestations of a new idea. Better versions are coming.

For example, the Rockefeller Foundation is sponsoring research on so-called golden rice, a crop designed to improve nutrition in the developing world. Breeders are using genetics to build into the rice forms of vitamin A that the body can absorb; vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in poor countries. A second phase of the project will increase the iron content in rice to combat anemia, which is common among women in underdeveloped countries.

Of course, the genetic engineering of crops must be carefully regulated. But it would be a mistake if the underwhelming results of the first generation of genetically altered crops led to laws or boycotts that blocked future generations. After all, it is the world's poorest people who have the most to lose.

--GREGG EASTERBROOK journalist and author Times Op-Ed page

NO With more than 800 million people suffering starvation in the world, any development that may help feed them has obvious appeal. But will genetically engineered crops do it?

It's a myth that there is not enough food to feed the world. There is a surplus of food being produced--but millions of people can't get to it, or can't afford it.

High-tech farming methods promoted by multinational corporations have disrupted developing countries' attempts to feed themselves. Genetic engineering is set to make it worse. Many genetically engineered crops contain built-in pesticide resistance and will very likely perpetuate the use of toxic chemicals.

For example, Monsanto's soybean could spread its herbicide resistance to related weeds through normal pollination and cross-breeding, or become a weed itself. In both cases, greater use of chemicals would be needed to control the resulting super weeds. For farmers who can afford genetically engineered technology, short-term savings through reduced pesticide use will dwindle over time as crop pests develop resistance and more chemicals are required to have the same effect as earlier levels. Given the high costs associated with growing these crops, genetic engineering is simply not a viable answer to the food needs of developing nations.

--GREENPEACE the environmental group.
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Title Annotation:genetically modified foods
Author:Easterbrook, Gregg
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 17, 2000
Previous Article:God in Politics.
Next Article:letters.

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