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Unformatted text preview: Environmental Health Perspectives VOLUME 113 | NUMBER 8 | August 2005 A 527 Focus | Genetically Modified Foods Superstock Genetically modified (GM) crops first appeared commercially in the mid-1990s to what seemed a bright and promising future. Resistant to pests and the herbicides used to control weeds, these new crops were so popular with farmers that millions of acres were planted with them by the turn of the millennium. Today, GM crops are grown commercially by 8.25 million farmers on 200 million acres spread throughout 17 countries, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), an international nonprofit that advocates for the technology. The worlds top five producersthe United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and Chinaaccount for 96% of global GM cultivation; of this, more than half is in the United States. Yet these impressive numbers tell only part of the story. Fully as notable as the growth of GM agriculture is the relentless backlash that has developed against it. Although GM supporters insist the technology raises harvest yields, reduces agrochemical use, and will eventually even produce high-nutrition food that can grow in deplet- ed soils, skeptics counter that the risks of GM foodsmade with gene splicing methods from biotechnologyare unknown and poorly addressed by current testing methods. They also worry that the spread of GM crops, which are supplied mainly by a handful of multinational companies, fuels corporate ownership of the seed sup- ply and threatens the purity of indigenous crops, with which GM varieties can breed by cross-pollination. A Growing Backlash The oppositions attacks are generating sustained impacts. In April 2004, biotech companies including Novartis Seeds, Aventis CropScience, and Bayer CropScience abandoned GM field trials in England, citing challenges raised by British consumers. The next month, Monsanto dropped its new variety of herbicide-resistant wheat despite hundreds of millions reputedly spent on research and develop- ment. The product was shelved in part because of threatened boycotts by Europe and Japan, which together buy 45% of all U.S. wheat Breeding Uncertainty Genetically Modified Foods Focus | Genetically Modified Foods exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (UDSA/ERS). And in November 2004, the worlds largest agrochemical company, the Swiss-based Syngenta, moved its European GM field trials to the United States, also cit- ing public resistance. Europe itself, where commercial GM crops are grown only in Spainand there in small amountsis politically gridlocked over the issue, says Geoffrey Lean, environ- ment editor for The Independent on Sunday , a British newspaper. The European Com- mission lifted a six-year moratorium on GM food in Europe last year, but even so, no new crops have been granted entry, he says. The commission, which favors the technology, wants to allow more GM imports. However,wants to allow more GM imports....
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