This technology seemed to be appropriate for reducing the amount of pesticides

This technology seemed to be appropriate for reducing

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This technology seemed to be appropriate for reducing the amount of pesticides sprayed in intensive agriculture. In most commercial crops the use of Bt genetic engineering is tested; almost all biotech research
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49 | three to develop microbial insecticides is directed at the Bt bacterium (Grain, 1995). Monsanto controlled Bt cotton and Bt potatoes and was eyeing huge profits in the highly competitive Bt maize market. However, the monarch butterfly threw a spanner in the works. A national symbol in the USA, and sometimes called the Bambi of the insect world, it appeared in full colour on the front page of the New York Times , revealing public concern for its wellbeing. Fears were raised after Nature published the results of research conducted by Cornell en- tomologist John Losey. He discussed the possible threat to the butterfly posed by Bt-crops after observing that half of the monarch butterfly larvae died four days after eating milkweed plants dusted with pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn. 5 Although Losey explicitly stated that the lab-based results were preliminary, the paper generated intense public debate about the possible risks of Bt crops (Pew Initiative, 2002). The arguments that Bt is, technically speaking, a special case, and that the risk to monarch butterflies is fairly small, could not prevent the controversy surrounding the environmental impact of Bt crops gradually becoming a liability to life science companies (Kraaijeveld, 1999). Exposure of the potential risks of Bt technology spurred on the grow- ing public distrust of the life science industry. A retrospective study of the Pew Initiative shows the emergence of concerns about the way in which scientific questions are raised and resolved in a highly politicized environment, the role of scientific journals and the mainstream press in building the controversy, and the adequacy of regulatory bodies in reviewing potential risks (Pew Initiative, 2002). The safety of genetically modified foods became even more con- troversial after Arpad Pustzai spoke about his research indicating that genetically modified potatoes harmed the immune system and the internal organs of rats. 6 Although Pustzai also acknowledged that his findings were preliminary but nevertheless important enough to be made public, the validity of the research immediately became the subject of a widely publicized debate. Successive events revealed that much had happened behind the scenes, e.g. suppression of the debate and Monsanto’s partial financial support to Pustzai’s employer, the Rowett Institute, which eventually distanced itself from Pustzai (Levidow, 2002). Furthermore, public understanding of technological risks was embedded in an increasing concern over food safety following several scandals such as ‘mad cow’ disease and dioxin contamination. As a result, genetic modification was linked to an eroding confidence in scientific practices and in the direction of technological development.
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