This article provides answers to questions frequently asked by consumers
Will genetic modification damage the environment?
Should there be any risk to the environment that could not be easily detected and contained, the genetically modified
crop would not be given approval. Any sign of instability means the crop is considered unsafe for general release and
the stability of crops is assessed over six or more growing seasons.
Idealy, genetic modification allows for food to be produced on a commercial scale in a more environmentally friendly
manner. Some of the environmental benefits include:
*A decrease in the use of agricultural chemicals. Modifying a plant to be more resistant to insect damage allows for a
decrease in insecticides applied to the crop. This can prevent the extermination of the thousands of other species of
insects which suffer under the current wide scale use of insecticides.
*Existing farmlands could yield more, better crops. Less natural vegetation would have to be destroyed to produce
enough food for our world's burgeoning population.
Could foreign genes move from the GM crops into natural plants?
It would be unacceptable to release any GMO that will cause long term damage to ecosystems. During the testing
phase, gene movement is restricted to the trial site.
Biosafety review committees carefully assess gene movement before approving the commercial release of GMO's.
What about the much publicised negative effect on the monarch butterfly?
Laboratory studies have shown that a genetically modified toxin in maize pollen affects the growth and survival of
Monarch butterflies under the forced feeding regimes.
Monarch caterpillars that were force-fed the pollen, grew slower. It is known that, in the wild, neither Monarch
caterpillars nor butterflies feed on corn plants. Regulations worldwide will closely monitor how this data transmits to
Is it ethical to move genes between organisms?
Many scientists see genetic modification as a natural step in a breeding selection and drug development. Personal
opinion will, however, be formed based on an individual's own religious, spiritual and personal beliefs.
Consumers should be empowered to make an informed choice regarding their use of GM products, and foods
containing GM ingredients should therefore be clearly labelled.
Does GM technology benefit commercial farmers at the expense of subsistence farmers?
Products of biotechnological innovation are not necessarily the solution to all food production problems. They present
additional technological solutions, and their application will depend upon specific farmer needs, irrespective of the
size of their operation.
In China, some 600 000 peasant farmers are growing 1 million hectares of GM cotton, and this has resulted in more
efficient production and a substantial decrease in chemicals.
Once our subsistence farmers have access to modern seeds that are more resistant to pests or withstand drought,
salty conditions and the cold, their agricultural output will surely be optimised.
Why is the EU so opposed to GMO derived foods?
The EU opinion has been formed as a result of a strong anti-biotechnology lobbying campaign and recent food scares
due to problems with food produced with conventional technology.
The issue is further clouded by political agendas and undoubtedly, by trade considerations. Food safety ultimately
should be judged on technical and sound scientific grounds.