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There are many questions and problems surrounding GMOs. Since it is such a new field, biotechnology and the applications of biotechnology are surrounded by scientific uncertainty (Shiva, 1999). Scientists have only conducted short-term experiments on such factors as the environmental impact GMOs will have or their possible health impacts on humans. Listed below are several main categories of these questions and in some cases, their possible solutions.

Economic
Environment
Health
World Hunger

Economic

Profit Incentive
The potential for commercial gain through the use of biotechnology is evident through the large transnational corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, and Novartis. Most private companies focus their research on staple products of western nations such as maize and wheat. Monsanto does not even produce rice, the number one crop in the world, because it is not profitable for them to do so. Labeling products that contain GMOs would place tremendous economic cost on these companies. (Klee, 2000).

Research Funds
Funding for biotechnology has taxed the already waning agriculture research funds in the world (Shiva, 1999). Opponents of GMOs argue that alternative methods of agriculture can achieve the same things as biotechnology. They cite examples of iron and calcium fortified rice, salinity resistant rice, and nitrogen fixing legumes that have been created through the use of biodiversity and biological control in Third World countries(Shiva, 2000). Hans Herren, the director of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi maintains society "shouldn't be driven by this unproven technology when there are many more efficient solutions to food problems." Herren ended a famine in Africa during the 1980's with an action plan based on biological control. If the same problem arose today he does not think he could find the funding for the research because biotechnology is drawing too much money (Pearce,1998). The Rockefeller Foundation, one of the largest private funds for agriculture research in the world spends more than half of their money on biotechnology (Pearce, 2000).
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Environment

Testing
Scientists in lab A scare related to the Monarch butterfly resulted in controversy over GMOs in the United Kingdom, but was recently shown to be false. Scientists really do not know the long-term effects of biotechnology on the natural world (Brown, 2000). The large number of variables, the constant change of the natural world and the relatively short time the technology has been around, make studies difficult.

Possible Benefits
Many people say biotechnology will actually help the environment by lowering the amount of pesticides and herbicides used in farming because of insect and disease resistant strains of organisms. Advocates also say that GMOs help eliminate the need for slash-and-burn agriculture because of increased food production per acre.

Biodiversity
How will biotechnology alter evolution? Genetic modification in an organism usually occurs over thousands of years through mutations. Does one changed gene make the organism and entirely new species? Will "super crops" wipe out older strains of an organism and decreases biodiversity? These questions have yet to be answered.
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Health

Track Record
David Aaron of the United States Commerce Department states that Americans have eaten GMOs for more than 13 years and no health problems have occurred as a result. The long-term effects of GMOs on human body processes is unknown. "Genetic exchange between species can wake up dangerous, dormant viruses in the human genes," said Mae-Wan Ho, Ph. D, science advisor for the Third World Network, a coalition of groups involved in development issues (Biotech Aimed, 2000).

Food Allergies
One serious health uncertainty surrounding GMOs concerns food allergies. Since gene splicing allows a gene from any organism to be put in another, the opportunity for new combinations of genes to trigger allergic reactions exists. In opposition, some scientists believe that in the future they will identify the genes that cause the allergic reactions. The harmful gene in a organism, such as a Brazil nut, could then be removed. (Franken..., 2000).
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World Hunger

A

Hunger Facts
To understand whether biotechnology can actually help end hunger, it is necessary to examine the causes of world hunger. The World Bank states that the world food supply in 1994 could have fed 6.4 billion people so hunger stems not necessarily from lack of food, but also for economic and political reasons. The world produces enough grain to feed every person at least 3,500 calories a day yet 800 million people in the world are hungry (Toler, 2000). Fifteen percent of the world's population are chronically undernourished (vanWijk, 2000).Certain groups are hit the hardest by hunger including women, children, people in rural areas and those living in underdeveloped nations. Three fourths of people who are hungry live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America (Toler, 2000).

Moral Blackmail
Many opponents argue that biotech companies are using world hunger as a form of "moral blackmail" to sell GMOs. Consumers feel they have to accept biotechnology or else they feel guilty about standing in the way of progress to help stop world hunger (Knee, 2000). The companies make themselves out to be the saviors of hungry people throughout the world, but do not actually use their expertise to help developing nations because they have no profit incentive.

Two Arguments
Many of the ethical questions about GMOs revolve around its potential ability to solve world hunger. Many people fear that the new technology would actually contribute to world hunger by making farmers dependent on private corporations for seeds or other agricultural necessities (vanWijk, 2000). A technology exists that can produce sterile seeds. Often called "terminator technology," the seeds prevent the spread of GMOs through cross pollination, but also require farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Since more than half the worlds farmers are poor, it is doubtful whether or not they could afford to buy new seeds every year (Franken...,1999). The political conflict in the West about GMOs has angered some advocates of biotechnology in developing countries. They feel it overshadows the benefits that the technology could have for the world.

"Europe has a surplus of food production. They have so much food that they are being subsidized. They don't know hunger. They don't know poverty. They are talking with their stomachs full, and they think they know what is best for Africa. That's very wrong. We should be allowed to try technology and decide for ourselves."
-Florence Wambugu, Nairobi based plant scientist (Tam,1999)

Effective Solution
The wide spread controversy surrounding biotechnology often makes it difficult to decipher facts from propaganda. Eliminating world hunger will take a integrated approach of solutions. In the end, solving world hunger is not an "inherent characteristic," of biotechnology, but it can help if its benefits are shared with those who need it most. Biotechnology has the potential to be part of the solution to world hunger if research occurs for crops beneficial to developing countries. In the 1960's and 70's the Green Revolution promised to end world hunger, but despite increased food production hunger persists today.

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Elizabeth Denlinger elizden@ufl.edu
Copyright 2001