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British GMO Protests Highlight Global Divide

Posted Nov 05 2008 2:42am
Our weekly guest post byJonathan Javitt, author ofCapitol Reflections:

In July, Malawi became the second African country to approve biotech crops, and as food prices continue to rise, this is a trend that will doubtless be continuing. More countries are turning to genetically modified crops for agricultural assistance.

In Britain, opposition to these types of crops is quite prevalent - nearly all of the 54 U.K. pesticide-resistant crop trials attempted in the past eight years have been attacked, according to media reports. Protesters are destroying the experimental crops to prevent biotechnology companies from spreading genetically modified organisms (GMOs) more widely in Europe and the developing world.

Thanks to this bio-vandalism, research of GMOs has been forced to come to a near-halt. European Union legislation requires research groups and facilities to let the public know the location of the trials, making it easier for opponents to locate the research sites.

GMO protests go beyond the US and the UK - 200 South Koreans protested GM crops in May, and 300 Brazilian activists attacked a farm owned by global agribusiness company Monsanto, a developer of biotechnology products, in March.

But are people getting as carried away as it might sound? One analyst believes extreme protests are overemphasized by the media, in part due to efforts by the biotech industry to discredit the opposition.

In my novel, Capitol Reflections, I note that many people are concerned that new GM techniques are developing so rapidly that there isn't an extensive enough screening process to weed out potential hazards before products hit the market. They're concerned that long-term assessments of environmental and health effects are lagging behind discoveries. This could mean – as is the case with genetically modified coffee in the book – that products are introduced to the market that appear to be beneficial, but can end up having unforeseen detrimental effects.
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