The biotech industry insists it has science on its
side in the debate over the environmental safety of genetically
engineered crops. But its reaction to new scientific discoveries
tends to vary depending on whether the research helps or hinders
A case in point is the continuing controversy over
corn genetically modified to produce its own insecticide. In June,
researchers from the University of Illinois published a field study
showing that pollen from the modified corn did not harm black swallowtail
butterflies. The biotech industry has been heavily promoting the
The swallowtail study is the first published field
trial since May 1999, when the prestigious scientific journal Nature
reported the results of a Cornell University laboratory experiment
in which altered corn pollen killed monarch butterfly larvae. The
monarch study generated a flurry of headlines - such as "Butterflies
are Victims of Genetic Engineering" and "Surprise Attack of Alien
Corn" - and helped spark the growing public concern about genetically
When the monarch story broke, most Americans had been
unknowingly eating genetically modified foods for about five years.
A raucous public debate in Europe had virtually shut the industry
out of that market, and consumer resistance was beginning to spread
to other countries. Fearing a consumer backlash here, the biotech
industry has been engaged in damage control on the issue ever since.
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