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BBC radio series on ag biotech

(Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --

A two part series on the politics and science of GM food production Tuesdays 7 & 14 January 2003 8.00-8.40pm (repeated Sundays 5pm)

A spectacular backlash, including threats against a scientist. A $150,000 grassroots campaign is crushed by a $5million corporate counterblow. Whole countries have changed policies, and we may be next. The link? GM foods, and the backers of agricultural biotechnology.

Programme 1

Part one of Seeds of Trouble investigates the truth behind the conspiracy theories and the alleged bully boy tactics by the GM food industry - and its biggest fan: the US government.

Genetically modified (GM) food was supposed to be the bright new dawn of agriculture, and the answer to world hunger. It unleashed a biological goldrush, which turned sour when shares lost value, debts mounted, and the corporations got rid of their agricultural biotech divisions, leaving them to sink or swim on their own.

At the same time, pressure mounted on individual scientists, on activists who fought for the labelling of GM foods, and on various countries including those in the EU.

Are these two trends linked? Is the GM food industry turning to bully boy tactics in a desperate fight for survival?

Richard Hollingham travels all over the United States and to Mexico to find out what, if anything, links these events, and to investigate reports of unethical behaviour.

According to opinion polls, the majority of US consumers want GM labelling, but the state of Oregon GM labelling proposal is defeated after a $5m dollar TV advertising campaign, paid for by the biotech industry. GM foods are supposed to be safe, but how trustworthy is the regulation by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) when there are no compulsory safety tests, and when a number of FDA officials are former biotech company employees?

Certain US officials are beginning to threaten a WTO trade dispute with the EU over GM foods. Pressure is applied to several countries - and Britain is about to make its decision on the commercial growing of GM crops.

Programme 2

80% of America's soy is now grown from genetically modified seed. Richard Hollingham asks: are GMOs (genetically modified organisms) the future of farming, or are they a reckless experiment with our food?

In the space of seven years, genetically modified crops have made huge inroads into US agriculture. 80% of soybeans planted have been modified to withstand the herbicide "Round-Up" which is used to control weeds. And one third of the corn crop has now been engineered to resist a major insect pest, the European corn borer.

Supporters of genetical modification say that these seeds are good for the farmer because they reduce labour and increase yields, and good for the environment because they require fewer pesticides and herbicides.

Opponents see it differently - they say that no one can predict the long term impact of GMOs on other plant life and on the health of the soil. There's some evidence of irrevocable soil bacteria adaptation already. They also object to the patents and licensing agreements which, they maintain, deprive farmers of control over their livelihoods.

Richard Hollingham assesses the evidence for and against GMOs in agriculture. He meets farmers in America's corn-belt in the mid-West, and speaks to some who grow GM crops, and to some who don't. He goes to Monsanto, the large agricultural biotech company, and meets the scientists who are already working on the next generation of GMOs: rice enriched with vitamin A and plant-made pharmaceuticals. And he asks, where is all this leading?

One day, will farmers in both developed and developing nations across the world be growing GMOs? And will GMOs really be the answer to world hunger, as some proponents claim? What about us in Europe - will we be eating them soon? It's estimated that in America today up to 70% of all processed foods contain some GMOs. Is biotech the future of farming or is it a reckless experiment with our food? Find out in the second part of Seeds of Trouble.

You can listen to this BBC radio series online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/seedsoftrouble.shtml