An Industry on the Brink: Consumers Need to Wake Up and Smell the Genetically Modified Coffee
A recent upsurge of opposition to the production of genetically modified crops has farmers all over America asking themselves one question: To modify or not to modify? Genetically modified (GM) crops allow farmers to use fewer pesticides while still achieving the same yields. American farmers have planted GM crops since 1995 and, at least for the first few years, had no problems selling these products to the public. Recently, however, there has been a movement by several activist groups, some of which have the support of accredited scientists, to make a distinction on grocery store shelves between GM foods and those that were produced normally. This process, called labeling, strikes fear in the hearts of most farmers who are afraid that an uninformed American public will steer clear of the GM crops “just to be on the safe side.” The fact of the matter is that Americans have been eating these altered crops since 1995 and no one has been harmed. This simple albeit somehow debatable fact did not stop one interest group from taking out several full-page ads in the New York Times warning of the dangers of these newfangled foods (Isserman, 2001). This, like many technological advances has met much resistance, but it will ultimately be accepted and change the face of agriculture.
The decision of whether to produce GM crops is based more on politics than on practice. Farmers are not interested in deciding which type of crop is better for consumers, better for the environment, or better for the world, but instead are only concerned with which type of crop consumers are willing to buy. Farmers were once faced with the less that simple dilemma of how to increase crop yields. Once harvested they were almost certain that they would be able to sell their wares at a fair market price. With genetically modified organisms, a new twist has been added. Farmers must now gamble on which type of crop will be most accepted by consumers and face the possibility of losing everything if they guess incorrectly (Belsie, 1999). To American companies it is not important which process is better, but only which product will sell. As one company executive put it, “We are in the business of selling food. We are not in the business of championing a particular technology.” (Belsie, 1999) So, the question remains, which method is better? Should businesses shy away from this dangerous innovation or will the benefits it offers make it the next great technology?
To better understand the debate over whether these new genetically modified organisms are safe, lets look first at the facts. When this technology was first introduced, the level of concern voiced by the experts was so small that genetically modified crops were sold in grocery stores with out any knowledge by the average American citizen. By 1998, the US was growing GM crops on 20.5 million...