University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Genetically Modified Crops

Conflicting interests?

Question:   Is there a moral difference between the idea of GM crops in principle and how they’ve been actually used so far in practice?

Who is GM crop technology for?

One criticism levelled at GM technology is that it has mainly benefited farmers and biotech companies, but has given little benefit to ordinary consumers. Despite the promise of great things in the future, many people who are affected by the technology now have yet to receive any clear gains.

Who 'owns' GM crop technology?

Developing GM crops has cost a vast amount of money. Much of the research has been paid for by privately owned biotechnology companies, not governments, and these companies expect to make a profit from their investments. The majority of the research (and thus the knowledge that comes from it) is in the hands of about six multinational companies. Whatever you may believe about the profit motive, it's clear that there are possible conflicts of interest between the need for a private company to make money and the application of privately owned technology to solving problems in poor countries.

Question: If you believe that GM crop technology can contribute to global food security, what measures would you take to ensure that such technology is applied in a way that serves the best interests of the world's poor?

GM crops and international trade

In 2004, the US government demanded that the European Union lift its ban on the growing of GM crops and pay £1 billion to US farmers in compensation for their loss of trade to Europe over the previous 6 years.
 More info 

 Find out why the EU banned imports of GM crops? Why did the US government threaten a trade war as a result?
 Here's a place to start

Who might benefit from GM crops in the future?

While GM may have the potential to help farmers in poor countries, whether this actually happens depends on many factors. Some have asked whether GM crops have been created in a way that promotes the best interests of the developing world farmers, or whether they have been created to maximise profit?  More info

 Goals Rights & Responsibilities

Carry out the exercise on this next page ->> G0 >>

Next: Gene patenting


What's your opinion?

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Your mum 13-05-10 12:41
Very good website :)

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Have your say in the
GM section of the
discussion boards

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 series 
'Seeds of Trouble' from Jan 2003

 Part 1: 40 mins
 Part 2: 40 mins
(Requires RealPlayer)
 Programme summary

Teachers' Resources

BBC Reith Lectures 2000
 Poverty & Globalisation - Vandana Shiva - 1hr
(Requires RealPlayer)
Text version

When research and industry collide.
 The Pulse of Scientific Freedom
(Requires RealPlayer)
In a controversial video conference, four high profile geneticists tell how their research brought them into conflict with big business.

The video is long (1hr 49m), but key segments may be useful for discussion.
0m - 9m:42s
Questioning science journalism
19m:50s - 28m:50s
Tyrone Hayes claimed that a leading herbicide caused sex changes in frogs.

 conference info
N.B. only the scientists' versions of events are shown, without responses from industry.