Arts
7:00 am
Mon April 23, 2012

GMO Debate Should be Case-By-Case

The fight over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food began the moment scientists first learned how to splice a gene, but a University of Pittsburgh researcher thinks she has some new advice for those engaged in the debate.

Countries such as Austria and Hungary have banned GMOs altogether, and some are starting to think that the United States should follow suit. "This is the kind of policy scenario that, where one size doesn't fit all," said Sandra Mitchell, professor and chair of Pitt's Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She thinks part of the debate should be consideration of biodiversity issues.

For example, Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacterium commonly used as a biological pesticide, has more than 600 strains that produce different effects on modified plants. Mitchell said policy needs to take into account such complexities and the value of such diversity.

However, as Mitchell explains, there are some good reasons to introduce modified plants that will replace other species. Golden Rice, which was first developed in 1999 and will soon be commercially grown for the first time in the Philippines, has the power to prevent millions of deaths because it includes Vitamin A, not found in the natural rice used as a staple food in many parts of the world.