Risks and Benefits: GM Crops in the Cross Hairs

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Science  26 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5445, pp. 1662-1666
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5445.1662

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As controversy builds over the safety of genetically modified crops, the evidence so far hasn't pinpointed any specific problems--but also can't dispel the doubts. The plants, most of which have been modified to resist pests or weed-killing herbicides, seem to pose minimal risks to human health, say experts. But environmental concerns such as the possibility that the plants pose a threat to beneficial insects, for example, the monarch butterfly (see p. 1663), or that novel genes might spread to wild plants and produce new strains of "superweeds," although hard to substantiate, are also proving hard to dispel. Complicating the weighing of risk is the question of how much any potential hazards are offset by the crops' potential benefits, such as reducing the use of chemical pesticides, lowering costs, and improving nutritional value.