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A Kinder, Gentler GM: Will Biotech Seeds Save the World?

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Anti-biotechnology activists in Europe had played the emotion card, and it had worked.With images of Frankenstein hovering over GM food, Europeans weren't just scared: They were angry. But now, on the other side of the Atlantic, as Bush administration officials gathered documents to pursue the World Trade Organization (WTO) case, the biotech industry was determined to do the activists one better. Rather than wowing the public with science—an approach that had backfired in the ice-minus fiasco (discussed in Chapter 1) a decade earlier—the biotech lobby would tug at the public's heartstrings. If Europeans wouldn't accept GM food, and unaware Americans merely gulped it down passively, it would be left to the third world to embrace it. In the eyes and minds of the biotechnology industry, citizens of developing nations would make wonderful poster children, as the hungry and willing recipients of the humanitarian beneficence that biotech promised.

In the spring of 2001, the Council for Biotechnology Information, a group comprised of “the leading biotechnology companies and trade associations,” introduced a television advertisement as part of its new “Why Biotech?” campaign. In the ad, a voice-over extols the virtues of biotech food as images of half-clothed African children roll by. Then Maria Brunn, a young American cancer survivor, skips across the screen on her way to sports practice. “Thanks to biotech medicines, Maria's cancer is in remission and she's back on the team,” intones her beaming, blonde mother. Images of scientists clad in white coats and staring through microscopes flash across the screen.

As the ad winds down from its focus on first-world medical applications of biotechnology, the camera pans across a field of stooped Asian peasants, faces shaded by their pointed bamboo hats. “From medicine to agriculture, biotechnology is providing solutions that are improving lives today, and could improve our world tomorrow,” an authoritative female voice declares. After a breathy pause upon the word “today,” the camera zooms in on a female farm worker, her distant stare obscured only slightly by the child slung on her side. As the word “tomorrow” is articulated, the mother's gaze lifts, foreshadowing a future filled with biotech food crusades that will take place in far-off fields.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 10, 2008

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