NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 22, 2004

Genetically-modified (GM) varieties of "non-foods," such as cotton and trees, are slowly gaining popularity despite the negative hype over GM foods, according to the Economist.

Anti-GM advocates have focused mainly on products used for nutritional consumption, but the non-food use of genetically-modified organisms has sparked a little less controversy and has proven beneficial worldwide.

For example:

  • The GM variety of cotton is producing greater yields in western India; in China, two provinces have saved about $250 per hectare in labor and pesticide use by growing GM cotton.
  • Researchers in New Zealand and Chile have produced pest-resistant pine trees, while a paper company in Japan has put carrot genes into its eucalyptus trees to encourage their growth in acidic soil.
  • Researchers at State University of North Carolina have produced an aspen tree with less lignin, making it cheaper for paper manufacturers to separate cellulose (used in paper) from the unused lignin.
  • Grain producer Cargill began a joint venture with chemical company Dow to produce maize-based plastics in 2000; they currently sell about 140,000 tons per year for packaging and bedding.

However, even non-food GMs can fall victim to negative public perception, says the Economist. Anti-GM advocates worry about GM maize growing next to and "contaminating" non-GM maize, even without proof of harm to consumers. If public opinion is swayed by unsubstantiated hype, even farmers will be reluctant to grow potentially profitable GM crops, says the Economist.

Source: Special report, "The Men in White Coats are Winning, Slowly," Economist, October 7, 2004.

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