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What do you know about genetically modified food?

Is it a good thing, do you think?

Are there any dangers?


    1. Read the text below to find out about one writer’ opinion.
    2. Find the words or phrases in the text which match the definitions below:

at the centre of, matter on which opinion is divided, harmless, animals that are kept on a farm, insubstantial (not believable), evidence that makes you think something may have happened, coming to a large amount, which cannot be changed, numerous, exterminate.


I wonder if politicians really knew what they were doing when they put the so-called “precautionary principle” at the heart of European environmental decision - making? You don’t hear much about it in the media, but it looms larger and larger on a host of controversial issues which Europe is wrestling with today.

In essence, the precautionary principle is simple. What it says is that the lack of the usual level of scientific proof (clear evidence of some “cause and effect” link, for example) shouldn’t necessarily be a reason for politicians to do nothing if there seems to be a real threat of serious or potentially irreversible damage to the environment – or indeed, to human health.

Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? Bu the knock-on impact can be huge, as both agriculture and environment ministers are beginning to discover. Back to December, for example, Europe’s agriculture ministers took the wise decision to ban four of the most commonly used antibiotics as “growth promoters” in the UK. It’s not well-known that pigs, poultry and even cattle are getting antibiotics in their feed on a daily basis, both to make them grow faster and in an attempt to control some of the diseases to have been made so much worse by intensive livestock production systems.

Indeed, as a report from the Soil Association has just demonstrated, total use in farming is higher than for human medicines – and many of the drugs used in agriculture are the same as those used to save people’s lives. The fear is that traces of the antibiotics, passed on through the meat that people eat, could increase human resistance to medicines containing those drugs.

Yet in all honesty, the level of hard-edged, rock-solid evidence proving this connection is as yet pretty flimsy, though the Soil Association rightly points out that there is more and more circumstantial evidence to hand that cannot be ignored. So the December ban was introduced on a precautionary basis. And the pharmaceutical companies (who will lose out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds) don’t like it one little bit, instantly threatening legal action against the European Commission on the grounds that it “Had not followed established procedures and has disregarded scientific analysis.” If it comes to court, that will be one of the first major tests of the legal basis for the precautionary principle.

So just imagine how much more complicated it all gets when politicians try to use the precautionary principle in their deliberations about the release of genetically modified (GM) organisms into the environment. Though the US has permitted the widespread use of GM crops such a maize, soya and cotton for several years, things have moved more slowly here in Europe. Most countries are seeking either a ban or a moratorium on the commercial use of GM crops, often claiming that the scientific information available to them is simply not enough to justify their widespread use. But the test, of course, has to be the threat of serious or potentially irreversible damage to the environment or human health. Does that stack up when looking at GM soya or GM maize – the two crops that agro-chemical companies are most anxious to introduce?

Part of the problem is that most of the data comes from the companies themselves. And most people (including Government ministers) are just a tad suspicious as slick PR machines churn out the standard reassurances that there is zero risk to the environment. The RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), for example, has spent the past 18 months raising questions about the impact of GM crops on biological diversity, arguing that it is “probable” that their use will result in further declines in wildlife and farmland birds in particular. Their concerns are legion. Crops engineered to resist broad-spectrum weedkillers permit every other plant in the field to be wiped out – leading to fewer plants, fewer seeds and fewer insects on which farmland birds can feed. Insect-resistant crops are modified to produce their own insecticides to kill bugs – but the trouble is that they sometimes kill the good guys as well as the bad guys. Crops modified to resist weeds, insects or diseases may remove the need for crop rotations, which are crucial to protecting biological diversity.

The truth is there is still so much we don’t yet have the first clue about. The gene experts tell us there is nothing to worry about. Environmentalists say there is plenty to worry about. Consumers are confused, and politicians are stuck in the middle of a minefield that gets bigger and more dangerous by the day. Wheel on the precautionary principle!

from an article by J. Porritt in the BBC Wildlife Magazine

    1. Choose the best answer A, B, C or D. Expand on your choice.

What is stated in the “precautionary principle” which the writer refers to?

(a) That the lack of any scientific evidence should never be a reason for politicians to do nothing.

(b) That politicians must always act if there is a threat to the environment or human health.

(c) That politicians should act even without full scientific proof if nature or humans are seriously threatened.

(d) That scientific proof need not to be the best way to judge a threat to the environment or human health.

According to the writer, using antibiotics in agriculture

(a) is clearly endangering human health.

(b) cannot be shown to threaten human health in any way.

(c) is necessary because of diseases caused by intensive stock production systems.

(d) may increase human resistance to medicines that contain them.

According to the writer, what is the problem about GM crops?

(a) Government ministers may be tampering with the data about them.

(b) Public relations departments make questionable claims about their safety.

(c) No countries in Europe believe there is sufficient scientific information to justify their use.

(d) They could interbreed with organic crops.

Why are the RSPB worried, according to the text?

(a) insect-resistant crops may kill the birds that feed on them.

(b) Farmers may grow fewer plants so there will be less food for birds.

(c) There may be less diversity of crops grown so birds will suffer.

(d) Broad spectrum weedkillers may poison the birds.

    1. Read the following article. Five sentences have been removed from it. Choose from the sentences A-E the one which fits each gap.
  1. The experiment failed.
  2. Genes carry information.
  3. Some – but not all – supermarkets are telling their customers which foods are genetically engineered.
  4. It may be your land they fight for – or you that they kill.
  5. These new life forms have been described as a “real-life Frankenstein”.

You didn’t ask for it, you might not know about it. But you’ve probably already eaten some of it. It’s genetically engineered food.

Perfectly round tomatoes all exactly the same size. Long straight cucumbers and big fat chickens are now a normal part of our diets. They are made that way by genetic engineering – not by nature. Their genes have been changed.

Every living thing has genes. ________They are passed on from generation to generation. They make sure that humans give birth to humans and cows give birth to cows. They also make sure that a dog cannot give birth to a frog or an elephant to a horse. Genetic engineers take genes from one species – for example, a scorpion, and transfer them to another – for example, corn. In this way a new life form is created.________

Genetic engineers put duck genes into chickens to make the chicken bigger. They put hormones into cows to make them produce more milk. They put genes from flowers into soya beans and from scorpions into corn. This does not make them cheaper, tastier or healthier. It makes them easier and faster for the farmer to grow.

The effects of genetic engineering on our health are not known. Many of the genes which are used – such as those of scorpions, rats, mice and moths – are not part of our diet so we do not know how dangerous they may be. For example, people can develop allergies to food which has been genetically engineered.

The effects of genetic engineering on the natural world may be disastrous. The engineers may create life forms – monsters – that we cannot control. The new life forms have no natural habitat or home. They will have to find one, fight for one – kill for one.

__________Moreover, the effects of these experiments can often be cruel. In America, some animals were given human genes to make them bigger and less fatty. ___________The animals became very ill and began to lose eyesight.

Greenpeace is trying to prevent all such food experiments. Some – but not all – food companies are refusing to use genetically engineered foods. _________We must all be aware of what is happening.

Some people believe, though genetic engineering could be the solution to the problem of famine. Plants which grow faster or cows which produce more milk can save the lives of starving people.

We would all like a better, healthier and longer life, and genetic engineering might give us this. On the other hand, it may be a dangerous experiment with nature. In the story, Frankenstein created such a terrible and dangerous monster that he had to destroy it. We must make sure that it remains a story – and no more than that.

What are the arguments for and against genetically engineered food?

How do you feel about it?


New Foods

If you go into a British supermarket, you may be surprised by some of the foods on display. Some of them sell black tomatoes, white cucumbers and carrots that are purple or round. This article looks at another new product called the strawmato, a tomato that looks and tastes like a strawberry.

Would you like to try a strawmato, a black tomato or a purple carrot?

Do you think these new foods are just harmless and fun, or are they unnatural and perhaps even dangerous?


    1. Find the words or phrases in the text below which match the definitions:

the best of, a combination of two things, strawberries and cream is the traditional dessert eaten at the Wimbledon tennis championships, major supermarkets, top secret, very small adjustments, caused chaos, attempting (trying), putting in, unbelievably (amazingly), typical (normal/ traditional), called (named/ nicknamed), not smooth, much too sweet, makes up (is), not enough ( a shortage).


Read, retell and discuss the text.

Date: 2015-01-12; view: 2176

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