academic environmental studies   macalester college
Environmental Studies

GM Crops And The MDGs

Millennium Goals
Major Questions

Golden Rice and India

Findings & Framework for Progress
References & Links

Comments & questions to:

Genetically Modified Crops and the Millennium Development Goals:

Research and Design by Avery Bowron, '10


"To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong...We want to have the opportunity to save the lives of millions of people and change the course of history in many nations...The harsh reality is that, without the help of agricultural biotechnology, many will not live." -Hassan Adamu, Nigerian minister of agricultural and rural development (2000)

"It appears as if the world’s top scientists suffer a more severe form of blindness than children in poor countries.  The statement that "traditional breeding has been unsuccessful in producing crops high in vitamin A" is not true given the diversity of plants and crops that Third World farmers, especially women, have bred and used which are rich sources of vitamin A such as coriander, amaranth, carrot, pumpkin, mango, [and] jackfruit." -Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist and environmentalist, director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (2000)

"Asking people whether they're for or against GM crops is as ridiculous as asking whether they're for or against fire.  As Prometheus found out, a mastery of flame can be a boon or a curse.  It is the tool of the arsonist and [of celebrated chef] Gordon Ramsay.  The technology is morally neutral.  It is how it is applied that counts." -Mark Henderson, London Times (2003)

Many people regard Golden Rice as an example of how biotechnology can be used to help developing nations, while others consider it a smokescreen to divert attention away from biotechnology companies' attempts to dominate the food supply.  While there are many legitimate concerns about the implications of genetically modified foods, they are all too often dismissed as insignificant by the biotechnology industry or used to categorically oppose genuine attempts to use the technology in a positive manner.  What seems to be lacking in the debate is a rational common ground based on necessity, culture, and science, yet grounded in a holistic ethical framework.  The fundamental question to address is this: Should genetically modified crops have a role to play in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development goals at any point, now or in the future? 

To examine this question it is important to discuss three major issues about which there is much debate and little willingness to compromise: Can genetically modified crops help increase worldwide food security?  Will genetically modified crops have positive or negative environmental impacts?  What sort of Intellectual Property Rights are appropriate to promote positive and democratic progress toward the Millennium Development Goals? 

In order to provide a context to examine these issues of the larger debate, the case of Golden Rice in India will be considered.  The aim of this project is to explore the different issues of this debate from the perspective of each of its major stakeholders, to find the areas in which they share common goals, and then to look at what can be learned from the case of India in order to help put forward a democratic framework for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in a manner that is both equitable and effective.


Image 1: Rice paddy in Nepal.

Researcher in an IRRI lab

Image 2: Researcher at the International
Rice Research Institute based in the

Last updated:  5/8/2007


Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA · 651-696-6000
Comments and questions to Avery Bowron: