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JUST as 130 nations were meeting in Montreal recently to forge the first global treaty regulating genetically modified crops Frito-Lay Inc was telling its farmers in the United States not to grow genetically engineered corn for use in Doritos chips and other snacks The problem the company said was not a risk to health from the corn but a risk that consumers wouldnt want it These two events reflect the unease with which genetically engineered foods have been received Science has reached what might be the takeoff stage for a new green revolution But it may instead go the way of nuclear power -- a once-promising technology largely rejected by society The potential benefits of genetic engineering are huge The use of cotton with a gene allowing it to make its own pesticide has already led to a reduction in the amount of chemical pesticides being sprayed in fields Bio-engineered plants might soon be used to produce plastics and other substances now made using diminishing supplies of petroleum in dangerous polluting petrochemical plants For consumers biotechnology could also make food healthier -- think tomatoes with cancer-fighting substances and cooking oils lower in fats And for the developing world it could offer the promise of increased food output and of vaccines incorporated into bananas rather than syringes making them cheaper and easier to deliver Swiss researchers have already used genetic engineering to develop a strain of rice with vitamin A a lack of which now causes millions of cases of blindness So far there is no evidence that any of the genetically engineered foods now on the market have harmed anyone or have much of an impact on the environment But such engineering seems to conjure up images of mad scientists playing God Opponents have been quick to use the label Frankenfoods Proponents of biotechnology argue that mankind has long been manipulating genes through conventional plant and animal breeding If anything they say genetic engineering is
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