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istock_000016482360xaShould our democracy permit the cultivation of genetically modified foods?

Eggs that fight cancer. Cows that produce human breast milk. Corn that is poisonous to insects. Yeast that excretes crude oil. Bananas that vaccinate against diseases such as Hepatitis B and Cholera. These are just some of the possibilities of genetic engineering.

Materials (pdf)









Links to Principles of Democracy

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy. 

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy permit the cultivation of genetically modified foods?” What principles might you add to the list below?

Please click here for a pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.


Economic Freedom

Economic Freedom


People in a democracy must have some form of economic freedom. This means that the government allows some private ownership of property and businesses.  People are allowed to choose their own work and to join labor unions. The role the government should play in the economy is debated, but it is generally accepted that free markets should exist in a democracy and the state (government) should not totally control the economy.  Some people argue that the state should play a stronger role in countries where great inequality of wealth exists due to past discrimination or other unfair practices.

Human Rights
humanrightsHuman Rights
All democracies strive to value human life and dignity and to respect and protect the human rights of citizens.  Examples include, but are not limited to the following:

Movement: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of his or her country. Everyone has the right to leave and to return to his or her country.  (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  This right includes freedom to change his or her religion and to worship alone or in community with others. It also includes the right to not worship or hold religious beliefs.  (Article 18, UDHR)

Speech: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information with others. (Article19. UDHR)

Assembly: Everyone has the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is undemocratic to force someone to belong to a political group or to attend political meetings or rallies. (Article 20, UDHR)


Selected Resources

Biotechnology (GM foods) and Nanotechnology (Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, n.d.), http://www.who.int/foodsafety/biotech/en/ (accessed July 18, 2011).

Borlaug, Norman E., “Ending World Hunger: The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of Antiscience Zealotry,” Plant Physiology, vol. 124, no. 2 (October 2000), 487-490, http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/124/2/487.full (accessed July 19, 2011).

Chassy, B.M.,“The History and Future of GMOs in Food and Agriculture,” Cereal Foods World, vol. 52, no. 4 (July-August 2007).

Cook, Christopher D., “Control over Your Food: Why Monsanto’s GM Seeds Are Undemocratic (Op-Ed),” The Christian Science Monitor (February 23, 2011), http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0223/Control-over-your-food-Why-

Dreze, Jean, “Democracy and Right to Food,” Economic and Political Weekly (April 24, 2004).

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, http://www.fao.org “Genetically Modified Food and Food Security,” Jakarta Post (May 16, 2011) (accessed via SIRS Researcher July 1, 2011).

“Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms,” Human Genome Project Information (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, November 5, 2008), http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.shtml (accessed June

Halweil, Brian, “Outlawed GMO Corn Shows Up in Mexico,” Earth Matters (February 24, 2002) (accessed via SIRS Researcher June 22, 2011).

Koch, Muffy, “The Case for GMOs in the Developing World – How African Farmers Are Benefitting from Biotechnology,” New Directions for a Diverse Planet, Proceedings of the 4th International Crop Science Congress (September 26, 2004 – October 1, 2004), Brisbane, Australia, http://www.cropscience.org.au (accessed June 22, 2011).

Monsanto, http://www.monsanto.com/Pages/default.aspx.

Ruiz Marrero, Carmelo, “GM Cotton Has Been a Failure in Colombia,” GMwatch.org (April 23 2010), http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/12167-gm-cotton-has-been-afailure-

Sepúlveda, Pamela, “Environment-Chile: Native Seeds in Danger of Being Monopolised,” Inter Press Service (IPS) (June 12, 2011), http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56447 (accessed

The WTO, GMOs and Democracy: A Briefing for Parliamentarians on the Issues, Concerns and Alternatives (Washington, DC: Friends of the Earth, November 2004), http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/wto_gmos_democracry.pdf (accessed June 22, 2011).