Washington From a taco shell controversy to caterpillar experiments, genetically altered crops are under fire.
The government, meanwhile, is increasing its spending on biotechnology not for food on American grocery store shelves or crops in American fields, but for battling hunger in developing nations.
President Clinton this month signed a foreign aid bill that contains $30 million for the effort. It is more than triple the level for the U.S. Agency for International Development since the agency first incorporated biotechnology into its hunger-fighting campaign.
"This money will help liberate millions the world over from the tyranny of hunger and malnutrition," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. Bond is a major supporter of biotechnology; his state is home to several industry and research leaders.
Biotechnology's goal, through introduction of a gene from one species to another, is the creation of crops that are more tolerant of drought and resistant to pests and disease.
Crops can even be fortified with vitamins or vaccines. "Golden rice" was engineered to elevate levels of vitamin A to improve the health of an estimated 250 children worldwide with vitamin A deficiency.
Rice is a food staple for half the world, but it loses its natural vitamin A in the milling process. Vitamin A gives genetically engineered varieties a yellow or golden hue.
Critics worry that dangers are posed to people and the environment by splicing genes from one organism to another. In Cornell University laboratory experiments, Monarch butterfly caterpillars died after eating milkweed, which grows around corn fields, coated with genetically modified corn pollen. The Environmental Protection Agency said there likely is little risk to butterflies.