Monday, June 20, 2016

Things I Have in Common with GMO-Opponents.

Dear Angry Person Commenting on my Post,

I hear you. I genuinely do. You're telling me that corporations are destroying the environment. That nature is being harmed. That greedy CEOs don't care about anything other than lining their pockets. That politicians are turning a blind eye to the suffering and destruction around them because those same CEOs are keeping them in office.  You're angered by your inability to exert change: that our democracy is being hijacked by the highest bidder. I understand where you're coming from. You're frustrated with the undue role of industry in our political and social systems, with the blatant corruption that exists in society, particularly when corporations can get away with so much.

You think that I'm ignoring you. But I'm not, and I agree with you. I, too, am concerned about the future, about my children and grandchildren: will they have clean air? Will they have enough water? And why doesn't anyone seem to care about this?? I, too, am aghast by the ruling on Citizens United vs FEC. I, too, feel powerless when our elected representatives stand idly by while nature's clock is ticking.

You're frustrated by the fact that the laws we need in society to protect our environment are being ignored because some politicians are ideologically driven to believe that climate change isn't real. These ideologies are fueled by corporate lobbyists, so it's natural that you don't want corporations to be "tinkering" with our food.

You think that I'm a cold, mechanical scientist who is letting this happen. That I'm ignoring the evidence that we're being slowly poisoned because I, too, am part of the system that is letting this destruction happen. You think that GMOs, which I am defending here and are made by the same companies that you distrust so strongly, are the newest evil that they have unleashed on our planet.

I hear you. But here's where I believe we disagree.

We have societal challenges that we'll be facing in the next few decades: global warming and population growth. Both of these bring with them additional challenges that will impact agriculture even further: more plant borne illnesses, more land dedicated to homes/roads/industry, deepening droughts, etc. As we confront these problems in agriculture, we need every tool at our disposal.

You're trying to single out a crop modification technique when the lines between these modifications are incredibly blurry since the end result can be the same. For example, there are herbicide tolerant crops generated by transgenesis (i.e. GMOs) but there are also herbicide tolerant crops generated by mutagenesis. In trying to draw these lines, you may eliminate a powerful, precise, and efficient tool that we may need down the road to help us face these challenges.

You claim that we should have access to an economical, healthy, and safe food supply. But what if in the process of trying to achieve that goal you eliminate a tool that could have actually helped you achieve it? Take for example citrus greening: if we don't find a solution for it in the next few years, our citrus industry may get decimated. There's quite possibly a genetic modification that could address citrus greening. Should we remove the solution from the table just because of the way the modification was introduced?

In the course of writing this blog, I've been put in the uncomfortable position of defending companies
whose actions I may not always agree with, but have developed the transgenic crops that I support. And I do this because I have read no credible evidence to suggest that there's a risk that is uniquely associated with GMOs. I do this because the scientific consensus is strong on the side of GMOs. This is the same scientific consensus that you defend when you speak of global warming. Why do you trust one and not the other? Why do you trust the scientific institutions on one and not the other? If the gas and oil industry is orders of magnitude larger and could not buy the consensus on climate change, then what leads you to believe that the agricultural industry has somehow bought a consensus on GMO safety?

You and I are not so different. We care about many of the same things. The elimination of GMOs is not a silver bullet that will somehow solve the issues in our society. We should focus our efforts on the real issues and not a convenient scapegoat that has been placed in front of us.


A Mother of a Four-Year-Old Who Believes that She Has a Moral Responsibility to Protect the Planet for Future Generations


  1. Here's the problem/issue of drawing an analogy between the scientific consensuses on Global Warming and GMOs. Global Warming is doing its damage (extreme temps; oceans warming and rising, etc.) that we know will cause massive damage if not curtailed. GMOs are another example of humans "playing God" or "playing with nature" where we really don't know -- can't fully predict -- the future. Are there any beneficial GMOs? I'm sure there are. Do we know that there won't be problems if GMOs run amok? No. Are we sure there won't be biological problems in humans who eat Frankenfood? Nope. In the meantime, instead of dealing with the *real* problems -- over-population and overconsumption -- that are the cause of needing GMOs in the first place, science does what sincere always does in thinking that science can solve everything. It can't. There's plenty of food on Earth already. About 25% gets wasted. Rather than create GMOs to "feed the world in 2050," why don't these brilliant chemists and biologists use their gifts to deal with the problems causing the "need" for GMOs in the first place? Well let's see. There's no money in that, no prestige, no gov't grants, no Noble Prize, etc. Instead of creating a diet pill, eat less. Instead of trying to create food for 12 billion people, waste less and procreate less. Scientists are no different than anyone else: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

    1. Well one could spin your objections to GMOs into denial of global warming.
      Is Global warming really doing damage. Maybe, but how can we know for sure, where we really don’t know—can’t fully predict—the future. Science does what science always does in thinking that science can solve everything. It can’t.

      The consensus on GMOs, Evolution, Global Warming and the like are strong. Genetic engineering (GE) is an out-growth of plant breeding techniques that were used before we knew genes existed. It was slow progress building on past knowledge that let to GE, Mendal to Watson/Crick/Franklin, and so on. In traditional breeding techniques many genes are randomly altered, with GE only the very few genes you are interested are altered. The changes are more precise and easy to track.

      Your concerns about changes in plant DNA running amok apply to all breeding techniques. Arguably more so than to GE crops. Does that mean all crop improvement should be stopped even though all the plant breeding techniques have pretty good track records (GE’s is spotless so far). Of course not. All of our various crop improvement techniques are needed.

    2. re: Here's the problem/issue of drawing an analogy between the scientific consensuses on Global Warming and GMOs.

      That isn't a problem with the analogy. They are entirely analogous situations, and science deniers on one side are no different than science deniers on the other.

  2. Good article! Thanks!

  3. Ruby red grapefruit is made via radiation. You're more afraid of selective gene transfer (which is really just surgically precise crossbreeding) than that?

  4. And as far as there being "plenty of food on Earth already...and about 25% gets wasted."--That is developed countries. And suggesting that underdeveloped countries shouldn't bother trying to be self sufficient when they can just rely on the developed ones is just a way of keeping those nations under our thumb. Not to mention the logistical problems--wouldn't it be more efficient to have them produce their own food rather than us having to ship ours thousands of miles? If someone that can afford to spend twice as much for organic wants to that is fine--go ahead and waste your money. But there are millions of people who's lives are literally dependent on GE food.