I don’t get it.
I really don’t get the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We’re all genetically modified organisms — the only difference between us and the ‘objectionable’ ones is the mechanism, whether the molecular novelty was inserted by intent or inserted by chance. Much of the dissent with GMOs is based either on ignorance, or is misdirected.
From Biofortified, an excellent blog on agriculture, genetics, and molecular biology, here is a good video on the subject.
Yet there is established policy in many countries and states to prohibit use of GMO crops. When a small patch of GMO wheat was found in Oregon, Japan responded by shutting down all wheat imports from Oregon. That’s nothing but fear based in ignorance. All of our crops, everyone’s crops, are heavily modified genetically. Wild strawberries are tiny little things. Corn is a hybrid monster shaped by centuries of selection, twisted from a seedy little grass into this weird elaborate conglomeration. Wheat and barley and rye are the product of thousands of years of genetic reshuffling and selection. Walk into the produce section of your grocery store — do you really think all those fruits and vegetables are unshaped by human hands?
This strange unfounded fear of GMOs is unfortunately most strongly expressed in the political left. It’s embarrassing that political progressives are being made to look bad by raging superstition and unscientific claims.
I was interested to see in the link above that this fear is traced back to the magic word “natural”, and specifically that awful website full of woo, Natural News. “Natural” is nonsense: everything is natural. “Natural” is a non-specific modifier attached to anything a crackpot things is good, in opposition to new-fangled technology that is different from what their grandparents did. If it helps, modern genetic modification techniques are simply directed versions of horizontal gene transfer, a process that happens “naturally”, without human assistance. We’re just doing it faster and more efficiently and selecting the genes we want to move around. The current controversial crop of genetically modified wheat simply takes a natural enzyme from a natural bacterium and transfers it to the genome of a natural grass. There’s nothing supernatural about any of it.
You want to complain about something, aim a little more accurately and target real problems in modern agribusiness.
The ongoing concentration of control of agricultural products into the hands of just a few corporations. These corporations lock up their products and are intent on retaining control…and this isn’t just GMOs. Hybrid seed produced by standard genetic techniques has also been a tool.
The corporatization of farms. The family farm is fading, it’s all giant conglomerates — and the economies of scale depend on ignoring the environmental costs of the megafarm.
The blandness of monocultures. Try driving through my part of the world — the old, biologically diverse prairie has been almost totally replaced by endless fields of corn and soybeans, nothing but corn and soybeans.
The industrialization of food. What’s being done with most of that corn? It’s being processed into high fructose corn syrup and ethanol. We take food which is rich and complex and process the heck out of it to reduce it to something more convenient for industry.
Sometimes I wonder if the GMO controversy isn’t just a giant red herring thrown into the debate about the future of agriculture just to distract us from what should be real concerns.