Check Your Privilege When You Shit On GMOs


As an opinionated person who works in science, the GMO debate is one I have had many times. Often the people who bring it up don’t know much about how organisms can be genetically modified, and so the discussion usually begins with them asking me some questions about how it works, why it is done and what the consequences could be. I cannot give a simple answer, as the different ways of modifying crops each bring with them potential benefits and concerns, which usually confirms them in the belief that we should just forget about the whole thing. “Yea, well, what about Monsanto”, they’ll say to me, “We can’t trust them to be transparent and not cut corners. They’re a corporation, after all, they’re not in it to save the world, they’re in it to make money. I think it would be better to just drop the whole thing, why take the risk?”

In the context of this discussion, there is no argument that will infuriate me more.

Just because you take issue with the practices of a specific company, does not mean that you should disregard an entire branch of very promising research and science. If you are worried about the shady practices of Monsanto, you should push for your legislators to pass regulations that keep them honest. That has nothing to do with whether or not the research should continue in general. And yet, this conflation of legislation and research is one that is, in my experience, more prevalent in the GMO debate than in any other.

When it comes to pharmaceutical companies, for example, there have certainly been instances of fraud, selling bad batches of medicine, and downplaying side effects of drugs. Most people agree that tight regulations are necessary to keep pharmaceutical companies honest and to make sure, to the best of their abilities, that the drugs they produce are safe. Not for nothing drugs now take around 10 years to be approved and put on the market (and that’s if everything goes right), which was not the case decades ago. While most people acknowledge the need for these regulations, knowing that pharmaceutical companies will not go through all this bother out of the goodness of their heart, very few people make the argument “Yea, well, can we really be sure that the drugs they’re producing are safe? They are a company, after all. They’re in it to make money, not to cure diseases. Lets just drop this whole medicine thing, why take the risk?” And why is there such a disparity with the popularity of this argument between these two contexts?

Because anyone can get sick. You, your Mom, your kid, pretty much everyone you know is going to need medicine at some point in their life. All of a sudden, the research behind the development of those drugs becomes very important to a lot of people. When yet another pharmaceutical company is caught cutting corners or hiding data, everyone starts talking about how external oversight can be improved, or how the punishment for doing so could be harsher, so that it doesn’t happen again. Somehow, the argument “lets just forget about this whole medicine business” never seems to come up.

But trying to find solutions to feed people? Pfft I’m not starving, my Mom is not starving, I’ve never met anyone who was starving, or who is losing their livelihood due to climate change. That’s not my problem, sure someone will figure out some other way to face those problems some other time. Let’s just forget about this whole GMO thing, OK? I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to risk it.

What I say to that is, check your privilege.

Do you want to make the argument that there needs to be a certain amount of oversight when it comes to the development of GMOs? Do you want to make the argument that Monsanto is behaving in a shady manner, and thus more regulations need to be put in place? Fine, we can have this debate. Bring your facts to the table, and we can have a discussion about how many regulations make sense. But now we’re talking about law, not science.

This research is important and it needs to continue, despite the fact that it might not seem as important to those of you who are lucky enough to have a fridge full of food and a pocket full of cash. Please try to remember that, before trying to shit on a whole branch of genetics because you don’t like Monsanto.

Comments

  1. Holms says

    An even more repellent response I’ve seen in this debate was “yeah well the world is overpopulated with humans anyway.” Ugh.

    • says

      It’s a bad argument for/against GMOs, for a number of reasons. But it is not a “repellent” statement.

      It’s the truth. If all the resources (food, fresh water, minerals, etc) on the planet were equally distributed to every man, woman, and child, there simply isn’t enough for everybody to survive at the current population levels. Forget supporting 9, 10, 12 billion people with any appreciable standard of living.

      Humans are ruining the damn planet.

      • wereatheist says

        If all the resources (food, fresh water, minerals, etc) on the planet were equally distributed to every man, woman, and child, there simply isn’t enough for everybody to survive at the current population levels.

        This makes no sense: Obviously resources are very unequally distributed, but the poorest of the poor of the world survive, obviously. I guess you wanted to say something about sustainability, or like.

  2. Johnny Vector says

    Of course some people actually do make the argument that we should forget about pharmaceuticals and use their preferred “natural” “remedy”. Because Big Pharma is corporations in it only for the money, just as you say above. Rather than try to make them understand that any treatment used by most people (whether or not it’s “natural”) will always be big business, I prefer this argument:

    We can’t trust the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. They’re only in it for the money, and have already killed 146 workers with their illegal practices. It’s time we just give up on clothing.

    • Reginald Selkirk says

      And ironically, not only is there no evidence that “alternative” remedies are safe or effective, but the “supplements” industry is hardly regulated at all. There have been examples of manufacturers putting stuff into their remedies that is not on the label.

      • inquisitiveraven says

        Conversely, there are examples of “supplements” that contain none of the claimed active ingredient, and I don’t mean homeopathic stuff.

  3. Kalia says

    Thanks so much for this! I’ve had a knee-jerk negative reaction about GMOs for years precisely because of the reprehensible practices of Monsanto, without ever making the necessary logical distinction between the product and the producer. I do in fact think that Monsanto should be regulated out of existence, but thanks to your writing above, I can now separate that from a recognition of the obvious benefits of certain GMOs. Thank you for making that so very clear.

  4. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    @ Holms #1,

    They’re even correct that we’re overpopulated, but the ethical solution to overpopulation is to educate people and give them access to contraception.

  5. Devocate says

    ” That has nothing to do with whether or not the research should continue in general. And yet, this conflation of legislation and research is one that is, in my experience, more prevalent in the GMO debate than in any other.”

    Check your own privilege. No one I know who objects to GMOs is objecting to *research*. They are objecting to poisons being put in their food.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      The fact that you would even characterize GMO production as intentionally poisoning the food supply suggests to me that you’re exactly the kind of anti-GMO preson I am referring to. And what is my privilege that I’m supposed to be checking in this context, precisely?

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      The fact that you would even characterize GMO production as intentionally poisoning the food supply suggests to me that you’re exactly the kind of anti-GMO preson I am referring to. And what is my privilege that I’m supposed to be checking in this context, precisely?

  6. rietpluim says

    @Devocate – There already is poison in your food. You know water can be poisonous, don’t you?

  7. johnmarley says

    @Kalia (3)

    I do in fact think that Monsanto should be regulated out of existence

    The problem with that is – regulations affect everybody, and Monsanto can afford to pay fines as “cost of doing business”. Over-regulation makes GMO research too expensive for smaller organizations and gives anti-GMO fear-mongers more ammunition. (“We need more testing and regulation.” and “If it isn’t terrible, why is it regulated and tested so much?” are statements I have heard from the same person, in the same conversation.)

  8. John Smith says

    Yet another “scientista” who is totally ignorant on the topics/history of agriculture and economics, yet is convinced of their own ubiquitous brilliance because of the three letters “Ph.D.” after their name.

    The notion that localized food shortages are due to a lack of available food, and that GMO science will solve an inherently political problem is as ignorant as it gets. There’s a name for your type, “solutionist”, and you’re a dime a dozen.

    There’s more than enough food available, but if you think corporate ownership of the entire food supply is going to solve things, good luck with that fantasy.

    • c0i9z says

      Corporations already own the food supply. Corporations sell seeds to corporations who make the food. Then, corporations move the food to other corporations which distribute the food. This all happened without help from GMOs or Monsantos.

      I’ve never seen anyone ever point out any of this supreme misconduct that Monsanto is doing. All I ever see mentioned:
      1. Things that didn’t happen.
      2. Things that other seed companies do anyway.

      Alternatively, we could just keep making food the old way: blast seeds with whatever mutagens we can find and sell the results on the market with no oversight. That seems safer.

    • johnmarley says

      From the OP:

      Fine, we can have this debate. Bring your facts to the table, and we can have a discussion about how many regulations make sense. But now we’re talking about law, not science.

      Thanks for demonstrating Chrys’ point.

  9. Ewan R says

    Normal disclaimer up front, I am a Monsanto employee (currently a data wrangler for our global breeding organization) and the views herein do not reflect anything other than my own opinions, certainly not those of my corporate overlords.

    reprehensible practices of Monsanto

    Which reprehensible practices? There are, alas, about as many mythical accusations floating in this space as there are mythical accusations about GMOs in general.

    No one I know who objects to GMOs is objecting to *research*. They are objecting to poisons being put in their food.

    Which poisons?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *