“…Genetic engineering is 40 years old. It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the ‘One Gene – One Protein’ hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong. The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding…”
-Thierry Vrain, former research scientist for Agriculture Canada
I have probably too many thoughts on the whole genetically modified organism thing. I think I should break them down so I can keep my brain on track.
1. I find the social, economic, and ecological implications to be more harmful than the human biological implications, which is opposite of most people’s arguments.
2. I have a personal preference for food that is not meddled with.
3. Using bad or nonexistent science to back up an argument discredits everyone involved with anti-GMO activism.
Ok, let’s tackle #1.I’m going to start by stating some things I know we can all agree with.
– Every person on this planet needs to consume food to survive. Everyone agree? Check.
– There is a very large number of the human population with little to no access to food. Everyone agree? Check.
– Food is a basic human right. Right? Check.
Ok, that was easy. We all agree. Food is as necessary as air and water. And unfortunately, food is not being distributed to the people who need it. Or perhaps the food is unable to be grown in a specific climate properly. Or perhaps the carrying capacity of existing farmland in a particular place has been exceeded. We can all agree on this, too: There is a niche market in providing food to starving people. Whether you are selling that food to the government, aid programs, or the farmers themselves, this is a place where there is room for economic gain by selling food to other people.
Big statement: I have no problem with the sale of things. I sell things. A company which sells things to people for economic profit is no worse than a non-profit which distributes food to people for no profit. I do not have a problem with people making money.
Here’s what I do have a problem with. Ecologically, it is imperative to maintain biodiversity. If a company sells only corn to a country, promising that if you plant all of this corn year after year, you will not starve then guess what? Corn is going to be planted in every available agricultural space possible. This means the reliance on one type of (albeit weather and disease and insect resistant) crop will now occupy places where myriad other creatures were existing, from other crops to insects to larger animals.
Ever put all of your eggs into one basket, and then realized why that was a bad idea?
Biodiversity is as crucial to this planet as food is to human beings. In order to maintain the delicate ecological balances that exist across the planet, the maintenance and promotion of biodiversity must be acknowledged and striven for.
Additionally, I buy seeds myself. I buy them from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Waterville, Maine. I don’t mind that people have to purchase seeds. It’s no big deal. I probably spend $400 per year on seeds. BUT. BUT. BUT. BUT. If I was not so damned lazy, I could plant those seeds, grow say, tomatoes, and then once the tomatoes have grown, I could harvest and preserve their seeds for planting the next year. I would save myself $400 per year on seeds. (Wow, I really should do that…)
So buying and growing seeds is really sustainable, isn’t it? Well, it is until those seeds you purchase are genetically modified to not produce their own seeds which you can harvest. Or those seeds have a patent on them so if you grow them again the next year, the company can sue you. And oh, they can absolutely tell if you replanted seeds again because they created the genetic sequence, so all they have to do is sample something that you’ve grown.
So, you never have the option of harvesting and planting your own seeds. Which aren’t yours, even though you bought them, because the government granted a patent to a company for a living organism.
Ok, I’m getting ranty. I’ll get back on track now.
My actual point is: Not only are you creating a serious crisis with lack of biodiversity, but on top of that you are providing a one-time product to starving people who need a long-term solution. Sustainability is about long-term solutions. That is the point I am driving home. I believe that selling seeds is perfectly fine, but it is, in essence, enabling a type of financial slavery.
And you might say, “Well, no one forced these people to buy this product from this company.” Ok, perhaps. But when your children are literally dying from starvation and someone says, “Buy these seeds for a small amount of money,” or perhaps the seeds are given to you by your government, what are you going to do? You’re not going to say, “No thanks, I’ll wait for the organic, non-patented stuff to make it over here.”
Let’s talk a little about my 3rd point.
Unfortunately the platform from which Anti-GMO activists preach is a HEALTH platform. The thing is, I have yet to find good, peer-reviewed, histological studies which say GMO food actually is bad for you. You can find some studies out there, but they’re poorly designed, lacking in concrete hypotheses, and they rely on “gross anatomy,” (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/once-more-bad-science-in-the-service-of-anti-gmo-activism/) as opposed to histological studies, which I find to be particularly convincing. I’m not a medical doctor or a qualified microbiologist, etc., but I do know how to scrutinize studies, and I do agree with the author referenced just above that there is no good science to argue the health card.
(If you know of a good, legitimate, well-recognized and widely-accepted study which actually looks at long-term health implications of GMO food, I would be really really happy to see it. I mean, really, I would. I want to see those studies, because my gut says there is something rotten in Denmark, but I’m not sure what it is. And if I can’t read the study, I can’t just wing it, y’know?)
So why aren’t people arguing the economic, ecological, and social implications? Well, I don’t have an answer. They’re less flashy and less relevant to people in the US, at least. We already practice a pretty fair amount of biodiversity reduction, (See: Corn in the midwest, the dust bowl, etc.) Socially, although the US absolutely has poor, starving citizens, it’s less in our face than places like India, parts of Africa, Asia, etc. It doesn’t touch us in the same way as it would if we were living in these places. And honestly, I’m not sure the American public is – as a collective – thinking about these factors. I think they’re thinking about whether or not GMO’s cause cancer, birth defects, etc. The public just isn’t doing a good job of sifting through the real information and getting to the root of the problem.
Which, in my opinion, is that there are companies out there who are literally financially enslaving poor people by marketing their products (wrongly) as better or more accessible or superior. They are enslaving these people by continually creating a need for only these products; these not sustainable products.
And the ecological byproduct of this is a reduction in overall environmental health, which as we all know, directly correlates with human health.
So those are my thoughts for today.
… Happy Monday?