Why I’m Pro-GMO

I’m all about organic.  Sure, it might be a little more expensive, but it’s worth the peace of mind I get from knowing I’m minimizing the toxins I’m putting into my body and the pollutants farmers are putting into the soil.  This is especially easy for me to say while I’m spending my parents’ money on groceries.

A quick About Me: I go to yoga three days a week and my favorite shoes are my hiking boots.  I cook vegan when it’s my night to make dinner (at least partly because I’m afraid of giving salmonella to my family by undercooking meat).  I practice mindfulness and I rarely wear a bra.  I’m confessing all my granola-est sins up front because I want to make it abundantly clear that my next confession does not conflict with any of my previous ones.

I am here for GMOs.  I love them.  I think they’re a great solution to the world hunger problem and a promising way to make farming more sustainable for the future.

Not So Scary

In the harrowing words of my cereal box,

“GMO” stands for “Genetically Modified Organisms”.  Doesn’t sound too tasty, does it?  The Non-GMO Project doesn’t think so, and their verification assures you our products are made in a kitchen – not a lab.

No, Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch, “Genetically Modified Organisms” does not sound tasty, but in their defense, neither does “dihydrogen monoxide” and we all know that good ol’ H2O is not only harmless, but necessary for our survival.

Photo of giant vegetables at the 2009 Alaska State Fair by Travis S.

So how exactly are the genetics modified in the crops we consume?  The process isn’t nearly as Frankensteinian as it sounds.  Scientists simply identify a trait they want in their crop, find another organism that has that trait, pop that section of DNA out of the second organism, and insert it into the genome of the original crop.  Voilà.  Alright, maybe that does remind you a bit of Frankenstein, but to quote a Harvard University blog post entitled “How to Make a GMO,”

Pictures of extremely large vegetables used to support the “Franken-food” image of GMOs are probably not GMOs at all; an unusually large vegetable would more likely be created through less controversial methods of selective breeding or nutrient supplements, not genetic engineering.

If you’re more of a visual learner, this YouTube clip about genetically engineering disease-resistant papayas might be just what you need to understand the biotechnological methods involved in the GMO-creation process.

Feeding the World

According to an article in Scientific American,

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the world will have to grow 70 percent more food by 2050 just to keep up with population growth. Climate change will make much of the world’s arable land more difficult to farm. GM crops … could produce higher yields, grow in dry and salty land, withstand high and low temperatures, and tolerate insects, disease and herbicides.

Scientific American goes on to explain that GMOs have increased the yield of common grain staples by 20-30%, “allowing some people to survive who would not have without it.”

GMOs aren’t a magic solution to world hunger.  As an NPR report summarizes, crop yield was increasing long before the introduction of GMOs, which might not even have accelerated crop production at all.  But they definitively have allowed farmers to use less insecticide without harming wild plant or insect life, which is a more environmentally sustainable option than non-GMOs.

The data supporting the safety of GM fruits and vegetables are concrete.  The fears are theoretical.

Fear Mongering

Image from Nature’s Path Non-GMO Project Verified page

As this little blonde darling’s sign rightly points out, she is not a science experiment, but in fact a manipulative appeal to your emotions.  Think of the children!  And if she were a science experiment, I suspect her parents would reject her just like they reject the real-life science experiments that find “no biological or toxicological” health hazards in feeding GM food to animals.  (That was a bit, harsh.  Sorry.)

I think what’s most frustrating to me is that Non-GMOers have created an environment where the public thinks that GMOs are unsafe simply by suggesting that they might be. According to a holistic health magazine, The Share Guide,  “A 2008 CBS News Poll found that 87% of consumers wanted GMOs labeled,” which is a stat I find idiotic rather than compelling, because of course people want more information rather than less if you give them the choice.  Just because consumers want more information doesn’t mean that information is relevant to their health and safety.

Can’t Prove a Negative

Another fun fact about me: I go to church with the family at Christmas and Easter and never in between because I don’t care to go.  But here’s the important part–I still say my Hail Mary’s when there’s bad turbulence on an airplane and I sure as Hell (although I’m not at all sure of Hell) don’t call myself an atheist.  I’m firmly agnostic because there is no way to prove a higher power doesn’t exist.

This stance works out fine for my spiritual life, but it’s a little frustrating for the enormous scientific community backing GMOs, because technically, no, you can’t prove that GMOs can’t harm people.  You can only prove that they haven’t harmed anyone yet–which has actually been done.  Over 2,000 times, in fact, studies have shown GMO crops are safe to eat.

So, sure, if a large body of evidence linking GMOs to adverse health effects emerges, I’ll happily back the Non-GMO Project.  I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong.  But credible evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals suggesting GM foods are harmful simply doesn’t exist right now.  GMOs have helped increase crop yields and lower the price of food in a world that’s facing a serious hunger crisis.  I’m not willing to abandon that progress on an unscientific hunch.

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Midwest writer hailing from the Mitten State. Not nearly as clever as I pretend to be.

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