I was walking through the Boston Commons the other week, headed home from a long day of sitting at my desk in Mass General waiting on results from an experiment that I probably screwed up, when I noticed a large group of people gathered around a fountain. As I got closer I could see they were all relatively normal looking, many of them wearing casual business attire, but all of them had a green sticker on their lapels.
I then noticed the sign propped up in front of the fountain, with large letters it spelled out: “Anti-GMO Awareness Rally.” For a moment I considered walking over to these people and asking them why they’re rallying against GMOs (aka Genetically Modified Organisms), but instead I figured my time would be better spent traveling home while squished ass cheek to ass cheek with a thousand people on the T.
But now I kind of regret not asking them about their thoughts on GMOs, because at this point I’ve read multiple articles in somewhat reputable news sources and seen a dozen Facebook posts by somewhat less reputable high school dropouts and soccer moms that take this same stance. Given my strict “no posting on Facebook ever” policy, I have yet to ask these people what evidence they have that supports their stance. So here’s the evidence I’ve found that supports my stance, which by the way is pro-GMO:
Actually, first let’s start by discussing what GMO means. A genetically modified organism is one that has been modified using recombinant DNA methods. Without getting too technical, “recombinant DNA methods” are essentially refined laboratory processes that mimic what happens in nature all the time by taking a gene or genes from one organism and implanting them into the genome of a different organism to give it the same trait or traits.
The technical science behind this process is complicated, but the general idea is not. Let’s say we want to make corn that requires less water to grow, thereby saving farmers money on watering their crops and making it possible to grow corn in more arid environments. Scientists can identify a gene in a plant strain that has these characteristics, isolate it, and implant it into a new strain of corn that now requires less water to survive.
The scientific advancement of being able to create crops such as this has lowered the price of food, increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide, and raised output of major crops like corn, cotton, and soy by 20-30 percent. Yet many people and even entire countries rail against GM crops due to perceived safety concerns.
I honestly see this belief as a much larger and more dangerous extension of the gluten-free craze we’re currently seeing in America.
Medical Professional: “Gluten can make you sick if you have Celiac’s-“
Random White Woman: “OMG. Gluten makes you sick??”
Medical Professional: “No, only if you have Celiac’s Disea-“
Random White Woman: “That’s it. I’m done eating gluten.”
Medical Professional: “But you don’t have Celiac’s Disease.”
Random White Woman: “Waiter! WAITER! Yes, took you long enough, I’ll have the gluten free pasta.”
Waiter: “We don’t have gluten free pasta.”
Random White Woman: “Well then just pick the gluten out, god, do I have to do your job for you?”
Waiter: “I hate you and everyone like you.”
The above interaction is a microcosm of the anti-GMO movement. As Robert Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles said, “In spite of hundreds of millions of genetic experiments involving every type of organism on earth and people eating billions of meals without a problem, we’ve gone back to being ignorant.”
Many of the food disasters that have occurred in the last century have been attributed to non-GM crops, such as the E. coli infected organic bean sprouts that killed 53 people in Europe in 2011.
Opponents of genetically modified foods point to a handful of studies that found possible health issues. But reviewers have debunked nearly all of these reports. At this point, the belief that GMO crops cause health problems has the same amount of scientific support as the “global warming is a hoax” crowd; in fact it might even have less.
Most anti-GMO groups also claim that almost all the studies done saying GM crops are perfectly fine have been funded by large multinational corporations that control the food supply. Yet, they somehow neglect to mention the 130 research projects funded by the European commission, the administrative body of the E.U., which were carried out by more than 500 independent teams. Guess how many of these studies found problems with GMO crops? Zero. And despite that, only two GM crops – Monsanto’s MON810 maize and BASF’s Amflora potato – are accepted in the European Union, while 8 EU countries still outright ban all GMOs.
I just don’t get it sometimes. I really don’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last 6 years thinking scientifically and critically about issues like this. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last 2 years in medical research, where every statement must be supported by facts in order to be accepted as evidence. Maybe it’s because I’m the stupid one and I’m just so stupid that I can’t even see how stupid I really am. No. No… it can’t be. Did you see how many big words I used in this blog? That must mean that I’m smart.
I’m going to do my best to adequately and succinctly (two big words!) sum this up. The world is going to have to grow 70% more food by 2050 just to keep up with population growth. Climate change (yes it’s real) is going to make much of the world’s arable land more difficult to farm. GM crops can produce higher yields, grow in dry and salty land, withstand more extreme temperatures, and tolerate insects, disease, and herbicides.
It’s easy to sit up in our lofty tower here in the U.S. of A and thumb our noses at non-organic, genetically modified, gluten-filled food just because we read a blog article on a yoga website about how these things are bad for us.
But what does the science say?
Science says that millions more will starve in the future if we don’t start accepting the facts and growing more GM crops while also importing GM foods into the nations that need them most. Science says give me the thousands of studies that have shown GM crops to be safe rather than the few studies that have mainly used faulty data and poor practices to come to their anti-GMO conclusion.
But most of all, science says screw you and your chai-latte-ugg-boot-wearing-whole-food-shopping-chipotle-burrito-eating-ass and think about something other than yourself for once.