Ask Surly Amy: Genetically Modified Food
I would like to ask advice on conflict I’m having with my songwriting partner on the subject of genetically altered food. I recently posted a segment from P&T B.S. with the interview with Norman Borlaug explaining the enormous benefits of his innovations. She responded by saying she could not agree because she believes that only unaltered seeds straight from “mother earth” are safe and because she is closer to nature because she is an “earth” sign. I was then told that “politacal” discussions have no place on our page and proceeded to delete the entire conversation. Please forgive this lengthy note, it’s just that I am very frustrated because I feel very isolated at the moment and I am needing more enlightened conversation. Thanks for your time.
Sincerely, J. Perreira
Click below for my response!
It seems that there are a few major misconceptions involving genetically modified food or organisms, commonly referred to as GMO. One big misconception with GMO is that evil scientists are lurking about in labs creating some sort of franken-food that is not made of natural components and that it is going to take over the world and destroy life and all other food as we know it. Quite the opposite is the actual goal. The main goal of GMO is to create food that will save life as we know it and grow better food. We need to feed more people on this planet and we need to feed more people everyday. At this moment we are not doing an effective job of that at all. People are dying all over the world of hunger and suffering the effects of malnutrition. It is a bit of a difficult concept to wrap your brain around if you live in a cushy part of the United States or some other other well-off nation. Hunger is not something that touches us in communities where we get to pick and choose what we will munch on for a snack as we watch the latest blockbuster film but hunger and starvation does effect literally millions upon millions of people on this earth. For example as stated by the World Health Organization in 2001 54% of all childhood mortality was attributable, directly or indirectly, to malnutrition. In a global community we need to be aware of these types of things and understand that while it may be a luxury in say, California to go to your local health food store and demand organically grown, farm fresh vegetables that only touch your lips after the plant itself has deemed it appropriate to drop its nuggets to the ground. In many countries people (and yes children) are not even receiving basic nutrition and do not have such luxury or even any options at all. A main goal of GMO engineering is to create organisms that have extra nutrients in them and that can grow in harsher conditions and produce larger crops thereby feeding more people and providing a better nutritional content that will save lives.
The other main misconception about GMO is that it is some type of new and reckless game being played. Again, quite the opposite is true. Humans have been modifying food for centuries. The broccoli and cauliflower you love to eat now has been selectively propagated by man from the cabbage plant. That means that cabbage with larger leaves and delicious tiny cabbage flowers were selected and regrown and over time the common broccoli and cauliflower you see at the grocery store was created, from cabbage. What about bananas? They don’t ‘naturally’ grow. They are sexless clones that are man made, only slightly similar to the small seedy banana that once was. If your friend is really serious about only eating unaltered seed-grown-food straight from mother earth, she better steer way clear of those creepy, seedless, cloned bananas.
Modern genetically modified food has the benefit of being more precise and faster than the the modifications we have made with our food in the past. Specific genes can be altered to remove negative aspects of plants and the same precise altering can be used to encourage positive, heartier and nutritionally rich attributes.
Your friend hasn’t provided an actual argument. She has only presented a belief system based on astrology and personal preference from a privileged viewpoint. Yeah, I guess if you are rich and ignorant you can eat whatever you want and say what you like about it but if you are actually concerned with our global community and the nutritional intake of the world then you will realize that we need to find alternative means to providing better food to more people.
If your friend is interested in learning more there is a great podcast on this topic by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid that I recommend.. Dunning’s podcast goes into more detail about kill switch genes, gene jumping, allergy fears and some other misconceptions associated with genetically modified food sources.