Ask Surly Amy: Genetically Modified Plants
Can we please have an evidence-based discussion on genetically engineered foods? On the one hand, I get that companies like Monsanto are doing really horrible things to farmers [like not letting them save seeds], but on the other hand, I’m questioning the idea that if a food is genetically engineered it is automatically toxic and bad both for people’s health and the environment. After all, haven’t we sort-of been tinkering with plant and animal genes since the dawn of agriculture by selectively breeding, etc? Forgive me if this is a silly question, but the anti-GMO stance seems to be really big with the woo-woo crowd and I’m a bit skeptical as to whether they oppose it on the basis of evidence or just because it involves science and modern technology.
No, food is not necessarily toxic because it has been modified.
In fact, in many cases food is better for you after it has been modified. Case in point: Golden Rice. Golden rice is a food that has been genetically altered so that it contains beta-carotene and other carotenoids in the endosperm (the edible part of the grain). In other words the rice has been modified to produce vitamin A when normally it would not. This addition helps to saves lives in countries that are struggling daily with malnutrition. Golden rice can help fight vitamin deficiency, plain and simple. It does not produce a toxin. It produces a vitamin.
I bring this example up first to illustrate a simple point:
We need to feed more people every day. We are not doing a good enough job of it. People are starving. Right. Now.
The people who complain the loudest about genetically modified foods are usually the people who are from wealthy countries where starvation is not high on their list of problems. The problem of malnutrition falls somewhere below, what shoes should they wear and do they need to get the car washed. These are the same people who pay extra for an organic labeled tomato when they might want to be more concerned with how far a tomato travels to get on their plate and the support of local farmers. In other words the people crying fowl and “ZOMG TOXINS!” probably havent taken the time to look into the issues at all.
We have been modifying plants for thousands of year. Fact. Broccoli used to be cabbage. No really. Look it up. We modified it.
Bananas are sexless clones than can not exist without us humans messing with them.
Those are just a few examples of common foods I like to highlight that we, as a specie have been genetically modifying for many, many years. Most everything in our modern garden has been modified by the farmer over the years to produce larger yields or bigger, healthier plants. The only difference is that now we can be more precise in the changes and add in ways the plants grow, such as what nutrients the plant requires to grow, what vitamins the plant itself produces, how large it is and how long it gives fruit etc. We can also make quicker changes. Modifications that would have taken years, can, in theory happen in a lab, overnight. These are all important qualities that can help farmers grow studier plants with higher yields in order to feed an ever growing population.
Is this a perfect science? No.
We are still learning the good and the bad of rapid modifications. That’s what science does. It slowly builds upon it’s current knowledge. But to automatically cry TOXIN when you hear GMO is an ignorant knee jerk reaction to a technology that has the potential to feed billions of people and improve the quality of life for many who are in desperate need of nutrition.
Next time your friends start complaining of toxins, share with them this list of poisonous plants that are as natural as can be.
And then share with them the appeal to nature fallacy: Cyanide and poison ivy are all natural too.
Hope this was helpful!
Here are links to previous posts by me on this topic. There is also a bit of info on how corporations and kickbacks might be harming the GMO corn industry in first link below.
GMO’s and Superbugs
Genetically Modified Food
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All photos © Amy Davis Roth