Everyone Please Just Shut Up About GMOs

Illustration for article titled Everyone Please Just Shut Up About GMOs

Last week, the United States Senate decisively rejected an amendment proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that would have allowed states to require the labeling of genetically modified foods. As you can imagine, this sent aged hippies and idiot twenty-somethings across this great nation into a mighty rage, with literally some people taking to the streets to protest. The protestors first marched to Michael’s to get some sign-making supplies, and then they sure did let the government have it with their puns! (Pro-tip: when protesting your government’s unholy alliance with a corporate seed-developing giant, make sure you bring your A+ wordplay game. Social change is guaranteed to result.) As the protestors marched, organic seitan went uneaten. Joni Mitchell records went unflipped. And a new hole was worn into a pair of TOMS shoes that day.

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Okay, but seriously. Everybody just shut up about GMOs. In case you haven’t had the privilege of getting yelled at by your homeopath about GMOs, here’s a quick overview. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, have had their DNA altered through genetic engineering techniques. A lot of people are wary of GMOs because of long-term public safety and health concerns. These fears are misplaced—not only are genetically modified foods regulated by the same rules as “regular” food, but there is also a broad consensus in the scientific community that genetically modified food is safe to eat.

Anti-GMO folks (rightly) point out that corporations don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to keepin’ it real with nature. Monsanto, the Skeletor of the GMO game, has genetically modified its seeds to make crops resistant to pests, herbicides, and disease. But the crops’ ability to repel these dangers reduces the need for pesticide use, which is actually good for the environment. The most compelling argument against GMOs is that some British dude once told everyone that GMOs are evil. Guys, we really need to stop letting anti-science British dudes get all tricksy on us like that. No more listening to British dudes. And no more listening to the sexy vegan produce guy at your co-op!

Here’s the thing. GMOs can totally end world hunger and nutrient deficiencies and stuff! Take, for example, golden rice, a genetically modified crop derided by anti-GMO activists as a “failure” and a “hoax.” Jerks. GMOs can provide much-needed vitamin supplements for populations that are deficient. Two ounces of golden rice can provide almost 60% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. This is no joke— hundreds of thousands of children go blind or die as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice could prevent all this and cheaply, too—it would cost just $100 for every life saved. But persistent anti-GMO rhetoric, protests, and policies have prevented golden rice from being planted on a large scale, and (poor, nonwhite, non-American, non-British) human beings have died as a result.

Hating on GMOs seems like the right thing to do—the process of combining two things that typically do not combine sounds super gross and creepy. But human beings have been engaging in selective breeding of plant and animal species for millennia. Where do you think I got all these tiny dogs?? Plus nature herself does a lot of freaky shit naturally when it comes to gene transfer, like bacteria that eventually becomes resistant to antibiotics. Nature just moves a lot more slowly than the scientists at Monsanto.

So if you can’t be mad about GMOs, what can you be mad about? Great news! You can still be hella pissed at Monsanto because they’re still the fucking worst. They founded their own town to avoid taxes and they leave hazardous waste in areas that are largely populated by black people and they sue elderly farmers in their free time. You know, regular shitty corporation stuff. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical of where our food comes from and there’s definitely nothing wrong with being wary of enormous, profit-driven food conglomerates. But let’s not waste our good protest chants at anti-GMO rallies. Monsanto’s weird-ass soybeans are the least of our concerns.


Meagan Hatcher-Mays is an unemployed graduate of Washington University Law School in Saint Louis. She does a significant amount of yelling on Twitter.

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DISCUSSION

IPlaytheFox
IPlaytheFox

I'm a biologist, (but I work on bugs) so my objection to the way GMOs are being handled is less to do with concern about organic-ness and such, and more to do with caution about the process of creating and distributing GMOs under cover of patents and non disclosure. We SHOULD be asking lots of questions about GMOs, the same way we should question fertilizers and pesticides - like how this affect the native plants and herbivores which eat the plants, and all the way up the food chain to top predators? How will this ultimately begin to impact human genes? Is it safer to tinker with the natural pesticide resistance of a plant to remove chemicals from the environment? How will that human tinkering affect the evolutionary arms race between the natural herbivores and the plants themselves? Are we going to lose or endanger key species in ways we haven't predicted?

GMOs are, and will continue to, impact the natural "arms race" of evolution - we're feeding humans ample crops and stacking the deck for survival in our favor, and taking food away from species who are "pests" because they eat what we want to eat. But we have been doing this for centuries one way or another. Otherwise we'd all be eating teeny Andean potatoes instead of Idaho monsters. We just have a MUCH faster way to tinker now that we have access to the "code" that makes an organism what it is... But it's no guarantee for our survival in general.

And we won't know how much of a boon or a danger to us, or our surroundings a GMO will be, unless the ethical scientific process is kept in tact. Failure to make sure companies disclose modification, and failure to make sure that information is available to ANY scientist who wants to replicate the work to check for safety, or environmental impact is a must. Without proper labeling, and restrictions (or banning) of gene patents and profitable proprietary info, GMOs could get really messy really fast. But that also means constantly keeping up with the research everyone is doing and keeping it accountable and honest, not just the research that confirms what we want to hear ("GMOs are amazing!" "GMOs are evil!").

Jacking the scientific process has already fucked up our hard won herd immunity (Lancet! Autism! Vaccines! Selective sample sizing! Lying to raise our profile at science dick measuring contests!). Jacking it up even further by letting for profit entities have full legal protection to do whatever science they like and then sell it with no accountability is the problem as I see it.

Also I am sad to say there are no hot vegans at any of the food-places I attend. But the Whole Foods I can't afford has a produce dude who looks like, swear to kaballah monster, a slim Jason Moma as Khal Drogo.