How to Think About GMOs
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are weird and it’s not easy to know what to think about them.
The people who make them, and stand to profit most from them, tell us that they’re just fine. You should eat them by the plateful and share them with 500 of your closest personal friends. These are the same groups who lobby our regulatory officials to try as hard as they can to prevent GMOs from being labeled as such in a grocery store.
They don’t want you to know. More to the point, they want you to not know. And why would that be? Everyone who is proud of their product wants it to be as visible as possible… just not the people who make GMOs.
It’s not like genetic modification of plants hasn’t been going on forever. When farmer cavemen raised crops, they may have seen that some of them were taller, while others were less prone to bugs or something. The brilliant Neanderthal farmers cross-pollinated these two to create a version that is more robust than either one alone. Smart, but that’s not how GMOs are made. DNA from soil bacteria along with e-coli bacteria are spliced into the DNA of corn to make Roundup Ready Corn. This makes it wonderfully convenient for producers to spray as much chemical herbicide as they want onto the corn because the genetically altered plant will be resistant to it. And it’s not just corn, strawberries and tomatoes are injected with fish genes. That’s just weird.
The question is, do you want to eat that? Is it okay with you, for you, in you? Again, the people who make those things say they are fine. Others are not so sure, because even the warning label on RoundUp itself contains this ALL CAPS hazard warning:
Appearance and odour (colour/form/odour): Green / Liquid / Odourless
CAUTION! POISON HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED HARMFUL IF INHALED CAUSES EYE IRRITATION CAUSES SKIN IRRITATION
Potential health effects Likely routes of exposure
Skin contact, eye contact, inhalation Eye contact, short term Causes moderate but temporary eye irritation. Skin contact, short term Irritating to skin. Inhalation, short term Harmful by inhalation. Single ingestion Harmful if swallowed.
Potential environmental effects
Toxic to aquatic organisms.
Both groups point to science to justify their defensive – and aggressive – postures. But if you are just a normal person in a normal life, and don’t have time to wade through the claims of both sides to determine who is contorting the data, what are you supposed to think about all this?
Listen, it may be that GMOs are fine for you. It may be that it’s not killing humanity or even making us sick at all. Maybe.
Alternatively, it also may be that it could turn out to be awful for us. It may be that the next 50 years will reveal that they are creating illness in the people who eat corn and tomatoes and strawberries. But it’s impossible to know how this debate is going to turn out over the next 50 years.
Hydrogenated oil is the perfect example.
The process we have today for hydrogenated oil products like margarine was invented in 1922. Margarine was billed as a healthy vegetable alternative to butter. By the 1980s, health organizations were promoting shortening and margarine as heart healthy. When you would go into the dairy section of your grocery store, you’d see the little red heart symbol on the trans fat margarines.
Today, trans fats are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe,” but it took over ninety years for us to figure that out. Ninety years to learn that hydrogenated oils seemed to be causing the heart problems we were told they would fix. In those ninety years, how many people ate it because they were assured it was fine for the, and were harmed by it none the less?
For GMOs, how long will it be before the jury is in? For 90 years, the people who made hydrogenated oils said they were not only not bad for you, but good for you. How long will it take science to make up its mind on GMOs, change it, turn around 12 times, and finally land on a consensus? And, while we’re waiting on all that to happen, what do we do?
Think about it like this. Do what you know is right, not what you hope won’t one day turn out to kill you. I know that normal fruits and veggies with normal DNA grown in normal dirt is going to be fine for me. Roundup Ready Corn? Mmmmm, that may take ninety years to sort out. Fish genes in my strawberries? Ugh, not so sure.
This article is a call for ordinary people to step back, out of the weeds of the debate and resort to principle we can all agree on. Those who have something to gain from their product will always argue for it, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent for you. Advocacy organizations are going to do the same thing, advocating for their stated positions no matter what.
Let them go at it. While they’re going, just eat normal food (GMO-free, if you can get it). That way, you know what you got. You know it is healthy for you, and don’t have to hope it’s not harming you all the while!