While updating a friend on my latest endeavors, including Aisle of Confusion, he asked me this question. As I stumbled through an answer, he barraged me with a few more questions: “Won’t they feed the world?” “What about that Golden Rice? Won’t it help children from becoming blind?” It was clear at the end of the conversation that he was skeptical of everything I said. So I did more research, read a few more books, and hope to succinctly answer his questions in a series of posts.
Perhaps the biggest problem with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is that we, and by “we” I mean expert scientists, do not fully understand the technology. Our ability to move genes and traits between plants, and now and animals, seems to have outpaced our understanding of the consequences. We have created these new life forms (GMOs) and released them into the environment, without reservation, where they are uncontrolled and unconfined. While traditional breeding selects for traits naturally occurring within the plant, genetic modification tampers with genes by moving DNA from one organism to another. The process is not as precise as it sounds, and can lead to many known and unknown consequences. (This is why I will not use the term “genetic engineering.” The word, “engineering” implies a level of precision and accuracy that does not exist in genetic modification.)
When this new organism is outside of a laboratory, it will contaminate natural breeds with its foreign genetic material and upset delicate ecosystems.
Additionally, many studies have brought to light questions about the safety of human consumption of GMOs or other questions that beg for more research (such as the impact of GMOs on pollinators), and yet the greed of biotechnology companies, eager for a return on investment, have placed profit and shareholder value far above concerns of consumer safety and environmental sustainability.
As a result, the GMO industry is happily having their cake and eating it too. One on hand, the FDA recognizes GMOs as substantially equivalent to conventional food crops (no doubt a result of the “revolving door” to be discussed later), and therefore GMOs are “generally recognized as safe.” This distinction means GMOs are exempt from testing under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, United States. On the other hand, the food industry has successfully patented these GMOs because, well, they are substantially different from conventional food crops.
The obvious next question is “which is it?”