Food has become a battleground, and one of the fiercest fights involves genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. With the aid of genetic engineering, we have created corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops with specific genes that help them resist pests, diseases and herbicides. Supporters trumpet the reduced costs and increased yields, especially in the developing world. They also point to the ability of GMOs to prevent diseases from ruining entire industries, such as Hawaiian papayas and Florida oranges.
“When we put a gene in a plant, we know exactly where it goes, we know what it does and we actually can measure on a whole genome basis if it affects any other gene,” argues Robert Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Detractors argue that GMOs raise a number of thorny issues, from medical safety to environmental protection to lax regulations and corporate control of the food supply. As the debate rages on, it’s estimated that 70 percent of processed foods already contain some modified products. Syrup from GM corn and sugar from GM sugar beets are used as sweeteners, while GM canola and cottonseed provide cooking oil. Now about 25 states across the U.S. are considering laws that would require labeling for all GM foods, so that consumers can decide for themselves.
For the health-conscious, the prevailing wisdom is that natural food is the best food. But no matter what studies of GMOs say, one scientific fact is inescapable: basically none of our dietary staples are natural. Some 10,000 years ago, our ancestors picked tiny berries, collected bitter plants and hunted sinewy game, because these are the foods that occurred naturally in the wild. Then came agriculture, and with it the eventual realization that farmers could selectively breed animals and plants to be bigger, hardier and easier to manage.
—David Newland, who probably burst a lot of bubbles with his piece. As I have written before, being against genetically modified organisms means being anti-science, and being willing to let people die of starvation.