Genetically engineered food is safe, so what?
Published: Monday, January 20, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 20, 2014 21:01
Late last year, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring labeling for genetically modified products. This was hailed by many as the first major victory for the anti-GMO movement. What many have forgotten is that GMOs have helped to increase crop yields in agriculturally poor areas. If not for blind faith in mad scientists or corporate villain-hood, it wouldn’t have been possible.
It has been a crusade like none other. Libertarians, left-wing environmentalists and the religious right all united against a common foe, GMOs. As a libertarian Republican, I am well-versed in neglecting the poor, the elderly and children alike, but never have I managed to do so much harm with so few facts.
Then again, are facts really important? No, because if one understands how the world really works, then it’s easy to be on the right side of history. As long as corporations are evil, evidence is secondary. For example, GMOs can’t be safe or effective, because if they were, surely, those greedy corporations would have jacked up the price of their life-saving products.
Does it not matter that malnourished children worldwide suffer from vitamin A deficiency, and that a product like Golden Rice could have saved a child’s sight or even their life, or does it not matter that according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, golden rice is as effective as pure beta-carotene supplements at providing vitamin A? Does it not matter that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe, as demonstrated by an overview of 10 years of research published by the Critical Review in Biotechnology? The study’s abstract states, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.” The famous study finding Monsanto’s Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize caused tumors and death in mice has since been retracted by the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.
Worse than the lack of scientific evidence suggesting GMOs are harmful is the lack scientific literacy among opponents of the crops. This has a negative impact on how people and governments deal with GMOs. In a way, just about everything we eat is genetically modified. Over thousands of years, people have bred plants and animals. This selective breeding has led to greater crop yields, better tasting food, and an all-around increase in quality and length of life. GMOs created in the label aren’t significantly different. Except, that genetic manipulation has given scientists and breeders more options. That’s what makes attacks on GMOs particular aggravating.
Any organism could be modified for better or for worse, but instead of looking for those modifications that are harmful, the entire process has been attacked. That would be like demonizing organic food because it’s sometimes contaminated with salmonella. Why not instead look for those instances where a specific GMO is harmful. People have let their fear cloud their judgment. This has caused governments to initiate bans on perfectly healthy products like Golden Rice.
Connecticut’s labeling law is no better. It’s not a win for freedom of information or consumer protection, and it’s not rooted in science. Instead, the law was an appeal to the lowest common denominator.