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Genetically engineered food is safe, so what?

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 22:02

Late last year, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring labeling for genetically modified products. This was hailed – incorrectly – by many as the first major victory for the anti-GMO movement. What many have forgotten is the thousands of children who have died or gone blind thanks to the anti-GMO crusade. It might seem harsh, but each one of those young victims should be worn like a badge of honor. What’s that? They only fought for labeling. Well, don’t cut them short. One could go so far as to say, that those children couldn’t have been saved from GMOs without the anti-GMO movement. After all, it was those arguments – with all of the factual bases of a B list Syfy flick— that caused government to ban genetically engineered products. 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 environmentalist and the religious right all united against a common foe. If these groups could learn to work together who knows how many conspiracy theories could be put to rest. What’s next? Perhaps a divestment campaign against vaccine manufacturers, or removing the fluoride from our water supply? This momentum should be harnessed before the Illuminati, or the Jewish conspiracy puts a stop to it. In fact, they might already be editing my words so I come off as sarcastic or hostile towards the anti-GMO agenda. Know that I truly support this movement. What an accomplishment. 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.

It doesn’t 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. Nor does it 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. It doesn’t matter that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe, as demonstrated by an overview of ten years of research published by the Critical Review in Biotechnology. The study’s abstract states that, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.” Even the one shred of scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful is discredited. The famous study finding Monsanto’s Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize caused tumors and death in mice has since been retracted by the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology.

Worse than the lack of scientific evidence suggesting GMOs are harmful, is the lack of 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. People over thousands of year 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. Genetic manipulation has surely given scientists and breeders more options. That’s what makes attacks on GMOs particularly 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.   

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