First, this post was written to spark conversation (boy, has it!)
Second, this was written by someone (me) who is not a scientist and has not been studying this subject for years. I know there are downsides to GE foods, but I wanted to explore the positive side for once. For further information on my point of view, read my replies to comments below.
OK, here is the original post:
I don’t see what all the bother is about genetically engineered food.
Many people get all up in arms about GE or GMO food but they are usually ignorant of many of the facts. And did you know, food can be organic and GE at the same time? My main reason for saying this is that most people fear what they don’t understand. They think that just because we are changing genes around, it is automatically unnatural. Well guess what, farmers have been doing that for hundreds of years. It’s called plant breeding. You take a plant with a trait you like (say, drought resistance), and another plant with another trait you like (tasty) and you breed them together and hopefully one of the resulting plants will have both traits. But this takes time. Basically all genetic engineering does is speed up the process of breeding by taking the gene responsible for the drought resistance and splicing it directly into the other plant so we know for certain that all the new plants will have that trait.
(photo by John Doebley)
This is a good example of plant breeding as it has been done throughout history. The plant on the left is Teosinte ( Tripsacum) which is the plant that has been bred over the centuries to eventually lead us to the modern corn we have today. (quick post on Maize here) This is definitely genetic modification but it took a long time to figure out which way to breed them to get bigger, sweeter, more kernels, etc. Genetic engineering just saves us time because it allows us to isolate the exact trait we want instead of hoping it gets transfered when we cross pollinate two similar breeds.
The other reason I think more farmers should use GE seeds is that there are genetic solutions for pests and disease resistance that would mean that farmers would be able to decrease or eliminate their use of pesticides and herbicides. Many people think GE food is dangerous but there have been no cases of sickness or death and some GE foods have been around for years. However there are hundreds of deaths and sicknesses from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides every year. Not to mention what they do to the ground water.
Some people are worried about pollen and genetic drift from GE crops but that fact is that while some does happen, it would not run wild or create super weeds. Our crops have been domesticated for hundreds of years and would not be able to thrive outside of a well tended field. Even with some enhanced traits, our crops are wusses.
“Other people are worried about long term risks that we won’t see for years when it’s too late. Allan Mazur who is a sociologist at SU here in Syracuse came up with good criteria to determine true warnings from false alarms.
1. Warnings turned out to be more than twice as likely to be true if the first conspicuous source of the public warning was based on a report of scientific research produced at a recognized scientific institution. If the alarm was raised by a government agent or citizen advocacy group it was more likely to be false.
2. True warnings were less likely than false alarms to have sponsers with bias against the producer of the alleged hazard.
3. Warning appearing in the news partly because of their connection to earlier news stories were more often false than warnings reaching the news without a boost from collateral sources. (Mazur 2004)
As far as the safety of GE food is concerned:
1. The first public warning was from a citizen advocacy group about using bacteria to protect plant from frost. Nothing bad has happened since they used it.
2. Many sponsers of anti-GE protests dislike Monsanto who owns many of the seeds and are worried about control. But this has nothing to do with the safety of actually eating the food.
3. Many of the warning coincided with outbreaks of other food safety problems in other parts of the world like Mad-Cow disease in he UK which has nothing to do with GE food. But this shook the confidence in regulatory agencies.
Most of this post was inspired by a great book I just read titled “Tomorrow’s Table” Organic farming, genetics, and the future of food. By Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak. They are a husband and wife where she is a geneticist and he is and organic farmer. They try and reconcile the two disciplines and provide a lot of useful information. If you are interested in this subject, check it out.
Here’s an Anti- GMO link, for all you haters out there.