Fear of GMO

Enjoyed this recent Jane Brody column on fear and GMO food:

Let’s start with the facts. Humans have been genetically modifying food and feed plants and animals for millenniums, until recently only by repeatedly crossing existing ones with relatives that have more desirable characteristics. It can take many years, even decades, to achieve a commercially viable product this way because unwanted traits can come in the resulting hybrids. While it may be nice to have a tomato that can withstand long-distance travel, the fruit also has to ripen evenly and, most important, taste good.

Genetic engineering makes it possible to achieve a desired outcome in one generation…

As for safety, G.M.O.’s are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Developers must test the product for toxicity and allergenicity as well as assure that its nutrient content is at least as good as its non-G.M.O. counterpart.

Yes, this depends on the developer’s honesty, but note: There is no such testing required for traditionally bred foods, any number of which are known to cause life-threatening reactions in some people.Many popular non-G.M.O. foods, including broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, contain natural toxins, though the foods are not harmful to people when consumed in normal amounts. Kiwis, with hundreds of novel proteins, many of which have allergic potential, were never tested for allergenicity before they were marketed.

Peanuts, shellfish, celery and strawberries have not been banned despite some people being allergic to them. It may even be possible to use genetic engineering to get rid of the allergenic proteins in such foods…

Are there risks to G.M.O.s that scientists have yet to consider or discover? Of course there are. Nothing in this life is risk-free, but that is not enough reason to reject valuable scientific advances.

Good points.  I don’t usually read comments (though NYT recommended comments often offer useful insight), but the majority of comments to this piece that I read where quite illuminating.  Almost no engagement with the basic arguments here about science and risk, but a heck of a lot about glyphosate and Monsanto (one particular form of GMO product).  If GMO’s encourage the use of too many dangerous pesticides (not that I’m taking a position on the issue right here), then let’s discuss whether plants sprayed with Round-Up should be in our food supply, not whether we should have GMO crops.  Even if we are all being poisoned with glyphosate (personally, I’ll take my chances with that), there’s a major baby/bathwater issue going on here.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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