Posted on September 11, 2014 at 12:09 AM
The answer, it seems, is quite a number of people. The
question that we really need to address is why. Are these concerns rational,
are they science based, should they provide the basis for public policy? People
have been using selective breeding and hybridization techniques for thousands
of years to alter the genetic makeup of both plant and animal agricultural
products. Neil Tyson Degrasse made the point very clearly and effectively that almost
nothing we grow agriculturally has been unchanged from the plants and animals
living naturally. They have all been altered by the intentional action of human
beings. Selective breeding, of course, has significant differences from what is
currently characterized by the term genetic modification which is done using
the techniques of molecular biology to insert genetic material. But they do
establish the principle that most people are happy to eat food products which
have been genetically altered by people. That sweet red apple you had for lunch
or the fattened cattle which produced your juicy hamburger do not exist in
The techniques of genetic engineering which can be used to
insert genetic material into the genome of a cell permitted the alteration of
crops that resist pests requiring less use of pesticides. They allow selective
herbicide resistance allowing the use of minimally toxic or nontoxic herbicides as well as no till farming which
diminishes erosion and reduces use of fossil fuels. They have also been able to
use these techniques to add essential nutrients to address widespread dietary
deficiencies. An example of this is the development of golden rice, the genetic
modification of rice to produce vitamin A. These are good things.
The opponents of genetically modified organisms like to
claim that the safety of food derived from these plants has not been proven.
This is a poor argument. More than 2000 studies have documented the safety of genetic modification. Relatively few have
identified risks and some of these have been found to be without merit. Genetically
modified foods have been available since the 1990’s and are now ubiquitous.
Over ninety percent of corn and soybeans crops in the US are GMO. Where are the
problems. The answer it seems is there are little if any problems relative to
the clear positives.
Among the tactics of the anti-GMOers is the advocacy of
increasing levels of regulation including labelling of food as GMO. This is
advocated under the very reasonable sounding claim that people have a right to
know what they are eating. The probable effect of such regulation is that large
corporations (e.g. Monsanto) have the resources to comply while smaller
producers are excluded. More reasonable would be that those who produce non-GMO
food can label it GMO free. This is more analogous to the way organic food is
The anti-GMO debate has largely been conducted in a science
free zone. It is time for this to end.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.