Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) are not the problem

80% of the food you ate today was genetically modified.

This scares people who don’t understand what that means — they go screaming about “Frankenfoods,” much like Ogg the caveman in his widely-shared blog piece “Fire bad.” A70-10667

This doesn’t mean that all genetically modified products are good, though. When people talk about the dangers of Monsanto’s “Round-Up”, they’re correct. But what makes Round-Up bad isn’t the fact that it uses GMO technology — it’s the fact that the stuff is dangerous and possibly cancerous. The process by which it is made isn’t the bad thing.

So when people want to ban GMOs, I ask if they similarly want to ban chemical laboratories. After all, chemistry produces deadly poisons, too.

GMOs have produced great benefits to our society. Millions of lives have been saved by the development of plants that can grow better and feed more people. Norman Bourlag won a Nobel Peace Prize for his research into this, and said that GMO technology is merely a new way of doing what he had done traditionally — that if the technology was available when he did his research, he would have reached the same result quicker and cheaper. And his comments have come true — more discoveries are being made every day that help feed people.

The fact is that GMOs are safe. The vast majority of scientists say so. I’m not talking “four out of five dentist” numbers, I mean in the 90% range. Like the kind of numbers we see for scientists who say climate change is real.

And that’s what bugs me — many of the strongest advocates for banning GMOs are my fellow liberals. You know, the ones who complain when conservatives deny science and won’t accept evolution or global warming despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists. Then these same liberals ignore the scientists when they overwhelmingly say something that challenges their own biases. (Ironically, some of these same liberals also ignore science concerning vaccines, too.)

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a different standard for yourself than the one you demand on others.

“OK, wise guy,” people say to me, usually accompanied by a sneer, “So why would you object to labeling GMO foods to let people make up their own minds about what is in it?”  The answer is because people don’t know. Seriously, I blogged a while ago about a study wherein 80% of the population wanted to label food containing DNA.  DNA!  DNA, that is in every damned thing we eat every day (except salt)!

Labeling GMOs says to people “This is dangerous. Clearly, or we wouldn’t be labeling it as such.” That is the exact wrong message to send. It’s not true.

And whether something has GMO technology is completely irrelevant to the product. We don’t label food that has been modified in other ways, because it doesn’t matter how it was modified. The process isn’t the problem.

Stopping dangerous foods and chemicals that can harm us is definitely something we should be doing. Labeling the process by which those things are made shows a great misunderstanding of science.

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12 thoughts on “Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) are not the problem

  1. Actually, there IS a reason to label at least some GMOs.

    If a GMO has proteins not found in the unmodified plant or animal OR if it does not have proteins found in it, it needs to be labeled.

    Why? Because SOME individuals have been found to be allergic ONLY to the modified product.

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    • I assume there is a way to list the proteins that cause the allergies then, no? Labeling something as GMO doesn’t mean much, because maybe only 1% of the GMO stuff has those proteins that cause allergies. (I don’t know, just using that number as an example)

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  2. Thanks for the interesting blog post. It makes sense in most respects…but actually, 80% of what I ate today was not genetically modified. I prefer to buy food labeled non-GMO and am willing to pay a little extra for organic – not necessarily because I think it’s safer for me – but because I think it’s safer for the environment and for society. My understanding is that Monsanto would prefer foods not be labeled GMO because it would hurt their profits. This is a bigger problem than individual health: Monsanto is creating turmoil in the small farming industry, enforcing patents, and bullying the local farm culture, which is important for a healthy society. And the genetic pollution that is inevitable (because seeds are all about reproduction) can cause irreversible changes to the genetic landscape which ultimately benefits Monsanto and hurts small farmers. For me, this is enough reason to avoiding GMO. It’s not a science or individual health issue – it’s about a dangerous monopoly.

    Here’s one of the many many articles on Monsanto: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/05/monsanto200805

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  3. I don’t necessarily want to ban GMOs, but I will continue to push for their labeling. GMO sweet corn contains pesticides! There are actual pesticides built into the plant DNA! Don’t you want to know when you’re eating that? Other GMO plants have been modified to withstand powerful herbicides. The result is that farmers use more herbicides to kill the weeds, the weeds develop resistance, they make the herbicides even more powerful – and now we have people working in or living near those fields developing cancers and other health problems – Google Monsanto Hawaii Controversy. Not to mention the residue of the herbicide that builds up on the food that is going to wind up on your plate. There are other modifications to plants AND animals in the planning stages that would generate food that is either unhealthy to consume or unhealthy for the environment. If we don’t get the Big Ag folks on board now with GMO labeling, they can slip all that new stuff into our food supply without anyone knowing what they’re getting. I’m sorry, Mike, but I want to be informed about what I am eating. I want to know if my food is produced with environment destroying technology. As your brother says above, the only way I make sure I’m not getting that stuff now is by buying food that is labeled non-GMO. That stuff is a lot more expensive – partly because it is made in smaller quantities, but partly because the producers have to jump through hoops to be certified as using non-GMO ingredients and to label their products as such. It would be more fair to everyone if the folks generating GMOs to enrich their companies would be the ones to have to have special labels. Doesn’t it make sense? Why does the guy who is growing heirloom corn have to say “this is the way God made it without any DNA tampering.” That is backward. The guy who has inserted pesticides into the DNA of the corn is the one who should and MUST put that information on the label.

    Now, if the U.S. were evaluating GMOs as carefully as the European Union, then I might reconsider. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_genetically_modified_organisms_in_the_European_Union
    But we’re not. In fact, there is information out there indicating that Big Ag has loaded the FDA with their own people, so the FDA is barely evaluating these new products as they come along. I’m not going to roll over on this one because all the PAID scientists say it’s okay. Especially not in light of stories I have read about the backlash that has destroyed careers of scientists who try to publish results that show the dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms. Jane Goodall, who is a champion of the natural world, doesn’t trust GMOs – http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/theresa-albert/jane-goodall-gmos_b_7159714.html. And she clearly states a logical reason: “Those who create these organisms spend a lot of time, money and energy to prove these seeds are very different from traditional seeds in order to achieve the (money making) patent. And then they turn around to convince the public that they are exactly the same as traditional seeds and are therefore safe for consumption. Isn’t that crazy?”

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    • The ‘pesticide’ in the corn ( Bat delta endotoxin) is a protein that attacks a specific lavae of destructive caterpillar. This protein has minimal effect on other insects and no effects upon humans or other mamals. Oh and it and the corn has been around since the 1960’s. However people hear ”pesticide” (because the protein is that as it kills a specific pest) or “toxin” (as it is to that singular pest) and assume the plant is producing agent orange. Imagine what people will uninformed think when they read GMO on a label.

      It’s why, as Jane Goodall points out, companies are pushing to note that this food is just like any other food. Because it is and people shouldn’t be afraid of it because of buzz words. It’s like “Food babe” saying don’t eat anything that has a word in it a 9 year old can’t say.

      Also, the more resistant strains of weeds is happening the same way we have more resistant bacteria because of all of the anti bacterial soaps we have. Only the strongest is surviving. But this has nothing to do with the GMO itself and everything to do with the way the farmers are running their business.

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  4. I’m not sure why people have so much trouble being rational on this issue. Warning labels are for things that have been proven to be dangerous. We don’t use the government to force companies to put warning labels on things just because of someone’s personal beliefs. I’m sure there are people in the Christian Right who would like warning labels on any restaurant that employs gay staff.

    What’s really depressing is how quickly people resort to conspiracy theories. “All the scientific evidence has been fudged because of Monsanto!” Gee whiz, folks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Greg, it’s not a “warning”. It’s information, like: how many grams of protein or how much magnesium is in my food. It’s like me knowing if something was processed in Portugal vs. Pakistan vs. Kentucky. These facts may not be related to my health, and they may have no rationality behind them. But they may be important to me nonetheless.

      We live in an information age. So holding back information with such fervor and with such huge funds and fierce lobbying should be seen with suspicion. The fact is – many food producers are starting to label their foods as non-GMO ( http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/understanding-our-seal/ ). And there are consumers – like myself – who prefer to know. I believe that this information will eventually make its way to more consumers, as long as so many of us care to know. The consumers should be driving this decision.

      Read this:

      http://www.justlabelit.org/more-people-want-gmo-labeling-than-like-apple-pie/

      I’d be curious to know what you guys think.

      The real question is: who is harmed by us knowing this simple fact, and in what way are they harmed? That’s the conversation I want to have.
      -j

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  5. I understand the science behind GMOs and am more than willing to buy and consume GMO foods. Unfortunately this is an instantly polarizing subject for many people, even my fellow scientists who roll their eyes at climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers.

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  6. A couple of good points, but so many bad ones. I really do wish I had time to go into it all. But I totally don’t accept the 90% of scientists agree GMOs are safe part (here is a great report from Food and Water Watch that drills down on where some of those figures are coming from, and how bogus they are – http://www.scribd.com/doc/247287916/EU-Version-The-So-Called-Scientific-Consensus-Why-the-Debate-on-GMO-Safety-is-Not-Over). You’re right, though, that it is a technology, a powerful one that can be used for good or ill. Unfortunately, mostly what it has been used for is to sell more glyphosate, and now more 2-4-D. And I have no idea where the claim that it saved millions of lives comes from. But the thing I take most issue with is this notion that people can’t be trusted with the knowledge of what’s in their food – we’ll just leave it to Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to decide what’s best for us without us worrying our little heads. That’s just ridiculous (and by the way, a lot of foods don’t have DNA, it’s removed by many processes). Because it is not just about what we are eating, it is about the types of food systems we are supporting with our purchases, it’s about biodiversity, and the long-term consequences of corporate controlled agriculture. If you don’t care, that’s fine, but I want to know.

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    • The “millions of lives” claim refers to genetically modified foods. My point was then that all we have now is a new way of creating genetically modified foods. Same result, different route.

      I don’t trust Monsanto in the slightest, Jon. My problem — and here’s where I still have not been convinced — is in equating the science with what has been done with the science. Almost all science could be used for good or evil. Gunpowder can create fireworks or propel bullets. For some reason, this all seems like a repeat of what we’ve seen so many times before: A new science emerges and everyone screams about the evil it has created and how “Man is not meant to disturb nature” and so on.

      This is completely different from going after the companies that really do evil things with the science.

      Mind you, I am a vegetarian who buys organic food often, because I don’t want the hormones and other additives. There’s my labeling — “organic.” It’s the additives I don’t want, whether they were added by hand or by GMO technology. I make a distinction between what is done and HOW it is done. I don’t think the process is the evil part.

      (P.S.: A plug for those reading this. Jon wrote an excellent thriller called “Drift” which involved evil bad guys using GMO technology to accomplish their evil goal. Go read it.)

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