Monday, July 8, 2013
More on the GMO Panic
Many people are marching lately in protest of Monsanto and their genetically modified (GMO) seeds. Despite good evidence to the contrary, they are worried that products containing genetically modified ingredients, especially corn and wheat, will be harmful to themselves and their children. At the very least, they want those foods labeled so that “we know what we’re eating.” Two questions to consider…
First, here is a story from the BBC about the problems of ash dieback, which is spreading throughout Britain. An epidemic of fungus is killing ash trees, except “a strain of ash from Denmark originally bred nearly 100 years ago, which has shown an ability to tolerate the fungal disease, when virtually all its Danish relatives were wiped out.” Scientists are looking for ways to crossbreed these trees with others to fight the fungus. Those breeding techniques used 100 years ago on these trees were studied by Gregor Mendel and others, and employed by George Washington Carver to improve cotton and many other plants. Today we have better food thanks to the efforts of these and many other scientists.
Question number one: Why is it OK for Nature to modify genes or farmers and scientists to do it with 100-year-old techniques, but scary to study the genes themselves and make direct modifications? In each of these cases, we are never absolutely sure of what we are going to get.
Earlier this month 118 people became sick with Hepatitis A; 47 required hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the outbreak to frozen berries. This article gives the example of a mother of five who "went on a health kick and had been feeding her family fruit smoothies for breakfast for two weeks” before she was notified of the problem. Her children’s vaccinations were up to date and they were fine, but her husband developed symptoms. The berries were labeled: "Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend" berry and pomegranate mix.
Question number two: Is labeling, so that we know what we’re eating, really going to promote safety or will it just keep alive this unwarranted fear of GMOs and result in higher grocery bills for everyone?
Meanwhile the chief technology officer at Monsanto was among those awarded the prestigious 2013 World Food Prize, which “recognizes the work of individuals who have improved the quantity and availability of food throughout the world.”