End GMO ignorance

GMOs are one of the biggest hot-button topics and equally one of the most misunderstood. What is a GMO? GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, which really is a very broad definition. What does it mean to “modify” the genetics? Normally, GMOs bring to mind scientists splicing DNA in a lab, but humans have been modifying genetics for thousands of years. By breeding one plant with another, one horse with another, one dog with another, we have had a staggeringly huge impact on the ecosystem, creating organisms that otherwise never would have existed – all without knowing what DNA actually is.
All that aside, GMOs are generally thought of as foods whose genetics have been altered using recombinant technologies, to isolate certain genes from one organism and insert them into another, making a plant hardier, better-growing or more nutritious.
One of the biggest arguments against GMOs is that they are “unnatural”, that humans should not be messing with nature. But have any of these critics ever looked at a bulldog? Bulldogs as we know them now are one of the most unnatural creatures out there. Several hundred years ago, bulldogs were used in bull baiting and bear baiting – these dogs were thrown into pits with large animals for entertainment value. Bulldogs were powerful, huge and tremendously badass dogs who could go against a bear and come out on top. Because of what humans consider “cute”, bulldogs have been bred into faulty, twisted and sad animals. Splayed legs and breathing problems mean bulldogs can barely survive on their own without human help. We have turned a proud breed of dog into a problematic mutant but instead of decrying this perversion of nature, the GMO crowd coos over the cuteness of the bulldog and rages against corn.
Roundup is a powerful herbicide effective in killing weeds, but effective in killing all sorts of other plants, too. Genetic modification allowed scientists to create crops that are immune to Roundup, so the herbicide can be sprayed, killing everything except what is wanted. Roundup-ready crops are the most commonly protested GM crop, but why?
Norman Borlaug was a biologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, known as “The man who saved a billion lives”. How did he do it? By breeding crops of wheat to create a strain with specific qualities, he was able to increase the national wheat harvest of Mexico by six times. By making food easier to grow, food became more affordable, and countries who otherwise would have had to import their food became self-sufficient and able to feed their own populations.
If scientists grew crops of corn and sprayed them all down with Roundup, after a handful of generations, all that would be left is a crop of Roundup-ready corn. Just because DNA is modified in a laboratory as opposed to in the field changes nothing about the end result, except to make it easier, faster and more predictable.
One of the most apparent examples of the benefits of GMOs is what is called Golden rice. Contrary to popular belief, GM foods are not created simply to withstand pesticides, but are created to be more nutritious to people. Vitamin A deficiency is a massive problem in parts of the world, killing 670,000 children under the age of five each year. Golden rice produces beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, making it perfect to address vitamin A needs across the world. Monsanto distributes Golden rice seeds for free to subsistence farmers, and those farmers are free to collect and replant seeds, contrary to popular belief. Instead of embracing this humanitarian tool, activist groups such as Greenpeace speak out against Golden rice, block its introduction into markets, and sentence children to starvation, blindness, and death.
A recent study examined why consumers are willing to pay more for organic food, and the conclusion reached is not shocking but still profoundly disturbing – “Our report finds consumers have spent hundreds of billion dollars purchasing premium-priced organic food products based on false or misleading perceptions about comparative product food safety, nutrition and health attributes.   In short, organic food is not healthier, but marketing by natural foods have convinced the American consumer that they are. Organic food is throwing away technology and science in favor of far more inefficient methods of food production, creating a more expensive product prone to bacterial contamination.
GM foods have been blamed for every human disease under the sun, autism, food allergies and cancer have all been blamed on GMOs by those who profit from the sale of organic foods. Fear of GM foods is backwards, misplaced, short-sighted and harmful to the most vulnerable humans. Throwing away knee-jerk emotional reactions created by the misinformation put out by greedy corporations is the first step to embracing rationality.