By: Chris Newman
Do a quick Google Images search for the term ‘GMO.’ I’ll wait.
What you just saw — everything from peppers being injected with needles to cross sections of apples that look like limes on the inside — is an object lesson in foolishness.
The foolishness continues on my own social media feeds, which are filled with the perceived horrors of GMO: it causes cancer in lab rats (false). Squirrels don’t like engineered corn (false). Non-GMO farmers are being sued by biotech companies for wind pollination (false, along with several other GMO myths like the active use of terminator genes). And the EU hates GMO (partially true).
Europe is prudent in adopting the precautionary principle around GMOs. The link above says these countries are rejecting science; I say they’re acknowledging history’s lessons of science’s limitations — specifically, the decades it can take science to uncover the long-term effects of foods on human health. And in a free-market economy, I think people have the right to know how their food is produced. It’s a shame that organic producers are forced to label their products while conventional producers get to hide behind a wall of public ignorance.
However, it’s important to understand that GMOs probably aren’t going to make you grow a giant tumor out of your neck. Your son isn’t going to wind up with a rabbit vagina in the crook of his elbow. Nobody is sticking needles in your peppers. Lots of things aren’t genetically engineered at all, and you can often avoid them by eating whole foods and less meat instead of things whose primary ingredients are corn, soy, and beet sugar.
As for the long term effects on human health and the environment? Who knows. There’s no evidence of negative effects for the former, and GMO crops even have some real and potential environmental and health benefits as compared with conventional non-GMO techniques — which gives it the dubious distinction of being the “least unimproved” kid in class; permaculture is the answer, dammit.
But there’s a much more subtle (and serious) problem with GMO that’s lost amid the hysteria about cancer, Frankenfood, and Monsanto’s alleged quest for world domination. And it’s not just GMO, but everything that falls within the ever-expanding tent of engineered food.
A child pokes a hole in some bit of soil. She takes a seed — an inanimate object — and places it in the hole, and then covers it back up with the soil. A few days later, it literally springs to life as food to keep her alive.
That is an honest-to-God miracle.
Seriously, guys, it’s a miracle. The simple fact that food plants can grow in soil is the most accessible, visible, and abundant miracle in the world. With the aid of human ingenuity, in fact, it’s become so abundant that we’re beginning to take it for granted. So visible that it’s becoming invisible. So accessible that we can exercise the option to ignore it.
And that’s the real problem with engineered food, GMOs and otherwise. I’ve said before that the scariest thing about agriculture is the sheer scarcity of people that know how to do it. Put 100 random people in a room, and maybe two of them know how to grow something other than a potted plant. That’s incredibly scary. The green revolution and the heavy industrialization of agriculture have decimated the ranks of America’s farmers, eroding what was once common knowledge about how to grow, process, preserve, and even eat(!!!!) food.