The first thing that comes up if you Google “Genetically modified organism” or “GMO,” you get a lot of results – around 5.5 million actually. The majority of the first page, apart from the obligatory Wikipedia and news articles, consists of anti-GMO websites. Not really the best way of getting unbiased information.
A quick look through these websites proved that most of them were presenting only a very limited amount of information, all of which was – surprise, surprise – showing how genetic modification is a bad thing, one even going so far as to say that the process “creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes.”
Sure, in some cases genetic modification does mix genes from different species, such as the modification that inserted bacterial DNA into papayas and subsequently saved the species from extinction, but that’s not always the case. There are a number of cases where plants have been made more resistant to extreme conditions through inserting genes from the same species, really just speeding up the process of selective breeding that has been going on for as long as we’ve been farming.
Even in cases where genes from different species have been mixed, the result isn’t guaranteed to be a mutated affront to nature. Take Golden Rice for example. This is a type of rice, transformed with genes from daffodils and the soil bacterium Erwinia uredovora to produce beta-carotene. It has been shown through multiple field tests that it poses no risk to human health and instead is able to protect some of the poorest people from the blindness and even death that results from vitamin A deficiency. That is why it was developed after all. The largest problem with allowing this to be actually distributed is the anti-GMO groups who have attempted to sabotage progress at every turn.
Admittedly, I’m pro-GMO, within reason. Sure, it needs to be tested and everything to make sure that there are no unintended consequences, but it’s also a brilliant way of optimising agriculture and improving quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. If we can make farming more efficient and cheap crops produce more per harvest and more resistant to adverse conditions, then that could be a massive step to reduce the number of people without enough food. In addition, we can make the crops we do have more nutritious, as in the case of Golden Rice.
Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. Genes don’t hurt people – they’re not dangerous. Some of the pesticides that can be avoided through the use of genetic modification technologies, well, those are dangerous. In many cases the amount of pesticides used can be cut through the use of genetic modification technology. All in all, the anti-GMO protesters are doing their job well – they’re convincing people that all forms of genetic modification are potentially lethal threats to human life.
And that’s not really very fair, considering all the good that can be done by the technology.