Pro-GMO or Anti-GMO, Our Goals Are Not That Different

I set out to learn about GMOs about four years ago when I was a new mom and trying to navigate through all the noise about “what’s best for your child”. As a human molecular geneticist, I decided to read the scientific literature on my own and to document my learning on my personal blog. During the course of these four years, as my knowledge increased, I began publishing on different websites and advocating for evidence-based policies and decision-making in our food system. Despite the fact that these efforts have been conducted in my spare time and as a hobby, I’ve received countless comments accusing me of “poisoning our food supply”, of “destroying our children’s future”, and of “being a shill”. This article is written for those who write such comments and believe that GMOs are destroying our planet.

Hi there. I hear you: you’re telling me that corporations are destroying the environment. That nature is being harmed. That greedy CEOs don’t care about anything other than lining their pockets. That politicians are turning a blind eye to the suffering and destruction around them because those same CEOs are keeping them in office. You’re angered by your inability to exert change: that our democracy is being hijacked by the highest bidder. I understand where you’re coming from. You’re frustrated with the undue role of industry in our political and social systems, with the blatant corruption that exists in society, particularly when corporations can get away with so much.

You think that I’m ignoring you. But I’m not, and I agree with you. I, too, am concerned about the future, about my children and grandchildren: will they have clean air and water? Will each generation feel more powerless than the last to exert change with our existing political system? I, too, am aghast by the ruling on Citizens United vs FEC. I, too, feel powerless when our elected representatives stand idly by while nature’s clock is ticking. You’re frustrated by the fact that the laws we need in society to protect our environment are being ignored because some politicians are ideologically driven to believe that climate change isn’t real. These ideologies are fueled by corporate lobbyists, so it’s natural that you don’t want corporations to be “tinkering” with our food.

My son and I, when he was two years old.

I’ve heard you say that I’m a cold, mechanical scientist who is letting this happen. That I’m ignoring the evidence that we’re being slowly poisoned because I, too, am part of the system that is letting this destruction happen. I’ve read your comments stating that GMOs, which I am defending here and are made by the same companies that you distrust so strongly, are the newest evil that they have unleashed on our planet. I hear you. But here’s where I believe we disagree.

We have societal challenges that we’ll be facing in the next few decades: global warming and population growth. Both of these will impact agriculture even further: more plant borne illnesses, more land dedicated to homes/roads/industry, possibly deepening droughts, etc. As we confront these problems in agriculture, we need every tool at our disposal, including GMOs.

You claim that we should have access to an economical, healthy, and safe food supply. But what if in the process of trying to achieve that goal you eliminate a tool that could have actually helped you achieve it? Take citrus greening as an example: if we don’t find a solution for it in the next few years, our citrus industry may get decimated. There’s quite possibly a genetic modification that could address citrus greening. Should we remove the solution from the table just because of the way the orange variety was developed?

There are many different ways to modify a crop, yet you’re trying to single out a technique when the lines between these are incredibly blurry since the end result can be the same. For example, there are herbicide tolerant crops generated by transgenesis (i.e. GMO) but there are also herbicide tolerant crops generated by mutagenesis (non-GMO). In trying to draw these lines, you may eliminate a powerful, precise, and efficient tool that we may need down the road to help us face these challenges.

In the course of writing about these crops, I’ve been put in the uncomfortable position of defending companies whose actions I may not always agree with, but have developed the transgenic crops that I support. I do this because I have read no credible evidence to suggest that there’s a risk that is uniquely associated with GMOs. I do this because the scientific consensus is that GMOs are as safe as traditionally bred crops. This is the same scientific consensus that you defend when you speak of global warming. Why do you trust the consensus on climate change but not the consensus on GMOs? Why do you trust the scientific institutions on one consensus but not on the other? The gas and oil industry is significantly larger, yet it could not buy the consensus on climate change (Mrkt Cap: Exxon Mobil 374B; Chevron 227B). So what leads you to believe that the agricultural industry has somehow bought a consensus on GMO safety (Mrkt Cap: Monsanto 46B; Dupont 63B)?

You and I are not so different. We care about many of the same things. The elimination of GMOs is not a silver bullet that will somehow solve the issues in our society or our food system. We should focus our efforts on the real issues and not a convenient scapegoat that has been placed in front of us.

Sincerely,

Mother of a Four-Year-Old Who Believes that She Has a Moral Responsibility to Protect the Planet for Future Generations