Howdy, Slate Plus members! Here’s the audio version of a story that took me forever to write. It’s about genetically modified organisms.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—well, actually, it was a year and a half ago, just down the hall in Slate’s D.C. office—two of our editors, Laura Helmuth and Josh Levin, asked me to write about GMOs. I told them, “Sure!” Or something like that. But inside, I was thinking, No no no no no! I’ve always steered clear of the GMO debate because it’s such big, hairy mess of allegations and studies and theoretical problems you can never fully track down or resolve. It’s not even one thing. It’s this gene and that gene, this technology and that technology, this crop and that crop—it’s all over the place.
This is going to take forever, I thought.
And it did. I had to read so many studies and papers and reports and rebuttals that somebody really ought to give me some kind of degree. What kept me going was the hope that by sorting out the mess, I could spare everybody else the same ordeal. You’re a normal, smart person. You have a life to live. You shouldn’t have to research a whole field of science just to figure out which kind of milk to buy.
I hope this article will answer that question for you. Or at least it will clarify the right questions to ask. One thing I’ve learned in life is that there may not be objective truth, but there certainly is objective bulls--t. And the case against GMOs turns out to be full of it. Everywhere I turned, at the end of every alley, I came to the same dead end: Yes, there are problems in agriculture and food safety. Yes, some of them touch on GMOs. No, none of them is fundamentally caused by, or specific to, GMOs.
But I couldn’t have reached that conclusion without all the twists and turns. And that’s why I try to explain the debate through a few stories. Stories are easier to read, and they let you compare GMOs with non-GMO versions of the same plant or ingredient. The falsehoods, feints, and exaggerations become clearer. The fear goes away.
I still can’t promise that you’ll know which milk to buy. But I can promise that when you’re making that decision, you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Thanks for reading (or listening!), and thanks for being a Slate Plus member.