A Hippie’s Defense of GMOs

What to eat. What not to eat.
July 25 2013 10:48 AM

A Hippie’s Defense of GMOs

I’m a vegetarian yoga instructor, and even I can tell the case against genetically modified food is overblown.

(Continued from Page 1)

But hold on a minute. What if they had used a gene from a fish in creating this tomato? Would the tomato taste fishy? Would you have to watch out for fish bones in your pasta sauce? Not unless you've added anchovies.

Genes are basically bits of computer code that are interchangeable from species to species. When you isolate a tiny bit of gene, it doesn't retain the essence of whichever species it came from. You might have a bit of DNA that says simply, "Grow appendage X on the abdomen" but doesn't specify what kind of appendage. If you put that code into a fly, it activates the part of DNA that grows a wing. Put that same code into a mouse, and it grows a foreleg. It doesn't make the mouse any more like a fly.

3. GMOs are radioactive, cause cancer, and/or are bad for the environment.

This is a trickier question to answer, and I'll be the first to admit that we need more research into the long-term effects of GM products. But I'm going to bet that the answer turns out to be something like this: Some GMOs are safe, and others are not. Lumping all GMOs into the same category is like lumping all fertilizers or all pesticides into the same category. Genetic changes are only as dangerous as the proteins they encode for—just as in any plant. Consider how many "natural" plants have genes that produce poisons and toxins.

Advertisement

In the case of the Flavr Savr tomato, I wouldn't be too worried. It simply blocks a protein that the tomato itself produces. In the case of herbicide-resistant soybeans, I'd want to know more. What kind of herbicide is being sprayed on the plants? Are traces of the herbicide still found in the food when it reaches our plate?

While I voted for the labeling act that was on the California ballot last year, a simple "contains GMOs" label would be of little use to me. I want to know what specifically about the organism was modified so I can reach my own conclusions.

Personally, I think the GMO scare is a distraction from far more important issues going on in the food industry:

  • A factory-farming system that's abusive to the animals we raise and results in unnatural, highly processed meats
  • An obesity epidemic resulting from subsidized corn crops and unchecked fast-food marketing
  • A glut of "natural and artificial" flavorings, sweeteners, and colors
  • Lack of access to quality produce in urban "food deserts"

If we really want to do something about public health issues, then these are the problems we should be focusing on. I'm not going to object to something that could have a positive effect on the world's food supply because there's a chance that something I eat might give me cancer 10 or 20 years down the line.

That risk already exists. I'm just as likely to get cancer from the unmodified but highly processed foods that are already in the market.

In the meantime I'm going to support those GM efforts that might actually do some good for the world. There's the Golden Rice Project, which fortifies rice in developing countries to combat micronutrient deficiencies. There have been attempts to genetically modify trees both to fight pollution and to decrease fossil fuel dependency.

And then there's the banana vaccine for Hepatitis B, which, due to regulatory restrictions, may be reworked into a nonedible vaccine in the tobacco plant.

I don't know about you guys, but these sound like pretty liberal objectives to me.

GM crops, combined with sustainable and organic agriculture, might do more to advance our cause than any other scientific advancement of the modern era.

By all means, let's march against Monsanto. But then let's put genetic engineering into the hands of forward-thinking, progressive scientists so we can start a real agricultural revolution.

This article is reprinted from Saul Of-Hearts’ blog.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.