“There is nothing inherently wrong with GMOs.”
My 15 year old son, Chase, made that statement. He’s a critical thinker and generally doesn’t make declarations without his opinion being well thought out and often adequately researched.
Exploring the debate surrounding genetically modified crops isn’t designed to cause friction, although it will inevitably do so. Rather than letting our initial reactions win out, let’s talk this through, challenge our assumptions and see where we come out on the topic. We’ll avoid, for now, the discussion about specific companies and their practices and instead focus on the theory.
A GMO is a plant or animal that has been genetically altered by scientists to improve its ability to grow in non-native environments, resist pests, tolerate extreme weather conditions, produce more food (like milk in cows), or show other desired traits. In other words, a GMO is a new version of a food plant or animal created by scientists through genetic engineering (GE) techniques.
Oooohh, scary. Transparently, the idea of food altered by scientists freaks me out. The fact that the idea alone makes my skin crawl is enough for me to be bold and perform some research. It would be simple to shut down from the discomfort and just spit venom about the evilness of the approach. You don’t have to search long online to encounter folks doing exactly that. The same article continues on:
Many consumers are wary of eating genetically engineered products and are concerned that genetically engineered foods are a step in the wrong direction. Basic laws of nature prevent plants from breeding with fish or bacteria, so we have little experience or history with these kinds of combinations. The process of creating GMOs is highly unpredictable and untested; it’s assumed that if the original food was safe, the genetically modified version will be too. As a result, new allergens may be introduced into common foods, and long-term effects of eating GMOs remain unclear.
But that isn’t really how we approach subjects on this blog. Although these points are delivered very forcefully, they’re simply assertions. We long to take a deeper dive into the science and the facts.
Whenever we engage in debate around here, we bring in our superstar editor and my partner at Kaplifestyle, Stephanie. She’s never one to delicately tip-toe around a topic, and she knows her way around a good philosophy discussion. I asked her to weigh in.
Steph, I’m writing a post on GMOs. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts
As per usual, I got a quick reply:
Oooh, that will be a fun one. Sure, I’ll pull together my opinions, though the gist is that we’ve been genetically modifying foods for the entirety of our history (see the entire cabbage family), and no one complains until there’s a microscope involved. Fear and paranoia about science isn’t smart or sensible.
Steph, judge? Nahhhh. She had more.
We have engaged in “genetic engineering” since the domestication of wheat, the key element in allowing civilization to spring up. This happened, as we currently understand it, around 12,000 BC. Any sort of artificial selection or breeding is, at its core, genetic engineering – we are actively altering the genes of the food we eat. The perception that there is some sort of “natural” way to eat is completely off base.
Steph is convincing, but I’m not sure I buy that last line. This really boils down to the word, “natural.”
Google gave me this:
existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind. “carrots contain a natural antiseptic that fights bacteria”
If we can agree on that definition, then a natural way to eat would be by sourcing foods not made by man. To Steph’s point, this would include cabbage. My brain goes directly to wild game. Although clearly human beings have impacted where and how these animals live, they are as close to natural as exists.
I am one of those humans who eats and loves animals. I’ve also evangelically promoted the idea that eating those animals and food (in general) in its most natural form is optimal for health and well being. Sure, the jury is out on the nutritional density of a wild boar over a humanely raised and slaughtered free roaming pig, but it’s fairly indisputable that the former is closer to natural than the latter.
A similar comparison could be made when examining genetically modified corn versus the variety found in a Iowa family’s backyard. The nutritional profile may be equivalent, depending on a wide variety of variables on both sides. Whenever we have an opportunity to lean on scientific evidence, it’s prudent to do so. Steph continued:
Genetically engineered crops have been heavily studied over the last 30 years. A consensus review of the last 10 years of study has concluded that there is no measureable harm to human consumption. The AAAS, AMA, NAS, and RSM all agree – no adverse human health effects have been reported or substantiated. In short, literally all available evidence is that these are safe. This makes sense – there’s no conceptual reason that genetic engineering is going to be bad for us. Otherwise, we’d have to screen every bit of DNA that we ate to ensure that there were no potential mutations (and, note – there are mutations in every strand of DNA).
That’s not to say we should discount subjective material or gut feelings. No matter what, we must remember that scientific experiments are constantly evolving. What we know to be true now may not be so as we develop more advanced ways to test.
As it relates to GMOs, staying open minded, nimble and inquisitive is the move for now.