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April 22, 2008

The Truth About GM
Posted by Michael Cohen

As long as we're on an agriculture tangent today allow me to throw in my two cents about genetically modified (GM) foods.  A couple of days ago the New York Times had a big piece about how food companies and consumers are relaxing their resistance to GM foods. All I can say, is that its about frigging time.

For years now, the anti-GM crowd has waged a largely dishonest campaign against so-called Frankenfoods or genetically engineered foodstuffs on the grounds that such products are not properly tested or will do environmental damage. Frankly, most of it is bunk. The scientific evidence that shows these foods are dangerous to humans or environmentally unsafe is underwhelming. And much of the resistance to GM products in Europe is a back door form of protectionism to prevent American agricultural exports, which rely heavily on GM seeds. (Here's some more info on GM).

Genetically modified foods could represent the next green revolution, but developing countries are often restricted from using these life-saving products because of export bans on GM products to the European Union. It's worth also noting that the use of GM would not only increase food production in the developing world but put an end to the dangerous use of insecticides and environmentally insensitive agriculture techniques such as slash and burn. In short, the benefit of GM foods is overwhelmingly greater than the scare tactics of its opponents.

It's unfortunate that it took this terrible food crisis to loosen the restrictions on GM foods, but frankly better late than never.


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I prefer to eat organic whenver possible. Is it too much to ask that GM foods be labeled as such so that I can avoid them while respecting your right to eat them as you see fit?

GM the next Green Revolution?

Not only is it inefficient, but just as the Round-Up gene has been used for 30+ years and is now showing up in the most remote areas of the world, the new terminator gene will begin its slow but eventual spread.

These are just small examples of our vast ignorance of biology.

I think we have to be really careful in separating the science of genetic modification -- the potentially positive technology -- and the current use of that technology by companies like Monsanto.

Technology is only as good as the way it's used. As it stands, GM has mostly been used to pretty aggressively secure market share and support pesticide products (ie: RoundUp). It doesn't have to be that way! In fact, one of the really major, exciting possibilities of GM technology is that it could reduce our reliance on our current, terrible agricultural practices. Disease-resistant strains mean less pesticides in your food. High-yield strains could make locally grown, sustainable agriculture efficient enough to really hold its own against factory farms. In light of those potential uses, the focus on uses like RoundUp is really frustrating.

Like most emerging technologies, we can use this for good, but we need regulation to define what "good" is. So long as organizations with an interest in maintaining the current agricultural paradigm have near-exclusive control over the technology, it won't be used to develop a greener alternative.

It's about time someone stood up and said this. Genetically modified foods have been around since the beginning of agriculture; when Mendel was playing with his peas to bring out certain traits and be rid of others, what do you think he was doing? Genetically modifying organisms.

I've noticed that the loudest opponents of GM foods tend to be exactly the people who need them least: wealthy Westerners who can afford the luxury of inefficiently-grown, labor intensive crops. Funny, that.

Do you think that it would be good for the world's food supplies to be subject to royalty payments to a handful of corporations? That farmers should be policed to pay these royalties, at the same time that their access to non-patented seed be choked off? Wake the hell up!

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