Monthly Archives: October 2014

My addition to the GMO debate

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to converse via Facebook with what can only be described as the “Pro-GMO” lobby – farmers and proponents of big agriculture.  What started with a Facebook post sharing a blog article led to an exchange between myself and the author, Gene Hall, the Public Relations Director of the Texas Farm Bureau.  I reference this exchange specifically because, unlike some others, the debate was intelligent and respectful.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Of course, as with any two-way discussion on Facebook there is a battle to have the last word.  Ultimately this is not a battle I feel compelled to carry on, and that is the reason for this writing.  I welcome any comments below, but these are my thoughts in a forum more suited for an issue with this level of complexity.

GMO, or genetically modified organisms, are simply not 100% anything.  If you take anything away from this, let it be a sense of cautious optimism mixed with prudent fear of the unknown.  Never trust someone who speaks in absolutes.  Much of this debate is filled with these absolutes: “GMO food is 100% safe!” “GMOs are 100% deadly!”  What foolishness.  Consider this, however:

DDT, a widely used chemical pesticide in the 40’s and 50’s, was proclaimed completely safe by its proponents.  In fact, the scientist who discovered its use as an insecticide was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.  It was not until 1972 that the US Government banned the use of DDT.  This was after 1.35 billion pounds of the toxic chemical was sprayed on US soil, the effects of which are still being realized today.  This is one of many examples that could fill volumes describing how greed and hubris led to a disastrous outcome.  Birth defects, cancer, diabetes, environmental impacts, the list goes on.

Please don’t confuse the above example as a direct correlation to my views on GM foods. The only statement that can be 100% truth is that the jury is out, and won’t be coming back any time in this generation.  There are studies that show both sides of the argument. 

It is worth pointing out that there are many many more studies that point to the safety of the science.  It’s also important to look at why that is, and to do so one must simply follow the money.  GMOs are big business – BIG!  Corn alone, which is 88% GMO is a $24.4 billion dollar industry in the US alone.  What farmer wouldn’t want to get the most output possible?  It’s easy to believe what is convenient and in alignment with your bottom line when your business depends on it.

These farmers are not bad people.  They are not billionaires sitting up in the big house doing high dives into pools of C-notes.  It is my belief that they are good people caught in a situation that they ultimately have little power to avoid, lest they be labeled a charlatan by their peers and persecuted as such.  Enter the villain in the anti-GMO movement – Monsanto.

Monsanto is synonymous with shadow governments, new world orders, and equally “out there” conspiracy theories.  They have even been called the most hated company in the world.  Let’s get that out of the way from the onset.  Monsanto is a publicly traded company, a $50+ Billion dollar behemoth that deals in scientifically advancing the agriculture industry, among other ventures.  One of these ventures is even a non-profit that exists solely to tout the wonders of GMO.  A non-profit funded by a for-profit to advertise how great the for-profit’s product is? Now that’s good business!

Unlike my characterization of farmers as good-hearted people doing what they feel is right, Monsanto is not good.  This is a company that is so against natural and time-tested methods of agriculture that it actually sues farmers who attempt to save seeds to plant the following year.  Why you ask?  Monsanto themselves tell us that it is purely about revenue.  Try making it through this page without cringing.  Does this sound like a company that has your best interest at heart?  Now think about the scientific studies it can fund along with the $2.6 million per day it spends on R&D.  This is about big business.  Follow the money.

In my exchange with pro-GMO folks, it is clear that they want to focus on the science that is available today.  That’s fine.  I’m not saying that we should label anything GMO with a skull and cross bones and tax it like cigarettes.  Nor do I think we should pull it from shelves.  However, don’t feed me claims of feeding a hungry world and point to studies funded illegitimate non-profit organizations that are funded by the industry itself.

US food labels today are required to list every ingredient contained therein along with each macronutrient to the gram per serving.  They breakdown fat into its various forms, separate fiber from other carbohydrates, and tell me how much sugar it has.  In 64 countries across the globe, food labels also tell the consumer if the product contains a genetically modified ingredient.  Unfortunately for the US consumer, however, $27 million dollars was spent in the first six months of 2014 alone in lobbying by pro-GMO groups to keep that snippet of information off the label.  That sure is a lot of genetically modified corn that could be fed to (now) genetically modified cows that are used to create genetically modified CHEDDAR!  Follow the money.

I’ll close with this:  Everyone has an opinion, a feeling, and a belief.  Make sure yours is based on thoughtful consideration of the evidence.  While Mr. Hall was extremely courteous in our exchange, there are voices on both side of this (or any) debate that lack his civility.  Let cooler heads prevail, lest we start sounding like this…