Do you eat orange carrots? You know, the variety found in your grocery store? They occasionally come in little snack packages and look like little toes? And now, have you been following the news about Monsanto? Their genetically-modified wheat, among other controversies, has been under fire in the last few weeks. The company’s poor practices are clotting like cream and rising to the top while creating a huge anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) stir in the media. Everyone seems to be protesting these biotech foods. If you’ve jumped on the anti-GMO bandwagon, I hope that you haven’t eaten a garden-variety orange carrot recently, because if you have, you clearly haven’t done your research.
Orange carrots could be considered one of the first real mainstream successes of human biotechnology and GMOing through the process of selective breeding (a rudimentary genetic engineering process developed in the 1800s) performed by Dutch farmers. Those carrots are GMOs, and the point I want to make is that it’s really unfair to dismiss an extremely promising field of science because you don’t like what a single corporation has done, and because you’d rather listen to anti-science, anti-GMO interest groups rather than look at the actual science yourself.
Is biotechnology really all that scary? Is saving lives with Golden Rice, perhaps the greatest hallmark in genetic engineering to date (with the exception of the orange carrot, of course) really all that bad? Experts in this field have argued that GMO crops are in fact over-regulated, and that these products are safe. What is perhaps most interesting is looking back to a study conducted in 2011, in which consumers said that they were willing to pay more for GMO foods that are enhanced with added nutrients. I find it absolutely fascinating how quickly popular opinion can change when big-money lobby groups and sensationalist journalists (who didn’t pass science class) get a hold of a few sound bites. It’s terrible how the media can turn amazing life-changing, world-saving science into a conspiracy theory. Monsanto’s questionable corporate practices and frequent legal battles shouldn’t be the face of a field with so much potential for good.
So what can we do about this? Well, let’s start with the facts. I’m using this post to start a mini-series on GMOs and “scary” biotechnology. The series will begin in my next post where I will outline what exactly a GMO is, what it entails, and how you can create GMOs in your backyard with nothing but some soil, a garden planter, water, sunlight and a little love — oh, and a good pair of garden shears! I will go on to feature amazing and upcoming technologies in biology that aren’t all that scary.
I understand it’s a lot easier to read a bunch of media rhetoric than it is to read a Nature paper, but along with the usual dose of anti-science sensationalism you enjoy with your morning Frapp, I want you to read a few things. First is a blog by an amazing Canadian and expert on all things agriculture, Cami Ryan, entitled “Fifty Shades of Hype”. Next you need to read some of Keith Kloor’s posts on GMOs here at Discover Blogs. Next, arm yourself with some impartial facts courtesy of the WHO. And lastly, please learn to read Nature, and get a copy of this article through your local university library.
Image courtesy of khawkins4 on Flickr.