“Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea” – Science vs Common Sense

GMO Golden Rice on the left.  Non-GMO rice on the right.

GMO Golden Rice on the left. Non-GMO rice on the right.

Yesterday, our friend Beth Hoffman published an article in Forbes’ online Food + Drink section called “Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea“.  For those who don’t know her, Beth is a cool cat who lives in SF, and writes articles about “our changing food system” for Forbes, NPR, Oxfam, and more.  She also teaches at University of San Francisco, and is married to a butcher and sales manager at Prather Ranch Meat Co.

You may have read countless articles about GMOs, but what I really like about Beth’s article in particular is that she brings up two main points that are simple common sense, yet seem to get lost in the shuffle.

One point is that sometimes “science” is not always reliable in the food and agriculture industry.  As Beth writes: “Science has a credibility problem.  It has for too long been used to distort food and twist the natural into long lasting Twinkies and nutritionally void Lunchables.  Tobacco was good for us, we were told, and DDT was fine to spray on our fields.  Food dyes are all still considered safe for our kids to eat, and ‘natural’ foods, we are made to believe, are made of naturally occurring ingredients.”

Second, what is the best use of our precious capital and limited time?  The latest GMO uber-product is “Golden Rice”, which took 30 years and multi-millions of dollars to produce. Its impact?  To be determined. Beth believes the real question is not “why is the public so reluctant to embrace the ‘science’ behind genetic engineering, but why are scientists intent on solving [problems] in the most costly and complex way imaginable?  Why has feeding the hungry become a self-serving competition for lab funding when viable solutions to the problem (and the organizations to carry them out) are available now?”

Since 2007 Puente has worked with over 400 Oaxacan farmers from rural communities to cultivate, process and commercialize amaranth, their native grain.

Since 2007 Puente has worked with over 400 Oaxacan farmers from rural communities to cultivate, process and commercialize amaranth, their native grain.

Choose one: Millions of dollars and 30 years OR rehabilitating indigenous foods and food systems for developing countries (and even in the US) right now so that we have a food supply that can survive on its own for generations to come?  To me, it seems obvious. A future dependent on corporate funding, labs, and long cycles to bring a product to market seems totally unsustainable. And, there are models, such as Puente a la Salud Comunitaria in Mexico, that have been hugely successful in bringing back indigenous grains, and rebuilding economic security and community solidarity at the same time.

Sadly, within hours of Beth’s Forbes article going live, people were posting passionate responses on the article page as well as Twitter.

What do you think?  Recently, a Grist Food writer wrote an article about how hard it is to understand the “Elephant in the room: Getting the GMO story straight“. It’s especially tough if you’re only going by “science”. There’s enough “science” to support both sides pretty well. As the pro- and anti-GMO camps clear up their messaging, it’s common sense that we as consumers have a right to at least know what we’re eating, and we should look at rebuilding indigenous foods and food systems that have already been proven to work.

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