GMO foods aren't going to kill you. Please relax.
I know that Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, is a controversial topic that is sure to stir up debate. You'll see arguments about the merits or drawbacks of GMOs all over the internet these days. The reason I'm throwing my hat in this over-crowded ring is because I dislike the misinformation and outrageous allegations thrown around by many anti-GMO activists and impassioned people who maybe, just maybe, are a bit misinformed about what they're talking about.
Before I get on with my post, I'd like to point out that I'm not against organic foods, or the people who grow them. Do your thing. This farm town is big enough for the both of you. By endorsing GMO foods, I'm not automatically against non-GMOs. Got it?
Ok, let's get on with it. Here are four reasons why you should relax about GM foods.
1. The Scientific Consensus Says GMOs Are Safe
Opponents of GMOs claim that they are dangerous for your health, or at the very least, that more research needs to be done on the subject.
Well, there has been tons of research done on this very topic, and the numbers simply aren't favoring the anti-GMO activists. A group of Italian researchers went about cataloging almost 2000 studies on the subject of GMO safety. The studies come from research institutes all over the world.
According to this Forbes blog post, the researchers couldn't find a single example from the 1783 studies they reviewed demonstrating that GM foods were harmful to humans or animals.
According to lead researcher Allesandro Nicolia, the team's goal "was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety."
According to a poll published in The New York Times in July of last year, 37 percent of respondents said they feared that genetically modified foods can cause cancer and/or allergies. The article notes that no scientific research supports this view, that GM foods do not carry risks that are not found in non-GM foods also.
2. GM Foods Will Help Us Feed Future Generations
It's well known that we struggle to feed the world's population. There are plenty of calories produced on a daily basis around the world (according to author Brad Pilon, the US alone produces enough food to feed all its' citizens 4000 calories a day, which is a lot), but it's difficult to get this food to the places where people need it to, you know, not die.
The increasing world population, combined with climate change (and all that it brings with it) makes it exceedingly difficult to feed everyone, but GMO crops can help feed more people than non-GM crops.
According to this MIT Technology Review article, plant diseases destroy approximately 15 percent of the world's agricultural harvest on an annual basis. That translates to a lot of food not being shoved into the mouths of starving people around the world.
The article specifically talks about Irish scientists who've (appropriately enough) genetically modified a type of potato, making it resistant to blight, a disease that normally kills non-modified potatoes. This is important because potatoes are a vital food source in poor areas of the world, and so huge crops of it can thus survive where normal varieties can't.
This souped-up potato coming out of Ireland is but one instance of GM foods doing good. Golden rice is an example of a genetically modified organism that is in fact better than the conventional, non-modified variety.
Golden rice has been modified to contain beta-carotene. This can help combat Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) by letting the body convert it into Vitamin A, a nutrient that is necessary for various reasons.
VAD is common in poorer areas of the world where rice is a staple of the local diet. Relying on a carbohydrate-rich, micronutrient-poor food source such as rice almost inevitably leads to VAD, which can impair your vision, and sometimes lead to irreversible blindness, making you more vulnerable to infections, impairing your skeletal growth, and reducing your immune response.
The World Health Organization reports that in 2012 almost a quarter of a billion school children around the world suffered from VAD, and that providing these kids with Vitamin A could help prevent a third of deaths of children under age five, amounting to around 2.7 million children saved, per year. Propagating golden rice as an alternative to conventional rice could help combat this ghastly malady.
These are only two out of numerous example of why we need GM food sources to help feed future generations. Conventional, non-modified crops simply don't have a great enough yield for us to produce enough food for everyone, but GM foods might. If you fail to see this, you have a problem.
3. Opponents Regularly Abuse and Distort Scientific Findings
Opponents of GM food sources all too often resort to misusing science, relying on debunked/retracted studies to make their point, twist the words of credible scientists for their own gain, or straight-up lie. This is something you'll see over and over again when looking at articles online by anti-GMO writers and activists.
If they really had accurate scientific findings on their side there would be no need for them to distort facts and studies, or to misrepresent what the science actually says, and there would be no controversy.
I will use two example to illustrate my point. The first is an article that ran in the woman's magazine ELLE last year, about how one of their writer's allegedly cured a painful condition she was suffering, by stripping GMO corn from her diet, and how GMO foods can lead to allergies.
Slate.com publised a long post thoroughly debunking the ELLE article, interviewing the very same scientists and researchers the ELLE writer had originally spoken to. Every single one of them claimed they had been misquoted, had their views misrepresented or distorted, and some even contradicted the ELLE writer's points. You really should read the whole piece as it's well-written, well-researched, and emblematic of the intentional distortion of facts and statements happening on the anti-GMO side of this debate. (It is worth pointing out that this ELLE story uses a tactic of pretending there is debate or controversy on an issue, where there in reality is none, and the issue has been settled long ago. This is a tactic often used by anti-GMO writers. Do not trust it.)
The second example is that of the horrible, dreadful Vani Hari, aka "The Food Babe." Besides having given herself a stupid and self-aggrandizing nickname, her attacks on the food industry and GMOs specifically have been debunked so many goddamn times that I can't really believe people still take her seriously.
I don't want to link to her website because I don't want to contribute to even one iota of web traffic to her nonsense-filled website. Feel free to Google her if you want. Even better, Google "Debunking the Food Babe." However, I will link to this article that explains why her blog post on Fig Newtons (of all things) is a collection of pseudo-scientific, ignorant science-sounding babble that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
Hari claims that consumption of GM foods has been linked to allergies, and kidney and liver diseases. This is simply false and basically every single scientific body and regulatory entity in the world that studies the safety of GM foods disagree with her.
Do not trust her; she is a hack preying on the scientific illiteracy of her audience to make money. My friend and former college roommate Dan summed up the basis of The Food Babe's strategy: "Scary words are scary." Put differently, if someone throws hard-to-understand scientific phrases and words at you in the context of a scare-mongering piece about the dangers of GM foods, it's all too easy to fall for it. No one has claimed it's easy to be a smart and informed consumer, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
Please read these expert debunkings of Vani Hari if you want a deeper understanding of her scam tactics.
Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe: The Jenny McCarthy of Food (Science Based Medicine)
The New Yellow Journalism (Brookstone Beer Bulletin)
The Food Babe is Anything but an Expert on GMOs (The Montreal Gazette)
My final word on Hari is this: She has claimed that major food corporations "are trying to poison us slowly by using cheap and harmful ingredients." This is a sinister and stupid claim, and it leads me to my last point of this post:
4. Why would food producers try to kill or poison their customer base?
You'd have to be pretty dense to believe that food corporations are trying to poison their customers. That cannot seem like a sound business strategy even to the biggest mouth-breathing college drop-out.
This reminds me of the debacle in the 80's where several metal bands were accused of putting subliminal Satanic messages in their music, urging their fans to kill themselves. Stand-up comedian and social critic Bill Hicks stated the obvious when he asked "why the fuck would a band want their fans to kill themselves?"
The same goes here: what does a company have to gain by poisoning and presumably, in the end, killing their customers? Wouldn't one assume that this would get out after a while, and that these very same corporations trying to murder you would change their strategy? After all, all they seemingly care about is their profits, and murdering your customers is a sure-fire way to lose money in the long run.
Please relax about GMO foods. There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest that they are dangerous to your health, and in fact, there is evidence to suggest they are our best way of feeding future generations. (If you believe this to be untrue, please sit down and read about Norman Borlaug, aka "The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives," a scientist, scholar (and gentleman) who genetically tinkered with wheat to make it more durable and easy to grow in demanding conditions, and exported it to South America, India, and Pakistan. Based on projected starvation rates, he is credited with having saved over a billion people from starvation.)
Please be skeptical of people who make a living off of campaigning against innovations in crop technology and GM foods. They usually have something to sell, which should always invoke skepticism.
Sometimes, anti-GMO activists cross the line: In France this year, anti-GMO activists destroyed over one hectare of rapeseed trial crops, not realizing they weren't even genetically modified rapeseeds. This is, to put it mildly, not OK. Put matter-of-factly, it's criminal conduct and vandalism.
Even worse, in 2002 the government of Zambia refused to accept food donations in the middle of a goddamn famine and widespread starvation, because most of the food was GM maize from the US. Zambia's then-president Levy Mwanawasa said that "simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health."
This is where scientific illiteracy and ignorance about GM crops can turn genuinely lethal. When it goes this far, one should consider it a moral obligation to speak out against it.