Its a common axiom among some people interested in food that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a bad idea. This sentiment ranges in intensity from those who think organic food is simply more nutritious to people who believe GMOs are destined to destroy the human race. Much like Brittany’s post about local food, I think this opinion might need a closer look. The following is by no means the whole discussion on GMOs, but hopefully it will raise some questions and lead to some good discussion.
I think the biggest reason people mistakenly demonize GMOs has nothing to do with the crops themselves, but rather the companies that produce them. The predatory nature of companies like Monsanto has been lamented by farmers and activists around them globe. Perhaps these business practices could be a topic of another post (or five or six posts!), but they really have nothing to do with the product.
It is also likely that the incredible rise in the popularity organic foods might have led some to dislike or distrust genetically engineered (GE) foods. The logic here seems valid at first glance: organic food is better, so GE food must be worse! But a closer look reveals several inconsistencies. Consider the Bt pesticide. Bt is a bacterium that has insecticidal properties but is considered safe for humans. Because Bt is naturally occurring, it can be used on organic crops without risk of losing organic certification. Not long ago, scientist discovered a way to insert genetic information from Bt into the genome of certain crops like corn and cotton. These “Bt crops” produce the same insecticide as the Bt bacterium and have been very successful since becoming available in 1996. Bt crops cannot be considered organic because of this genetic modification. So which is really better? Humans are still ingesting the Bt byproducts that have been proven safe (even the Europeans use Bt as a pesticide!), but the Bt crops do not require the additional environmental burdens of using water and burning fossil fuels that are required for pesticide application. Continue reading