Economy / Food / Opinion / Politics

GMO Cheat Sheet

Photo Credit: Monster Pete via Compfight cc

By Maren Tarro

— Stuck on how to explain to your neighbor why consumers need to know whether they’re holding a simple potato or the product of a laboratory-concocted frankenseed? Not sure how to respond to a politician’s smarmy assurance that Montsano and General Mills only have your bottom line in mind? Here are some easily digested rebuttals to the most common pro-GMO talking points.

GMOs enable farmers to increase yields and grow crops in areas affected by drought. How can you be against more food per acre that requires less water to produce?

Truth is, these assertions are largely unfounded. GMO seeds claiming to have higher yields and be drought-resistant simply haven’t panned out. While the aim to produce crops resistant to drought and in higher yields is admirable, studies show that it just hasn’t happened yet.

Labeling GMO foods would be costly to producers, and these costs would be passed on to consumers.

Food companies often change their labels. Every time a formula is changed or an ingredient is substituted, the label is changed. Many countries require GMO labeling, and any associated costs have been negligible.

These labeling laws would signal to consumers that GMOs are bad, and they would unfairly reject products. Food companies would have to go to great lengths to source non-GMOs in order to satisfy the demand for non-GMOs. Prices would skyrocket.

Food companies have been producing GMO-free products for years in European and Asian markets. They’re well-versed in how to go about producing products for a market unfriendly to genetically modified goods. Doing so stateside should be a walk in the park.

Humans have been genetically engineering plants and animals forever. Who cares if it’s in the lab or the farm?

Yes, we have long selectively chosen certain traits we found desirable, but the ability to cross the genetic threshold by tossing genes from one species (or kingdom) to another is a new development. There’s a big difference between pollinating one pea plant with the pollen of another pea plant. Throwing some eel DNA towards salmon DNA is a different ballgame. Cross pollination between two plants is not the same as inserting a gene from a bacterium into a plant as in the case of Bt corn.

But if you don’t want to eat GMOs you can just buy organic foods.

True, organic foods carrying an organic label cannot contain genetically modified ingredients. But this creates an economic divide in which those that can afford organic foods can avoid GMOs, and those that can’t afford the high price of certified chemical-free foods are left to eat what their dollar can buy. Why should people on a budget have no choice?

There’s no proof GMOs are dangerous to humans.

Even if you don’t think they are hurting us on a personal level, we all have to consider the environmental impact: GMOs have allowed farmers to apply copious amounts of pesticides and herbicides to crops that end up in our water supply. They’ve also led to the proliferation of superweeds—undesirable plants that resist herbicides—that cannot be dealt with using what we have come to describe as conventional herbicides. Sure, we can maybe bioengineer our way out of this problem, but perhaps the appearance of superweeds suggests we have a ways to go toward understanding our impact on the natural world and its impact on us.

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