Why I’m Pro-GMO

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Guest blog post by Kristie Swenson as she explains why she’s pro-GMO.

 

Danforth Plant Science Center GMO

Plant Science Center

The topic of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance.  I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue.  If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations, and so on.  It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.

Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO.  I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified?  No, I don’t.  But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.

Take papayas, for example.  In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus.  A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry.  In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced.  (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)

Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing?  I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs.  I’m just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification.  The citrus industry comes to mind, as it’s been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB).  In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus.  Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.

To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools.  Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand.  People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference.  You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes.  And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.

I understand people have questions and concerns.  It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective.  In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true.  What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else.  I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find.  I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe, but why you believe it. 

 

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16 Comments on Why I’m Pro-GMO

  1. avatar
    Amy P. says:
    January 28, 2014

    Even though I am 100% against GMO’s, I could not agree more with your last paragraph. People need to know why they believe in anything. The majority of people have never done the research for themselves on any subject. They are willing to just go with the flow. If you are going to talk about something know your subject! Do not take any one’s word for it. Be responsible for your knowledge!

    • avatar
      January 28, 2014

      Just curious Amy, what sources are you looking at in regards to GMOs, both pro-GMO and anti-GMO?

    • avatar
      Kristie Swenson says:
      February 13, 2014

      Amy, I’m the author of this guest blog post and I sincerely appreciate your agreement about being responsible for your knowledge. Thanks for commenting! I apologize for the delay in posting this response. If you happen to see this, would you mind sharing why you’re against GMOs? I’m always curious to hear other people’s perspectives and reasons.

    • avatar
      Jackie Robin says:
      February 14, 2014

      Amy, I agree that you need to be responsible for your knowledge…especially these days with so much information on various websites, it’s important to make sure you are going to reliable sources for your info. We need to trust the experts and be careful of pseudo-science. Being a non-scientist, and living in one of the best countries on this planet, call me crazy, but I believe that our government regulatory bodies are trustworthy – on the topic of GMOs, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency both say GM technology is safe.

      Wanda’s point about knowing not just what you believe, but why you believe it is important too – beware the logical fallacies to which we are all susceptible!

      • avatar
        Jeremy says:
        March 28, 2014

        Amy’s probably just a joiner. She’s almost certainly a hipster who jumped on the antiscience bandwagon.

        Some reliable sources tearing down the antis’ arguments:

        American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques, the AAAS Board of Directors has concluded. Legally mandating labels on GM foods could therefore “mislead and falsely alarm consumers…”
        http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/AAAS_GM_statement.pdf

        U.S. National Academy of Sciences: “To date more than 98 million acres of genetically modified crops have been grown worldwide. No evidence of any human health problems associated with the ingestion of these crops or resulting food products have been identified.”
        http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977

        Food and Agriculture Organization: “Scientists generally agree that genetic engineering can offer direct and indirect health benefits to consumers (ICSU). Direct benefits can come from improving the nutritional quality of foods (e.g. Golden Rice), reducing the presence of toxic compounds (e.g. cassava with less cyanide) and by reducing allergens in certain foods (e.g. groundnuts and wheat).”
        http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5160E/y5160e10.htm#P3_1651The

        American Medical Association: ”There is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods. Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”
        http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/csaph/a12-csaph2-bioengineeredfoods.pdf

        World Health Organization: ”No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
        http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

        Royal Society of Medicine: ”Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.”
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2408621/

        European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation: ”The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are no more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”
        http://ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/pdf/a_decade_of_eu-funded_gmo_research.pdf

    • avatar
      Peggy G says:
      June 18, 2018

      I’m curious what you think about other plant breeding techniques, like mutagenesis, which is how thousands of food plants are bred (including organic ones.)
      I also wonder if you know that insulin is made through genetic engineering, so if you have any diabetic family members or friends, their lives depend on GMOs!
      Science is pretty awesome and knowledge is power.

  2. avatar
    Alex says:
    February 26, 2014

    I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on GE papayas…Aren’t these completely banned in Europe? What do they know that we don’t?

    I would also like to hear your thoughts on the resistance that weeds and pests have developed because of the use of GE seed. Are we creating super weeds/pests?

    Here is a recent USDA report that lists some of the findings: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162/report-summary.aspx

    • avatar
      February 27, 2014

      Alex, Thank you for your comments. I will try to address them. Many times people will hear that certain GMO plant are banned in Europe. When actuality, Europe has just not approved them. There is a difference between an outright ban and not approved. Europe is looking very hard at GE seeds currently and I do expect them to start approving some of them. Also, the resistance in weeds. Yes, there are weeds that are developing a resistance to Round Up. But this is what weeds do. No matter what the crop protectant we use, weeds use their biological ways to change so they can survive. That is why they are called weeds. What to do? Companies are working on other crop protectant measures to deal with these weeds. Just like they have been doing for years and years.

    • avatar
      Kristie Swenson says:
      February 27, 2014

      Hi Alex,
      Thank you for reading and for your comments. In regard to the question about GE papayas being completely banned in Europe, the source that I found said, “GE papayas have not been approved for sale in the EU. No application for approval has been submitted.” http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/fruit_vegetables/14.genetically_modified_papayas_virus_resistance.html

      I found an interesting 2001 report (yep, I know it’s outdated, but it does a good of explaining the formation of biotechnology regulations in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s) by the Council on Foreign Affairs that talks about the differences in US and EU regulations and policies, and how they have changed over the past 40+ years. The report shows how politics (and public opinion) have played and continue to play a large role in the regulation of biotechnology, even though the outcomes are different. Here are 2 passages from the report:

      “The differences between the US and the EU regulatory policies are striking… Nearly three-quarters of all genetically modified crops are grown in the United States, hardly any are grown in Europe. The EU and a number of Member States have enacted strict labeling requirements, while US labeling requirements are more modest, only requiring only the labels of products which differ from their non-genetically modified counterparts. While issues regarding the safety and environmental impact of GM foods and seeds continue to surface in the United States, to date their policy impact has been remarkably modest, unlike in Europe where public opposition to GMOs has been relatively effective. [57]”

      “Why have some American regulatory policies, including those governing GMOs, become less risk adverse than in the past? While a full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, a few points can be noted. First, unlike in Europe, the political saliency of consumer and environmental policies in the United States has declined over the last fifteen years. Their appearance on the American political agenda has become sporadic rather than sustained. Secondly, unlike in Europe, where the political strength of civic interests has increased, in America their influence has diminished. This is in large measure due to the changes in partisan politics.”

      I encourage you to read the report in its entirety: http://www.cfr.org/agricultural-policy/regulation-gmos-europe-united-states-case-study-contemporary-european-regulatory-politics/p8688

      I’ll address your question about superweeds in a second comment (this one is getting long!).

      • avatar
        February 27, 2014

        That was very interesting Kristie! Loved the different insights. I did not realize that 3/4 of the GE crops grown in the U.S. are hardly grown in Europe. Thank you.

    • avatar
      Kristie Swenson says:
      February 27, 2014

      Hi Alex,
      I am curious about what your thoughts on super weeds and super pests, and why you think there are differences in what’s allowed in the US vs EU.

      Regarding the “superweeds” and “super pests”, I assume you mean weeds or pests that are resistant to herbicides or insecticides – is that correct? Also, let me clarify: are you asking if weeds are “cross-breeding” with herbicide-resistant crops to create offspring that is herbicide resistant? And for “super pests”, are you asking if pests ingest the GE crop, then mutate and become resistant to the GE crop? I want to accurately address your question.

      Please know that resistance to herbicides was around before GE crops became available. I don’t think the GE technology itself created resistant weeds (meaning that I don’t think GE crops and weeds often cross-pollinate to develop resistant offspring). I do think that relying on 1 herbicide creates weed management problems in the long-run. Nor do I think that insects ingest the GE crop, which triggers a mutation in the insect’s DNA to produce resistant offspring. I do think that farmers need to scout their fields for insects and take proper management steps. For example, the only time we use insecticide is IF we have soybean aphids. If we do get soybean aphids, then we continue monitoring the fields, and if we reach 250 aphids per plant (the economic threshold for aphids) then we’ll spray for aphids.

      http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2013/05/superweed/ is a blog post that addresses the topic of resistant weeds. 2 professors (1 Assistant Prof and 1 Associate Prof) at the University of Wyoming run this blog, and they have good links to research.

      • avatar
        Kristie Swenson says:
        February 27, 2014

        I just re-read my comment and I should clarify this: “Nor do I think that insects ingest the GE crop, which triggers a mutation in the insect’s DNA to produce resistant offspring.”

        I probably should have wrote, “I don’t think that ingesting GE crops triggers a genetic mutation in insects to produce resistant offspring.” Maybe that’s clearer?

  3. avatar
    lacolombian says:
    April 19, 2014

    Very good article. I’m glad you pointed people to the direction of conducting their own research. That’s how we all should be viewing everything we do.

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