GM food: time to devour the benefits
GM food doesn't need labelling; it needs celebrating.
One of spiked’s people of the year for 2014 was Kenya’s Florence Wambugu, a pioneering and tireless supporter of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and biotechnology in food production in the developing world. Sadly, support for GMOs is singularly lacking in the developed world.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the battle currently being waged over GMOs in a courthouse in the US state of Vermont. In this case, federal judge Christina Reiss is deciding whether or not to dismiss the state’s mandatory labelling laws for GM food, which are due to be introduced in 2016. The first question she must consider is whether consumers should be made aware that the food they are eating ‘may be produced with genetic engineering’.
Labelling advocates say it is necessary to provide information, but this is disingenuous. The underlying goal of this legislation is to cast ‘evil’ GM foods aside in favour of ‘natural’ products. If the labelling law goes ahead, it would amount to the stamping of GM-food packaging with a suggestive warning label. It would imply that GM foods are unsafe.
Under the proposed law, producers and manufacturers of GM foods won’t be able to label their food as ‘natural’. But what is a ‘natural’ food? As Reiss wryly observed, ‘I can’t imagine any food that doesn’t have human intervention’. Reiss is right, but the notion that ‘natural’ is somehow better is ubiquitous today. Like the anti-vaccine movement, the anti-GM movement seeks to gain support by claiming that foods are ‘unnatural’ when what they really mean is ‘manmade’. And they are correct; GM foods are ‘unnatural’. But this is precisely why we should be praising them as triumphs. No matter how much ‘nature’ goes in to developing a new strain of disease-resistant cocoa bean, a nutritionally beneficial Golden rice or a new ebola vaccine, we rely on complicated science, thousands of hours of advanced research and sheer human inquisitiveness to come up with a viable solution. Mother Nature is just not cutting it in the twenty-first century.
In keeping with the ever-more-cautious outlook of our time, the anti-GM movement has gained in strength in the US. It appears to be on the cusp of joining the increasing list of new ‘liberal’ orthodoxies. If you believe the claims of The Letter From America, nearly 60million people have signed an open letter to warn the citizens of the UK and Europe of the dangers of letting GMOs into their communities. Such fearmongering not only seeks to shut down sensible debate, it also rides roughshod over the wishes and needs of the people of the UK, Europe and the developing world. And it ignores the desire of farmers to increase their yields, raise their productivity and improve their livelihoods.
Those calling for us to stop using GMOs until they are proven safe often cite quotes such as this from the British Medical Association: ‘Safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.’ Not exactly a solid statement of anti-GM opposition. If, as the anti-GM movement suggests, we adopt the ‘wait until it is proven 100 per cent safe’ level of precaution in all human pursuits, progress in any field would become near impossible. Never mind that the US Department of Agriculture estimates that 90 per cent of US corn and soy is already produced using GMOs without any noticeable side effects. And Gaia forbid that anyone should dare suggest that it might be worth the risk if it increases crop yields, adds nutritional value or saves some malnourished kids’ lives.
The development of GMOs for our food sources is an amazing and wonderful human achievement. Science doesn’t ‘just happen’, and revolutions in food, agriculture and medicine are not born of a maleficent desire to cause harm on the part of Big Pharma or Big Food. Rather, it is a genuine desire to improve our lives that leads us to develop these meaningful, lifesaving innovations. GMOs can potentially transform our world for the better – and that is something worth devouring.
Neil Ross is US programme director at spiked.
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