THE BLOG

GMOs Are On Your Side--Why Aren't You on Theirs?

05/22/2015 08:30 am ET | Updated May 12, 2016

Researchers are working on genetically modifying apples to be resistant to bacteria, potentially saving farmers tens of millions each year, and making them significantly cheaper for consumers--the apples would be otherwise unchanged, the same as average apples. Along that same alley, there is also a project underway to genetically modify apples to vaccinate against certain viruses, particularly one commonly responsible for pneumonia. How cool is that? An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. Scientists are also working on broccoli that can help prevent cancer, and tomatoes that carry higher quantities of vitamins and antioxidants than their average counterparts.

There are projects all over the world, undergone by companies, humanitarian organizations, and universities, that aim to improve our food in some way through the use of genetic modification. Some allow higher yields with less water--a key development in places like California, where resources are in short supply, and food exports in high demand--or allow food to keep longer without rotting, or grow without needing pesticides. If these all sound like great agricultural advancements, you're right, they are. If you're convinced that these modifications in some way negatively impact your health, good luck finding a peer reviewed study that supports your concern, and better luck finding a company that doesn't immediately change its 'recipe' if a causation between their crops and an illness is found.

Let's get something immediately out of the way--as evil as corporations may be, the last thing they want to do is kill their consumers. If you're like me, aside from housing, you spend most of your income on food, and that's good for their business. If we all got sick from their food, that would be quite bad for business. Monsanto, for example, may extort farmers across the globe, and monopolize the industry for corn and soy, and we can hate them for that, but their products have not been found to increase the risk of illness any more than conventional corn and soy--the fact of the matter is that corn, soy, rice, and grains in general just aren't that good for you to begin with, but due to their prevalence in human diets across the globe, some humanitarian organizations are actually attempting to modify them to include crucial vitamins that are otherwise lacking in grain-heavy diets. This means that some GMO's are provably healthier than their average counterparts (we'll get back to that later).

According to various sources, at least 60-80% of the food on grocery store shelves contains genetically modified ingredients. If you think you're avoiding it, you're probably not. Don't worry, though, because unless you have a dietary health restriction, this likely isn't affecting your health in the least. Companies like Chipotle have launched "Anti-GMO" campaigns, and many of us are fooled by this ploy. If anything, these campaigns are tricking us into eating food that just isn't healthy to begin with, no matter how organic it may be. Again, Chipotle is a prime example.

On the flip side, humanitarian movements like "The Golden Rice Project" are taking the brunt of anti-GMO sentiment, which is literally costing lives. Countries along the Asian continent and throughout the pacific ocean survive on rice-based diets. These diets, however, lack vitamin A, and nearly 2 million preventable deaths happen each year due to vitamin A deficiency. Fortunately, science came to the rescue, as science often does, and a strain of rice was developed that produces more than enough vitamin A to prevent the majority, if not all, of these deaths simply by planting the genetically modified seed instead of the original strain. What happened? Anti-GMO campaigns blocked the non-profit launch of the grain in the suffering countries, claiming that it was useless, and even harmful, without any basis for their claims. The truly offensive part is that the genetic modification didn't even involve the splicing of foreign DNA, but merely the activation of genes already present in the rice. As far as GMOs go, this strain of rice barely fits into the category, but that's exactly the problem--People don't understand what GMOs are, and popular media has done a great job of turing that uncertainty into fear.

As The Golden Rice Project shows, tossing all GMOs into the same category is a mistake to begin with, as the processes, purposes, and outcomes of genetic modification vary as greatly as the sub-genres of the medical field. Saying that a GMO meant to prevent cancer is dangerous because a different GMO meant to grow faster and off-season was found to increase the risk of cancer (this is a totally fiction example, by the way) is like saying vaccines don't work because an anti-migraine medication was found to be ineffective. It doesn't make logical sense. If any GMOs are found to be harmful, isolate your fury towards that particular GMO, as others aren't going to be related, or likely carry the same risks. This is why marking GMOs is also a mistake. They don't all fit into the same category. It would be like replacing all of the species signs at zoos with one sign that just said "animal" and every time you went to a zoo you would have no idea which "animal" you were looking at.

We already face a starving world. We are lucky, in the United States, that we even have the option between GMO and non-GMO, but don't turn that choice into a campaign that costs lives. 88 percent of scientists polled agreed that GM foods are safe to eat (this statistic excludes the answer that there is no preponderance of evidence either way, so this means that 88% of scientists are comfortable claiming that the food is safe, regardless of counter-studies), whereas only 37% of Americans (non-AAAS) polled felt comfortable calling them safe. That statistic is humiliating just on the basis that so many people either disagree with or aren't aware of the positions of scientists on an issue that they are willing to pass legislation on. It boarders on the same level of naivety as anti-vaxers and climate change-deniers.

If a GMO is found to be harmful, we'll stop using it. There is no reason to send all GMOs to the gallows because of it. Don't let your government pass legislation without proper knowledge. Encourage them to represent you, the rational and informed people that you are, and demand that they allow GMOs the same consideration as any other technology. Change can be difficult, and uncertainty frightening, but it's our responsibility to educate ourselves before that lack of knowledge turns into a dire mistake. For the sake of the two million lives lost each year, if nothing else, suspend your fear and read up on the research--or trust the scientists.