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Past Posts’ Positions on GMOs

February 12, 2015

No single person has read every post on the FLB. My father hasn’t. My mother hasn’t. Even Mrs. Fussy who helps to copy edit the thing almost every morning takes an occasional day (or week) off. She’s sitting this one out today, because she can’t stand to read my posts about GMOs anymore.

That’s just one of the reasons I stopped writing on the subject. The other was that I didn’t want the FLB to become the anti-GMO blog. For a while in the beginning the FLB was starting to feel like the “Chipotle is awesome” blog. And then it was All Good Bakers all the time, or at least it was for a spell. Don’t forget that time I picked up the gauntlet of the salmon police.

What can I say? I’m a passionate guy and sometimes I go through phases.

There were two good questions yesterday about my stance on GMOs however, and I thought this would be the right time to clarify my position on this technology, largely by looking back to what I’ve already written. This is a complex issues, with lots of nuance, and it’s not really possible to convey all of that in one blog post. ButI think you will find I’ve been pretty consistent over time with my arguments.

Okay. Here we go. I’ll start with short answer responses to the direct questions.

Jack C. wrote:

Serious question time – what’s your beef with GMO beet sugar? You say it’s insidious, but there’s little evidence to suggest that the product itself is harmful. The business practices of the companies patenting the crops are surely insidious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the product will harm you. You can oppose GMOs on political grounds but still recognize the benefits that some of these products have – GMOs with resistance to disease and drought, for instance, have helped save countless lives around the world.

GMO sugar beets aren’t saving lives. They aren’t engineered for resistance to disease or drought. They are engineered for resistance to glyphosate, a powerful herbicide. No, I’m not convinced GMO beet sugar will harm you any more than any other kind of sugar. As you mentioned, the insidious part is more about the business practices, how quickly it replaced cane sugar, and how its presence is largely invisible to the consumer. Also it encourages the use of glyphosate. As a big believer in biodynamic farms, I think that’s a bad idea.

Billy wrote:

Where is the empirical evidence that GMOs are harmful? Bueller? Bueller?

And I know you all know what empirical means, but I want to state the definition so there’s no misunderstanding of my point.

Empirical: Verifiable by observation or experience rather than by theory or pure logic.

Obviously, if there was a bulletproof study, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. My argument however has never been that GMOs are harmful to human health. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. And I’m not about spreading fear. My issues with GMO crops are different. We’ll get into some of them below, but for starters, I am deeply discomforted by the idea of a few for-profit corporations holding the patents on the world’s food.

Okay, so I’ve tried to grab a bunch of the important posts I’ve written on the topic. Maybe a few fell through the cracks. Any omissions are purely the result of carelessness and not intended to suppress an idea from the past.

1/21/10 – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the GMO
A non-bulletproof study was released that raised my awareness and concern about GMOs. Not only did it make me realize that they are in practically everything, but I also came to terms with the inevitability of it all.  If these scientifically altered plants are not as safe as was originally purported, the damage is likely already done. They exist. Their pollen is in the air. And what we choose to eat may not be able to change these organisms’ place in the food chain. That said, I still try to keep them out of the house.

1/21/11 – The Little Rascals
The title of this post still makes me chuckle, because it’s about GMO alfalfa and the shenanigans in its regulatory approval. Alfalfa is different than the other previously approved GMO crops. And the potential for GM contamination was much higher. So much so that big organic dairy took up the charge to try and fight it, but ultimately lost.

8/25/11 – Strange Bedfellows
The idea here is that if you want to get GMOs out of the food supply, the solution won’t come from buying local, government intervention, or grassroots consumer activism. It will come from big business seeing profit potential, and I suggested Walmart could be a powerful ally in this endeavor.

4/27/12 – Food, Science and Transparency
“I believe there is a fundamental difference between crossbreeding similar plants and inserting specific genes into a plant’s genome so that it produces an insecticide that runs through its veins.” I’m not anti-science, but I am pro transparency. This is why I advocate for labeling. I’d even be okay with “pink slime” in ground beef if it were labeled appropriately (and not called “ground” beef).

2/21/13 – Patents, Pesticides, Profits and Plants
There was a case that went to the Supreme Court about a farmer saving seeds and trying to get around Monsanto’s licensing agreement. Except in this case the farmer was totally a jerk, and totally in the wrong. I was pissed this was the case that was brought to the court. Saving seeds is an important thing for our global food security, and the state of industrial agriculture now, thanks to the patent protection and deep pockets of big ag, has had a disastrous effect on this practice.

5/7/13 – More than Monsanto
Here’s what I know. 1) Science saves lives. 2) Our ecosystem is vast and complex. 3) Science sometimes gets it wrong. The concern is that when scientists start tinkering around with the ecosystem in profound and potentially irreversible ways, we’re asking for trouble. And the issue is larger than Monsanto, which just happens to be the rhetorical boogeyman. “Taking it down” would solve nothing.

5/21/13 – Don’t Be an Anti-Science Elitist
There was a rally against Monsanto. I didn’t like that. As much as I’m opposed to the massive planting of glyphosate resistant corn, soy, and canola. And as much as I think the drive to GE alfalfa was rushed to market, I’m opposed to the rhetoric that Monsanto is evil. I do believe that the people who work there are convinced they are feeding the world. Protesters have some valid points, but when they come off as anti-science they are hurting their own cause.

5/31/13 – So Much For No GMO Wheat
The crop that was not supposed to exist was found growing wildly in Oregon. And Monsanto had a priceless reaction to the regulators. Pretty much they said that the only enterprise that could reliably test for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat is Monsanto. This exposes part of the larger problem about these crops.

10/18/13 – Fear Mongering
This wasn’t about GMOs per se, but I wanted to include a piece to show how I actively fight against those who would have you fear your food. Do not take the pleasure out of eating. Of course, you can also take pleasure in knowing who made your food and how it was produced.

Hope that helps to contextualize my thoughts.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2015 11:46 am

    The whole — “GMOs aren’t saving lives, they exist for profit, blah, blah, blah…” line feels like a cop out and is still sort of dangerous. Laymen (non-scientist) food writer types have poisoned the discourse concerning GMOs to the point where actual scientists might be discouraged from doing research that might someday save lives.

    The “I just want transparency” thing isn’t working for me either. If you want transparency don’t participate in the GMO circle jerk that boogeyman-izes the concept of GMOs.

    • February 12, 2015 12:40 pm

      What you raise is a larger issue about science and funding, and it’s an interesting one about the role of government, universities and private enterprise. This works much differently today than it did 50 years ago, and I think we are seeing its effects. But I’m not going to take that on in the context of a food blog.

      Sorry to hear the call for transparency thing isn’t working for you. Personally, I think it’s inevitable. The big question now is how much will the big food companies be able to dilute whatever labeling plan comes to fruition.

  2. Jack C permalink
    February 12, 2015 12:50 pm

    I’m glad to hear your opposition isn’t necessarily due to fear of actually consuming a GMO. I do, in fact, oppose GMOs, but not the GMOs themselves – I oppose the business practices and lack of biodiversity they can cause. Resistance to an herbicide is an important trait – some of the plants herbicides kill are invasive and can affect crop yields. So while sugar beets themselves aren’t necessary for our diets, the properties yielded through the genetic modifications can still save lives.

    That said, the predatory business practices of the Monsantos of the world can really put people out of business and – more importantly – force dependence on a single species/breed of certain crops. That’s dangerous stuff – with the often unpredictable effects of climate change and ease of travel, exotic diseases and droughts may end up killing off the GMO species we depend on. Without biodiversity, other species that are more resilient to those new threats won’t be readily available. You can genetically modify an organism to resist predictable threats, but there’s no way to eliminate all susceptibility.

  3. Teres Speer permalink
    February 26, 2015 10:42 pm

    Nice Job! it’s been difficult for me to find individuals who are willing to wade thru the mountains of reading it takes to come to informed opinion. if Facebookers were as intelligent as they think they are, they would have been all over this 4 yrs ago. nary a peep. my reading goal is to delve into the potential issues we might face w/ Layering. but even that may not matter. i’m seeing some very interesting approaches and questions being asked, that may obviate many of our concerns. I was in high school during the DDT disaster and worked in agricultural entomology for a while. if we can reign in the corporations, i think we’ll be ok. i don’t want gmos in my food . too late for that. we need to be practical. i hope we can find new questions to ask.

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