Really – because walking on the sidewalk involves risk, and eating genetically modified (GMO) foods also involves risk, consumers should eat GMO foods and not be concerned! That is just an odd argument, as is the American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman’s other contention – that because consumers embrace cell phone technology they should also embrace genetically modified food technology because, I guess, they are both new technologies.
There is no doubt that the ability to genetically modify life forms is a new and revolutionary technology but like other revolutionary technologies it promises both great benefits and carries great risk. Think of nuclear fission. For the time being the risk of worldwide nuclear war is less than when I was young but megalomaniacs still dream of the power they would wield if they had just one little bomb. Meanwhile nuclear proponents continue to promise low cost electricity, which is true, if we don’t count the costs of babysitting the residues for a million years.
Computing and internet technology has exciting possibilities and many of us, including me, are already completely dependent upon a laptop and an internet connection. But new revolutionary technologies all offer great benefits and potential great risk. Computing power and information freely flowing through the air and bouncing from satellite to satellite gives governments the power to monitor what we are doing, and saying, and whom we are doing and saying it with. History tells us that despots seize and keep power by spying on their citizens and using that information to instill fear and control. Computers and the internet provides huge benefits but if we are not careful, great risk too.
So far the benefits of genetically modified foods have been highly over hyped. One can certainly see the possibilities of food crops more resistant to drought and able to fix their own nitrogen but so far the genes that have been modified and commercialized have been about selling more herbicides and monopolizing the market for seeds. The roundup resistance traits may be convenient for farmers but not necessarily beneficial to consumers. The yields of GMO crops have not been greater than conventionally bred seeds and once all things have been considered, profits are not any better.
What is different because of GMO technology is the control exerted by a handful of corporations as they drive to eliminate competition. Monsanto, the leading GMO firm, has been particularly ruthless in controlling farmers and manipulating the market for its seeds and herbicides. Competition has been eliminated and we can no longer consider the plant science research coming out of the Universities to be truly independent. Science and the public good was the founding ideals of the Land Grant University system but now the scientists are dependent upon research grants from the handful of GMO dominating firms. I am sure the researchers believe that they are truthful in their findings, but I am not so sure that they are actually independent or neutral – so can we trust the assurances that the GMO foods are safe?
Then too we have the troubling issue of ethics. Can one own a life form? Who is responsible if that life form escapes and interbreeds with other crops and wild life forms mixing genes and causes harm? How do you even compensate or mitigate such a disaster? You might say the corporate owner of that life form would hold the liability for harm, but corporations exist to minimize responsibility so that is scant reassurance.
There is little so intimate and personal to daily life as deciding what you eat. If people are suspicious of consuming GMO foods, than I for one say more power to them, because they should not be made unwitting Guinea Pigs for some self-serving corporate behemoth. So Mr. Stallman, I do understand that your job as President of the American Farm Bureau is to shill for multi-national agriculture corporations, and that this is the reasoning behind your lame defense of GMOs and behind your lobbying to overturn Country of Origin labeling. But the act of choosing the food that you and your family eats is vitally important, so, please be careful in what you consume. Your health might depend upon it.
Grass Range, Montana