Genetic Modification, the direct manipulation of an organisms genes by processes other than selective breeding, exists. As much as people want to put the genie back in the bottle, it will never go back. The processes for genetic engineering are almost trivial at this point. While tedious and prone to mistakes (though the techniques are getting better and better), almost anyone with a decent knowledge of science practices and genetics can do it.
In spite of the efforts of citizen groups throughout the US and the rest of the world, genetic engineering is here and it’s here to stay. The benefits of this technology are legion. There are dangers though. It would be remiss to not talk about the dangers of genetically modified Lassa fever or even influenza. The technology is sound. It works and the results can be astounding. It’s humans, as usual, that screw everything up.
Genetic modification of organisms really came to the fore in 1978, when Herbert Boyer managed to insert the human insulin gene into E. coli bacteria and produce human insulin. I don’t think that there’s a person on this planet that would prefer the insulin obtained from human cadavers (and the diseases that they carry) to bacterially produced insulin. Soon after, bacteria were used to produce clotting factors for hemophiliacs and growth hormone for those with dwarfism.
A recent discovery may pave the way for cavity free future. Modifying the bacteria in our mouths to not produce lactic acid may remove cavities from the list of human medical problems.
GM crops are exactly the same. If it weren’t for genetically modified papaya, the papaya may very well be extinct. Humans have been genetically modifying crop plants since 1982. GM crops have been around longer than cell phones and wi-fi.
We’ve been eating or using GM plants since 1994 when the first GM plant was approved for sale. In spite of the recent spate of fear mongering, there is little, if anything to fear from properly used and tested GM organisms. And they are properly tested. Yes, the testing is done by companies. Often, testing is also done by independent parties. Just because testing is done by companies, it doesn’t mean that we can’t trust the results. It means that the results should be repeatable by other parties… and they are. I think it safe to say that major ag companies don’t want a lawsuit caused by their product anymore than anyone else. Again, as is true of all science, trust, but verify.
Currently, in the US, 93% of soybeans are GM (and soybeans are in almost all processed food and animal feed). GM Corn is 75-85% of all corn grown (and corn and derivatives are in almost all processed food). GM Cotton is 75-82% of all cotton grown. I don’t see protesters yelling about GM cotton in their jeans. Canola oil… 87-90% comes from GM rapeseed. Dozens of other crops are grown including rice, sugar beets, tobacco, and fruits.
Genetically modified animals are used in research on human diseases. GM mosquitoes may prevent the spread of Dengue fever in Florida and Brazil.
Just like nuclear weapons, the internet, and politicians, GM organisms are an integral part of our society and our world. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle. What we can do is encourage truth, not fear. I can’t think of anyone else who said it better than Frank Herbert.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
The fears promoted by any group, be it anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, any political party or activist organization, are mind-killers. They know and we know it. The goal is to prevent rational thought, to evoke emotion and the second most powerful emotion is fear. That fear can be harnessed and used for many purposes.
The recent GMO labeling laws (California and Washington) are perfect examples. Fear is used as a weapon in what is nothing more than a marketing scam. Prevent the use of GM crops and therefore, increase the market share of organic products.
Fear, not evidence.
We must continue to fight fear with evidence and we must train our children to not fear, but to think. When they do that, the status quo will be irrevocably altered.
For now, the people of this world must accept that GMOs are here and they aren’t going anywhere. The benefits are too great and the problems are well understood and controlled as much as possible with living things. The evidence is that no GMO causes cancer, no GMO causes any disease or body system malfunction, and no GMO damages the environment any more than any other form of farming (and may cause less damage).