Here’s a thought that needs to be considered. Since the United States is not doing its part to fight global climate change, nature will not be able to keep up. This REQUIRES us to be open-minded about the advantages science offers to help our species adapt. Science-denial is one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess, but science can help mitigate the damage if it is embraced and supported in a reasonable, methodical and pro-active manner. One of the areas that must be re-evaluated by many is the use of GMO crops.
There is overwhelming evidence from unbiased sources that show the safety of these crops, many of which are modified explicitly to be able to grow under hotter and drier conditions, or in soil that would not otherwise support proper plant development. Already, without the use of GMO crops, it would be difficult to keep up with the food production needs of the planet. Within the next decade, there is little doubt left that human food will be largely reliant upon GMO crops for minimum sustainability. I propose that it is time to look at the science objectively and stop reacting to fear-based marketing that mostly just serves alternative health websites and their advertisers or overpriced processed food manufacturers.
Of course, wherever possible, we should all be doing our part to support local farmers and, if feasible, buying locally sourced organic produce. While there are no verifiable health advantages to eating organic foods under most circumstances, there is a huge advantage to preventing unnecessary poisons from entering the soil or affecting the farm workers. Coincidentally, GMO crops help to REDUCE the use of harmful poisons. Vilifying something just because it has been modified by science is counter to our own survival. (It should be noted, too, that some of the world’s most toxic substances are entirely “natural,” and organic pesticides can be just as, or even more, toxic than their synthetic cousins.)
Historically, genetic modification is nothing new. It just is done with more precision today than it had been in the past, but humans have been making GMO foods for arguably thousands of years. The term used to be “hybrid” — but the basic concepts are the same. Only now it is less guesswork and more targeted to find specific advantages. Of course, if every home had a built-in greenhouse and was powered by solar, and every high-rise had one side dedicated to a vertical forest, we could probably all be feasting on delicious heirloom vegetables and fruits for generations to come, at least in first-world countries with such luxuries available.
As partners on this singular planet, however, we need to think very broadly about how we are all interconnected. What happens in a small country overseas does matter here at home. This is a simple humanitarian issue; it is also a cornerstone of world peace and countering the sort of extremism that comes out of desperation.
Now, because this blog is heavily devoted to issues related to cancer, I feel obligated to emphasize that GMO foods do not cause cancer. This insinuation has been spread around for many years, as though genetic engineering is the penultimate evil of our time. It isn’t.
Monsanto may have predatory business practices and it may unjustly go after farmers who inadvertently mingle patented seed with their crops. But that does not make the basis of the science used by Monsanto evil, or even bad, or even wrong. Without the very simplistic critical thinking skills required to separate a corporate business decision from the product, it becomes impossible to have a discussion about the product’s merits. We recently saw what happened to an important, inexpensive HIV drug that was acquired by a predatory drug company — throughout that unconscionable price gouging scenario, most people remained able to see the difference between the corporate pirate behind the deed and the product itself. Such has often not been the case with GMOs. Monsanto is not GMO, it is a company that manufactures and sells products across a broad spectrum. Conflating the sometimes questionable business practices of a parent company with the value of a product it sells is unsound thinking.
I do favor more transparency and oversight with regard to Genetically Modified foods. Part of this is because I believe consumers would understand them better if they were more out in the open. But most efforts to date have come with the implication that we need labels so we know what to avoid. And the voluntary labeling of foods as “non-GMO” along side such labels as “heart healthy” or “a good source of calcium” makes it appear that “non-GMO” is a real health issue. This is a marketing ploy that takes advantage of fears, but has nothing to do with health. (And looking deeper at the nutrition information on many products that are a “good source” of some vitamin or mineral, it is often clear that the same products are also even better sources of sodium, fats, and sugars, making them genuinely unhealthy options for whatever they are supposedly good sources of.)
We live in a society that relies far too heavily on labels, sound bytes, memes, Tweets, and out-of-context headlines. If we all make the effort to vet the sources of our information and demand high standards of reliability in choosing the sources we trust, we can commit to ensuring solid context for the information used as we form our opinions. Choosing verifiable facts over conjecture is a good place to begin. And in the case of GMO crops, the conjecture might often lead toward panic or distrust, but the verifiable facts consistently show a different picture.
Does this mean that we should blindly trust everything coming out of big corporations? Absolutely not. Does this mean we should blindly trust everything the government says is okay? Absolutely not. Blind trust is the equivalent of leaving everything to faith and removing personal responsibility from the equation. We will always have to deal with profiteers and power-hungry people who try to take advantage of others. These sad truths about humanity only double down on the need for a commitment to vetting sources and using critical thinking. Fortunately for us, we live in an age where data is widely available on almost everything. Data overload is used to obfuscate facts by those seeking to take advantage, but with patience, it is possible to see past the pseudo-science and fearmongering that floods social media.
We all know that there is more than one side from which to view most issues. However, by weighing the good and bad, the cost and the reward, without assuming up front that what we thought we knew was automatically correct, regardless of the depth of our emotional conviction, we can see a bigger picture. It takes a willingness, sometimes, to assume we could be wrong — but without embracing that possibility, it can be difficult to actually seek the truth. And it would be nice to believe that we actually all want to seek the truth.
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