It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that people base their positions on purely emotional responses, ones usually devoid of scientific evidence, solid reasoning, or at times even rational thought.
Our history is spotted with such ‘beliefs’: the world is flat, women should not be allowed to vote, it’s fine to own slaves, all Muslims are bad based on the acts of ISIS, transgender people are all a threat to children, and, for the purposes of this column, pasteurization is not safe, and more recently, genetically modified crops are not safe.
In times at least some of the above have come to be recognized as positions at best based on ignorance, although it should be pointed out there are still those who believe all of the above, including that the earth is flat.
None of the above changed overnight, nor will any of those which still hold sway among many in the world today.
But in time it is to be hoped the concern over genetically modified (GM) crops quiets for most.
The first step to that understanding is to recognize many crops which we grow have been significantly modified through human intervention, and not by recent science but by farmers and plant breeders working decades, if not centuries, ago.
There was an interesting story on the website of The Telegraph, a well-known British news publication, recently.
“Where does modern corn on the cob come from?” began the article at www.telegraph.co.uk.
“Well-informed diners will know the answer: Latin America. But what they probably don’t know is that it never grew there naturally. Humans created it.
“Six to 10 thousand years ago, some innovative Mesoamerican farmers noticed that whereas most varieties of teosinte grass produced lots of branches with a few edible kernels on each, others produced fewer branches. So they started breeding grass that produced good kernels with grass that didn’t produce as many branches. The result: the enormous, delicious, modern corn.
“Almost no one regards corn with suspicion. But the same can’t be said for humans’ ingenious ability to engineer the plants we eat. Genetically modified (GM) crops are viewed with such hostility that they are barely grown in Europe. However, a new study by an independent group of scientists, who have done the most comprehensive review of the evidence so far, shows that our aversion to GM food is pointless, unscientific and harmful to farmers.”
The recent report has at least caught some press beyond that dedicated to the agriculture sector, and that is important.
Most farmers are aware that GM crops are safe.
It is consumers who have fears, based most on rhetoric, or the growing fear of science which they no longer fully grasp, which is not so much different from the initial reaction to pasteurization.
It should be added many farmers feared the first steel plows fearing they would spoil the soil, and holding on to using wooden plows for a time.
In the case of GM crops the new report on their being safe is an extensive one, a 400-page paper by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which took two years to compile and involved 20 academics examining 900 pieces of evidence, and 700 submissions from the public.
When I posted something about the report on Facebook there were immediate suggestions by some that scientists are beholden to ‘big pharma’ so they were not about to come down against GM crops.
In the case of this study it was funded by a combination of US government and independent charitable cash, which should belie the concerns of the scientists being in anyone’s corporate pockets.
The study showed what farmers have long known, after years and years, extending into decades, of use: there is no evidence of an adverse impact on human health, nor are there signs of environmental devastation.
Many among the public point to such concerns, and still hold out that any day now GM will evolve into something which devastates our health.
And yes, we need caution; asbestos, lead paint and DDT prove that. Of course we still sell cigarettes and have government collect healthy taxes off those sales which they have to use to pay for health care for all those people with cancers and other conditions caused by smoking, so the fights the public picks are a bit questionable too.
The Telegraph piece also noted “this is now the fourth major US-government-funded study since 1989 to find no evidence of particular harm caused by such farming. And that doesn’t include the dozens of private and non-US studies.”
This should be the closing chapter on the GM safety debate.
Yes we need to remain diligent in terms of approving new GM crops, but we should also be to the point where we trust the good science that creates them, and follow-ups to ensure they are safe.
There will be the ‘flat worlders’ who will never trust, but the majority should finally feel secure if they are paying attention to the evidence.