Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

GM (Food) Opposition: Generally Misguided (Opinions)

Warning:  all those nervous types who remain convinced that the genetic engineering of food crops will destroy humanity, please look away now.  Okay?  Right.  There is now no serious scientific evidence that GM (genetically modified) crops do any harm to human health.  Official.

As Pi has pointed out in previous blogposts, there is an atavistic sector of humanity that violently resists the idea of the genetic modification of anything.  This is usually because it runs counter to “God’s Plan”, or fear that science will unleash some kind of Frankenstein Food-Monster which will kill us all off in mid-mouthful. 

The main pretext for thinking these apocalyptic thoughts is now in tatters.  A paper published in Food and Chemical Toxicology presented “evidence” that a type of GM herbicide-resistant maize had caused widespread cancer in rats.  Campaigners used the report to publicize their health-and-safety-based challenge to all GM crops, and scare people silly into the bargain.  Russia blocked imports of the maize concerned. The French threatened a Europe-wide ban on GM corn.  Kenya banned all GM crops.  Now these credulous governments have had to scrape egg off their faces.  The study’s credibility collapsed, and the toxicology journal that published it retracted it.

In reality, genetically modified crops have had far-reaching positive effects.  Humanity’s growing numbers will require more GM foods, not less.  It’s an interesting fact that one of our indispensable staple foodstuffs is itself the product of genetic hybridization, though it happened twelve thousand years ago and apparently by accident.  Fur-clad nomads in what later became Southeastern Turkey got caught in a thousand-year Ice Age, which killed off the animals and berries they lived on, and forced them to eat grass. Primitive cultivation ensued, and different kinds of grassy seeds got poked into the soil.  Goat-grass seeds cross-pollinated with wild einkorn grass, and accidental genetic mixing eventually produced what we now know as wheat. Thus increased food yield from genetic mutation was born,

History does not relate whether the early farmers of the time erupted in horror at this “genetic blasphemy”.  It seems improbable. They were more likely grateful to survive.  Their successors have continued to experiment with gene mixes, and over the centuries crop yields have grown from a quarter of a tonne per hectare to over eight tonnes, a 30-fold increase.  If the process stops, mankind will soon by facing widespread hunger again.

The shrill opponents of GM food, egged on by meddlesome public figures like Prince Charles (heir to the British throne) insist that the only safe way forward is organic farming.  This is nonsense.  Organic food production methods use too much land, threatening to put more and more of the Earth’s wild habitats under the plough, and increasing the need for agrochemical supplements – which the green-minded hand-wringers also decry.  Simple mathematics shows that organic farming alone will fail to feed the world’s growing population.

Americans seem to realize all this, but placard-waving pressure groups in Europe have succeeded in blocking GM technologies that save lives.  The Swedish government, as a for-instance, was funding an activist group that recently destroyed experimental GM rice-fields in the Philippines, where people need feeding.

When Pi says “stop the madness”, it’s not the gene-manipulators we’re talking to.  It’s the atavistic activists.

Zone: Flexibility Country: Multiple Geographies Product –