Why I Love GMO Foods
I know this is a little different than the prompt this week, but I wanted to share a letter I sent to a popular Instagram SciCommer who recently wrote an eBook on nutrition. This letter is a passionate plea for scientific reason in a world full of emotional irrationalities. I often see my work disparaged by people who simply don't understand genetic engineering, and this letter serves as a primer for transgenic crops- what they mean, what they do, how they work, and why we won't survive without them.
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – busy month! Thank you for welcoming dialogue on such a hot topic. There are three points I wanted to discuss with you – genetically modified organisms, the word "organic", and God.
Just some background on me – I grew up working on farms in a rural part of the South. I value real, homegrown food and can understand people’s desire to go back to nature, as we have become a fast food nation. I did not expect to fall in love with genetic engineering, nor did I ever fathom that I would find God in it. I began just like everyone else who is afraid of GMOs: skeptical and unsure. Then I did my research, went back to school for it, and now here I am – passionate about feeding the world, creating solutions for inevitable hunger and resource problems, and dispelling myths that are propelled by fear and miseducation. The lab I work in utilizes transgenic soybeans to produce more oil for fuel. I am disappointed that a large portion of the populace has taken such a hardline stance on GMO's. I understand the initial hesitation behind it, but I truly believe that if people understood the mechanisms and science behind GMOs, they would not be afraid.
A simplified explanation of a genetically modified organism is taking a defective gene from an organism and replacing it with a working, healthy one from a different species or plant (not a clone). Plant breeding predates humans on Earth. It is the natural progression of a species to mutate and evolve. Genetic modification is simply warp-speed plant breeding. I found a great article by transgenics skeptic who visited a breeder and research farm to learn more that you can read right here.
GMOs have altered our world for the better and are a useful tool for helping to solve problems like pestilence and drought. A great example of GMOs saving an entire agricultural enterprise was the late 80’s/early 90’s outbreak of Papaya Ringspot Virus in Hawaii. The virus absolutely decimated the population and brought the papaya industry (a staple of Hawaiian agriculture) to the verge of collapse. Scientists were able to identify the gene that makes that specific species of papaya susceptible to PRSV and replace it. Another example is the "Green Revolution;" a little-heard-of modern agricultural marvel that avoided starvation and saved millions of lives in Central America 60 years ago. Conversely, the controversy over golden rice is a fantastic but tragic example of how fear-mongering can destroy a promising avenue for alleviating world hunger and blindness.
To understand the need for GMOs in our world is to understand the problems that we will inevitably face. In 35 years, the world population will climb to a staggering 9 billion human beings. We are facing a food shortage unprecedented in history. The humble beginnings of our agrarian society and even present-day agriculture cannot support this level of pressure and will collapse. It is not a matter of if, but when. Genetically engineering our food to withstand these pressures and fend off drought and pestilence are our strongest chances of survival.
The word “organic" is also is a misnomer these days. Before, it was a symbol of purity and clean living. Now it is a misleading battle cry for those who are anti-agriculture. The word organic literally does not mean the same thing it used to. It is a pesticide classification and a deceptive one at that. When food is labeled “organic” in the grocery store, it is not pesticide-free by any stretch of the imagination. Organic pesticides are derived from natural compounds versus synthetic compounds. While this may seem favorable initially, organic farms have been proven to use a drastically larger amount of pesticide than farms that use synthetic pesticides.
The last topic I wanted to cover was actually God since your book appears to be based on Christian principles. I am in no way disparaging this but rather wanted to share my own personal beliefs. Put simply, I found God in DNA. I was a doubter for years and struggled to believe there was something greater than me that could be benevolent and omniscient. It was only when I began to study DNA and physically work with it that I started to believe that there was something almighty and much bigger than me. People often ask how difficult it is for me to reconcile faith with science. The more I delve into science, however, the stronger my faith grows. I truly believe God would want to feed people and alleviate hunger, and my work with genetic engineering keeps me close to Him in this regard.
If you have made it through this entire essay, thank you so much for reading! I hope maybe some of the things I have pointed out could open you to alternatives and sway you from your misgivings about genetic engineering. I am a big fan of your Instagram and your work. From one female scientist to another, we must lift each other up!