Today the general public is more environmentally conscious than ever before. The market for goods produced and sold under the banner of sustainability is growing and the drive to go “green” permeates virtually all economic sectors. Areas like auto makers, cleaning solutions, clothing, and even fossil fuel products spend their billions on pollution, at least the marketing teams and advertisements claim. But of all economic sectors, agriculture is the most intimately linked to human well-being.
Consumers rightly want to know what they are eating. The idea that even fresh, healthy foods could be mixed with agrochemicals or biologically contaminated at the genetic level has led to a growing preference for foods billed as organic or natural. In this seemingly healthier category of foods are those that are considered free from GMOs – genetically modified organisms. Genetic modifications to cultivated plants are believed to be naturally artificial and therefore, in some way, detrimental to human health and the biosphere.
There are legitimate complaints about modern industrial agriculture, but the use of modern biotechnology for the development of new varieties of crops is not one of them. The marketing push for non-GMO foods is just that, a marketing push. The push is reinforced by advertisements rooted in pseudoscience, anti-intellectualism and the romanticization of premodern agriculture. Consumers are right to be wary of potentially harmful foods, but ecological problems must be solved by using science wisely, rather than by dispensing with it.
Genetic engineering is a disparaged terminology, avoided at all costs by manufacturers and vehemently rejected by some. In the context of modern agriculture, genetic engineering refers to the use of recombinant DNA technology to produce new varieties of crops. Before the introduction of this technology, plant breeders used traditional methods of careful parent selection and crossbreeding to develop new crop varieties to improve crop yields, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.
Ancient farmers selected plants with preferred characteristics when saving seeds for the next planting. After many generations, this artificial selection has domesticated crops that are relatively unappetizing in high-yielding nutritious staples. Today, these procedures are complemented by a modern understanding of genetics.
Traditional breeding is a mixture of genetic material from the same genome between closely related species of the same genus. However, recombinant engineering can transfer genes from distant plant lines, and even material from bacteria, to other crop plants. As Ania Wieczorek and Mark Wright note in ‘Nature, “ Recombinant DNA technology was applied commercially from the 1970s, with the first modified plant entering the market in 1982. Exogenous DNA, which is DNA found outside the original organism, can be transferred into the target genome in a variety of ways, some of which can even occur naturally. These methods have led to substantial improvements in many crop species. So what’s the problem?
Common criticism is rooted in a long-standing public distrust of science by deeming it “unnatural”. Feelings like this are prevalent in marketing materials. For example, a recent ad for Garden of Life The brand’s probiotic supplements boast that the pills do not contain “bioengineering as they call it,” while showing a scientist in a full-face suit and respirator holding a test tube. ‘sinister appearance containing a sprig of parsley. The company’s website goes so far as to include the misconception that “In layman’s terms, GMOs are a nice way to describe a plant that comes from a seed that has been injected with bacteria or pesticides for it. help stay alive when the soil it grows is sprayed with chemicals. “
Another anti-GMO group, the GMO-free project, appeals to scientific consensus, but ultimately repeats the aforementioned anti-intellectual sentiments when it alleges that “there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs”.
It may be tempting to think that greedy biotech companies have no concerns for safety or sustainability, but this is far from the truth. In fact, the precautionary principle has been judiciously applied to GM crops. New varieties are subjected to extensive testing before their introduction and transgenic materials are heavily regulated. In fact, the protocols require that every transgenic scrap be labeled and sent to the autoclave for sterilization after use.
Genetic modification, in all its forms, is the key to creating new plant varieties that require fewer harmful inputs, including fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, while also providing an ever-expanding global population. While some valid criticisms can be made against some of the practices of modern agriculture, the use of GMOs is, on the other hand, a scientific triumph. It is especially important to avoid basic emotional and anti-intellectual arguments. Progress requires a deference for precaution combined with an openness to the possibilities of science. The willful ignorance of genetic modification technology, however well-intentioned, is ultimately wrong.