In the last U.S. election there was a proposal on the California ballot, Proposition 37, that all genetically modified {GM)} food had to be so labeled. Despite being backed by millions of campaign dollars, it was defeated. The defeat surprised me because in general Californians love regulations. Score one for progress and science.

Then I remembered the outcry in China over children being fed GM rice, and the recent hysteria in the U.K. about GM milk.

It seems that many babies (about 3 in 100) are allergic to regular milk, so scientists in New Zealand generically modified a cow so the milk it gave did not have the the ingredient that babies were allergic to, so all babies could drink the milk. The story ran in a British newspaper, and unfortunately I didn’t bookmark it and can’t find it now.

What struck me were the comments readers posted. I would estimate that 75% were very anti-GM. As I read them I felt I had time traveled back to the Middle Ages where science was considered sorcery and progress was seen as the work of the devil.

Most of the comments expressed fear of what the GM milk might do to their children 20 years hence. None of the comments and opinions were based on anything stronger than feelings. One said milk was fine as it is, and there was no need to improve it. Progress ends today. Several suspected that Monsanto, the developer of the milk, would rake in huge profits. So the anti-GM hysterics were also attacking capitalism.

The fact is GM foods have been in the human food chain for years with no ill effects. The Hawaiian papaya industry was about to go extinct due to the ringspot virus. Scientists at the University of Hawaii genetically modified the papaya it resisted this disease in the late 1980s. The new strain was introduced commercially in 1999. Today 80% of Hawaiian papayas are ringspot resistant. So far nothing bad has been reported from consuming the new papayas.

Of special interest to China and other nations where smoking is common is the fact that GM tobacco is being developed that contains up to 97% less nicotine.

Over the past three decades many crops including corn, tobacco, rice, and wheat have been genetically modified to resist pests and disease. Today more than half of all soybeans grown in the world are genetically modified.

While doing research for this piece I looked at more than a dozen “scientific” studies that drew anti-GM conclusions. Every one was clearly agenda driven. Many speculated on what might happen if GM crops got into the human food chain. These “what if” scenarios are never based on fact or science. They are based on “feelings” and fear. Well I have news for these Luddites. GM foods have been in the food chain for about 20 years with no ill effects.

Cotton is a good example. Beside using the fibers to spin cloth, the seeds are processed into cooking oil and margarine, Left over fibers are used as emulsifiers and other food additives. What is left is often processed into animal feed. GM cotton gets into the human food chain in many ways from farm animals to cooking oil, to medicines. There have been no human health problems because of it.

Today more than 40% of the world’s cotton has been genetically modified, mostly to resist pests. The the increased yields from GM plants has decreased the need for pesticides. In addition, to better crops, they larger supply keeps prices for cotton products down.

GM foods and crops should be looked upon as another human achievement. They are not the work of greedy corporations looking to make a fast buck, or Satan.

 

Advertisements