Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday brain stretch: More on GMO rethinking

I raised a small ruckus in November with a column on a different point of view on GMOs: After the defeat of Proposition 37 in California, which would have required labeling of products that included ingredients from genetically modified organisms, I questioned whether that labeling was the right issue. I quoted from a panel at a recent James Beard Foundation food conference that looked at the positive sides of GMOs as a tool for creating enough food for the planet.

Not surprisingly, I took some heat from adamantly anti-GMO opponents. I expected that I would, but I also wanted to open the subject up to more than one point of view.

That view is continuing. At a conference in Oxford, England, Mark Lynas, one of the environmentalists who originally was vehemently anti-GMO recanted his earlier stance and suggested that there may be significant environmental benefit to this research. Here's a piece on Slate summing up what Lynas had to say.

 And here's another piece worth considering: A piece from Russ Parsons of the L.A. Times that not only also looks at what Lynas had to say, but also offering some other changing points on GMO research.

On the morning after that James Beard Foundation panel in October, I ended up sharing a very early morning car to the airport with panelist Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Federation. As we rolled through Queens and fretted about making our flights, I asked Clay about his talk the day before, in which he had repeated his claim (originally made at a TED conference) that we'll need to produce more food in the next 40 years than we produced in the previous 8,000, or roughly the amount of time we've had organized agriculture.

I mused that it was the first time I'd heard someone so publicly challenge the conventional wisdom that GMOs are all bad.

Clay nodded. And he asked this: If you know you have a big problem to solve, why would you take any tool off the table before you figure out how to use it? It would be like knowing you have to build a house but removing the hammer before you start because someone once used it to hit your thumb.

Maybe the problem isn't the hammer. It's keeping the hammer out of the hands of the person who would only use it to hurt you, without considering that the hammer may be of use.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the point that GMOs shouldn't be entirely ruled out and banned all together; however, their has to be a certain level of discipline applied to scientific advancement that doesn't allow for disasterous results when new technologies are rushed into use without proper scrutiny. Taking the hammer out of the hands of the finger smashers would be a great start, but we have to also consider the potential of the hammer to build shoddy housing that can come crashing down onto us all before we start using it as a short cut to solving our greater problems. Kathleen, please read up on the potential ecological impacts of GMOs and the woeful lack of research performed on them given that the big GMO producers won't allow independent scientific research on their "products." The public knows as much about the safety of GMOs as we did about the safety of tobacco in the 50s. "Sure, our product is perfectly safe, buy as much as you can!"

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of questions still out there regarding GMO's. Both in their safety and ecological effects. There is also the ethical questions. If only 2 or 3 companies control all of the GMO plants, then they control who gets fed and how. Poor countries are already seeing negative effects as they cannot seed save from year to year using GMO's which means they have to buy seed every year adding to their expenses. Which lowers their profit margin even lower that before. I'm not convinced GMO's are the only way to feed the world

Kathleen Purvis said...

I'm not convinced they're the only way either, Anon 10:30. But they may be one way. And that's part of the thinking: When you have a planet as big and complex as this one, there isn't one solution that works in all cases or solves all problems. There are multiple solutions. So you need to explore all of the potential solutions.