The anti-GMO movement needs to get specificSubmitted by josh brueggen 03 on Fri, 04/05/2013 - 12:05
The anti-GMO movement has a problem. Namely the anti-GMO individuals I see posting on the DP often fail to discriminate when opposing GMO products. This sort of "shotgun" approach to activism is a burden on any movment that seeks to make gains either politically, or in real positive terms. Let me explain what I mean from the perspective of a farm kid, say the kind of kid who spent some of his childhood summers helping his grandfather clean and package seed for local farmers. Bear with me as I tell this little parable, and I promise it'll all make sense in the end.
I've seen what can happen when new technology that affects your business comes on to the marketplace, and you refuse to accept the value of this technology. For instance, my grandfather had a flourishing business selling fertilizer and seed to local farmers. I'm pretty sure he was the last seed cleaner operating independently in the the county when I was a boy, but by then his business was fading fast. Luckily he didn't need it to last much longer, but he was slowly sinking because of a sweeping change in plant science. Was it Monsanto and the evil GMO's that were doing him in you might ask....well in a word NO, because this was 20 years ago and GMO was not an issue at the time. Today he probably would be facing lawsuits from Monsanto for seed cleaning, but that is beside the point.
My grandfather was a simple honorable man. The kind of man who when he couldn't get the county to build a needed road organized the local farmers, and got it built himself. He also had a major problem in that he figured what had worked best for him and his father and his fathers father would always be the best way to get things done. When seed companies began selling hybrid seed he refused to market this new higher priced seed, and he advised the farmers that he sold to, to avoid it as well. He thought the whole thing was a fad......simply put he was wrong, as in 100% incontrovertibly wrong. Worse than being wrong though was that he refused to admit he had been wrong, and he refused to sell those hybrid seeds. He doubled down on his dire predictions of what would befall farmers who fell for the "fad", and he lost a lot of respect in the farm community, and a lot of business as a result. In the end it cost him his main business, and left him only a niche role as a seed cleaner.
The Anti-GMO movement runs a very real risk of making the same mistake. I often see dire predictions of the evils of GMO seed and GMO crops. Let me point out that all GMO is not the same. Grouping all GMO together, and blasting it all both the good and the bad as an evil conspiracy could very well destroy the credibility of the liberty movement in the eyes of many. It may seem we are winning the anti GMO fight, but if we are it is only because the big ag groups are ignoring us as a nuisance, they have not yet begun to fight. When they push back, and they will, we run a very real danger of losing this argument in the court of public opinion and thus in the real courts that will decide these issues unless we can refine our point of attack.
Not all GMO is the same, if you cannot see this, or if you don't want to hear this, then by all means stop reading, but if you want to win the GMO battle then read on. Not all gene splicing is bad for instance, doing gene splicing where genes from the same type of plant are added to speed up the same process that could be achieved through crossbreeding is pretty harmless. The effect of this type of splicing is no different than grafting fruit trees or cross pollinating broccolli, the only difference is the resultant crop grows true seed, meaning the desired traits can be maintained in future generations of planting without further crossing of varieties every year. In more practical terms if one bean is drought tolerant, and another has high yields, and a third handles cold wet planting conditions better, gene splicing can help you achieve a plant that has all these characteristics within several growing cycles instead of hundreds. Previously these types would be cross polinated and over many years you would refine the best plants until you got a bean with all three characteristics. This can take hundreds of years, in the mean time a lot of people will starve. Genetic modification for traits like this is just efficient, and a good idea. If we want to oppose GMO crops effectively we should be clear that this type of crop science is perfectly OK to us.
Another type of modification is adding traits that are not found in the species to begin with. For instance you want your corn to make its own pesticide so you splice some genes from a plant that makes its own anti-pest poisions into your corn plant, this is unnatural, and a poor idea. The potential disasterous side effects of such a modification are totally unknown (though the collapse of honeybees exposed to this Bt corn is one well known and very bad side effect) and since the crop produces true seed it can be very difficult if not imposible to remove this trait from the crops seed supply later, since this seed grows inherently hardier crops the decendents of these plants will out compete heirloom crop varieties when provided a level field of competition. This type of modification has side effects that are known to be bad, and can be proven to be so. This is the type of GMO that should be very vigorously opposed.
The former idea is akin to only keeping the strongest male calf to be the bull in your herd. The latter is like cross breeding your cattle with a chicken so that they lay huge eggs....even if you can make it work it just isn't right either in a traditional moral sense, or in any other moral system I can even begin to conceive of. Not to mention if you accidentally got a bull with this trait your new heifer calves may now crow, and fail to produce milk for their calves...a very bad outcome indeed.
When we lump all GMO's together we leave ourselves open to obvious attack. When opposing GMO's we should take a page out of Rands playbook. If we narrow our objections to the most demonstrably problematic issues related to GMO we can build a base of support from which we can achieve more without attacking the few good things about GMO along with the bad things. In the process we'll buld a bulwark against the inevitable counterattack that big pharma will launch, we'll burnish our credential as a movement that can win, and we might even help strengthen liberty if only by a little bit.