The question is whether it is the right time to embrace Genetically modified crops and animals and solve all the world’s food problems or are there too many unknowns?
On one hand there are always people who will oppose new ideas on the basis of ‘fear of change’.
On the other hand we have a long history of big corporations (and governments) lying to us so that we don’t know the true story (Nuclear energy and waste disposal is a good example – they even covered up the meltdown in Windscale for fear of upsetting the public even though they knew it would result in many deaths).
I am a Biologist. I am excited by the possibilities that GM opens up. I am also extremely wary of all information put out by the authorities. They spin and manipulate for their own ends.
What is Genetic Modification (GM)?
Science has progressed to the point where we are able to take a gene from one organism and put it into another.
That means we could take the chlorophyll producing gene and introduce it into humans. We would all become green and produce oxygen and sugar when exposed to light. Now that might be a silly idea and have lots of implications. But it is feasible. We could even introduce genes from jelly fish that would make us glow in the dark and cut down road deaths.
There is nothing intrinsically unnatural about this process. I mean – we are not manufacturing ‘new’ genes.
What it means is that any beneficial genes that have evolved in one species could be introduced into another.
That seems extremely useful so far.
The Benefits of GM
1. We could introduce a gene from one plant into another that would give it a defence against crop pests. This would save having to spray it with insecticide. That would prevent pollution and run-off of pesticides into waterways and prevent nearby plants being plastered with pesticides indiscriminately killing off bees and other insects.
2. We could introduce a gene that increased yield. This would result in more produce per acre and less land being needed to grow crops. It would enable us to feed people without encroaching on more wilderness and killing off wild-life and habitat.
3. We could introduce a gene that would enable crops to grow in arid lands. We could grow crops in deserts and not have to use water from rivers to irrigate. This would benefit aquatic wild-life. Fresh water is rapidly becoming a major problem. We have droughts and shortages.
4. We could introduce a herbicide resistance gene that would enable us to spray herbicides and reduce the need for weeding.
5. We could introduce genes that would fix nitrogen and enable plants to be grown in poor soil.
6. It would make farming less labour intensive. There would be less chemicals and less need to spray. This would reduce fossil fuel use.
7. We could introduce genes that would enrich the protein, vitamin and mineral content of food. We could produce crops with omega 3 fish oil. This would make food healthier.
8. We could introduce genes that would produce oil, plastic or other useful chemicals. This would reduce the need to drill or strip mine.
9. We could use the technique to introduce genes into human beings to treat terrible genetic diseases such as Huntingdon’s Chorea, Cystic Fibrosis or Haemophilia.
10. We could introduce genes that would enhance flavour or texture or give other benefits e.g. Golden Rice – a GM variety with a gene that produces Vitamin A (over a million children a year die from lack of Vitamin A – this would save them, their eyesight, and provide numerous other health benefits).
The Case against Genetic Modification (GM).
1. It is not natural. God would not like it.
2. It has been set up by huge multinational companies for profit. They are lying, cheating, unscrupulous and not to be trusted. They have a history of lying, bribing officials, using legal loopholes to flout legislation and spinning the downside. Their only interest is profit. They don’t care about people, health or wild-life.
3. It encourages large-scale farming and monoculture. This would be to the detriment of the small-scale farmer and biodiversity. It would encourage greater mechanisation.
4. There is a health risk from the products of these genes in our foods e.g. the chemicals the plants would produce to provide immunity against pests or as herbicide resistance might be harmful to animals or humans. It would end up in our food.
5. The herbicide tolerance promotes over-spraying with pesticide. The resultant residue on food is a health risk. The run off and airborne spray is a pollutant that would damage the environment.
6. There is a danger of cross-fertilisation and breeding introducing these genes into weeds, animals and plants that we do not want. We end up with weeds being immune to herbicide and get an even bigger problem.
7. There is a risk of transmigration of genes (via virus vectors) from the crops to other organisms. It would create huge resistance problems.
My view for what it is worth.
a. I do not trust multinationals. They have too much money and power. They can circumvent laws.
b. This is not a religious issue. Superstition should not come into it. This is science.
c. I think the transmigration and cross-fertilisation issues need objectively studying to see if there is a danger. I think there won’t be. These genes have been around for millions of years in the host organisms.
d. Likewise with the health issues.
e. I think the benefits outweigh the risks.
What I would like to see happen
1. I would like an independent overseeing body to regulate. They would have the power to look at all aspects and make judgements on global health and environmental basis.
2. I would like lots more research (unhampered by protesters) so that we can ascertain the facts about health risks, cross-fertilisation, transmigration etc.
3. I would like strict regulation, erring on the side of caution, with stiff penalties for transgression. This would create barriers for cross-fertilisation, establish impact on environment and regulate things such as chemical use and spraying.
4. I would like to see GM used wisely for the benefit of humans and everything else on this planet.
For me the production of sufficient food is crucial. We have a population spiralling out of control. We have to feed it. I am for anything that is more efficient so that we are less polluting and encroach on wilderness to a far lesser degree.
I believe, with due regulation and stringent enforcement, that it may be time to embrace GM.
What have I missed out?
What do you think?