BioChica’s 500 Words | GMOs: why do I care and why do I blog?
In late 2012, California had its vote to label GMOs. As a consequence,
my News Feed in Facebook became inundated with articles about the
evils of GMOs. As a human geneticist, I had always thought that GMOs
were awesome: harness the power of nature and improve what we have and
eat. I had gotten into genetics to discover how we work and to figure
out how to treat genetic disorders (that, and also the fact that
Jurassic Park was frickin’ AWESOME!), so why couldn’t the same apply
to plants? But suddenly, I began second guessing myself, particularly
when people I respected began posting anti-GMO messages. What if I was
wrong? As a new mom, I was particularly worried about what I was
feeding my son. I had made his food since he started eating solids,
had never fed him sugar or preservatives. What if I was unknowingly
Around the same time, the spouse and I had the amazing opportunity to
visit Cambodia. If you ever get the chance, you should go. I knew very
little about the country, particularly the genocide it had endured. I
listened to our tour guides as they described how the country was
gradually rebuilding itself. One conversation that stood out was with
our guide in Angkor Wat: he mentioned that at the moment, most farmers
grow enough rice to support their own families. They do not have
enough yield to generate food for themselves and to sell in local
markets, and they don’t have the expertise to develop the technology
themselves. He was very excited over the fact that they were
collaborating with international scientists (I’m assuming that it was
the IRRI) to bring in or create new strains of rice with higher
yields. I remember getting back to the hotel that evening and telling
my husband: “GMOs can’t all be bad. I’ve got to look into this and
write about it”. As soon as I got back, I set up my blog, began
investigating and documenting my learning.
Even with my background in science, so much of what I had heard and
thought to be true about our food and GMOs was inaccurate. So far, I
have not read anything that would cause me to quit eating GMOs. I
believe the overwhelming evidence that supports the fact that GMOs are
safe. I’ve read the long-term studies whose negative results are
boring enough to never get reported. I’ve read the over-reported
single papers that contradict the body of knowledge, I’ve researched
their criticisms, and agree that the ones I’ve read are flawed. I’m
also trying to stay open-minded; as I told my husband when I started
this, I’ll quit eating them when something convinces me that they’re
I think that what bothers me most about the argument against GMOs is
that in order to believe that GMOs are bad for you, you have to
believe that there’s a global conspiracy and that scientists are evil.
Although I joke about it in my blog, I guess part of me feels annoyed.
Scientists are just like any other fraction of society: you can’t lump
us all into a single bin and call us “shills”. Most importantly, you
shouldn’t ignore evidence because of preconceived notions of
industries and people.
If you believe GMOs are bad for you, just for a split second think
about this: what if this technology can actually help a farmer in
Cambodia generate income for his family? Isn’t that worth
investigating with an open mind?
I encourage you to join GMO skeptic-forum and ask questions.
Photo credit: Kevin Evans. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade | CC