What is Pro-GMO?

What is Pro-GMO?

Richard Green returns to the our blog with an essay on the meaning of Pro-GMO. By default it is used to describe folks opposing the Anti-GMO movement, but does it really apply?

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What is Pro-GMO? Is it the opposite of Anti-GMO?

That is an interesting question. When I hear that someone is “pro” something, I think of advocates that pursue an expansion of their cause. Pro-Vaccine advocates want to see more folks vaccinate, Pro-Life people want to restrict or eliminate abortion, and the Pro-Choice movement wants to ensure that women have control over their own health care choices. All of these groups actively promote their interests.

We humans like to split things into black and white opposing camps but that mold doesn’t fit well on the GMO debate. The anti-GMO folks are a movement out to promote their agenda. They have successfully put initiatives on the ballot in multiple U.S. states. Lets not forget about the March Against Monsanto, which has international participation. Shouldn’t the Pro side be a counter movement? Where are the cheerleaders promoting more GMOs?   I am speaking to large-scale efforts. I know there are nuanced voices on either side and that there are folks that promote the greater use of bioengineering in agriculture, but I wouldn’t say those folks have generated a large publicly active advocacy movement.

Genetic Engineering (GE) has been a boon to medicine by modifying organisms to produce life saving drugs from Insulin for diabetes to the more recent hope associated with a new drug like ZMapp for Ebola. Using GE to bioengineer crops has also given farmers more agricultural options. But GE is ultimately just a tool in a tool chest. It is hard to image a movement that would encourage carpenters to use a claw hammer above all other hammer options. When GE is viewed as just one technique among many, then it makes sense that there is no movement to advocate that pharmaceutical companies, agricultural companies, universities, or plant breeders increase the usage of bioengineering technology. Much like that carpenter, it is up to them to use the best tool for the job. Perhaps that mind set contributed to the slow response to the anti-GMO movement and is how it gained so much traction. What was there to worry about? After all GE is just another tool. Perhaps the misinformation had to hit some kind of threshold (ballot initiatives perhaps?) before science educators, interested laypeople, and the industry could be roused to action.

If there is no pro-GMO movement then what is the response to the anti-GMO movement?

Education on biotechnology is the response used to address those who are against agricultural bioengineering. When you look at websites from scientists like Kevin Folta’s Illumination blog and the Biofortified blog they are writing to correct misinformation. The same is true for sites run by laypeople such as the Food Farm and Discussion Lab or here on the Skepti-Forum blog. Even on an industry initiated site like GMO Answers the aim is to educate. While there is the occasional mention of the potential of GE, the overwhelming focus is on education and the correction of misinformation coming from anti-GMO advocates. As the title of Dr. Folta’s blog suggests, the counter to the fear and misinformation is to send in some light to dispel the darkness of misconceptions.

The failed State initiatives give some credence that this approach is effective. When the newspaper editorial boards from California to Oregon did their homework they came out against the initiatives in their States and helped inform their respective electorates.

I don’t really care what technology is used to make pharmaceutical drugs or plant varieties. I suppose that is why I’m always taken aback a bit when I’m called pro-GMO. I am anti-GMO misinformation, but to frame it in a more positive way, I am pro-BioEngineering Education (pro-BEE).  Maybe that will catch on and the two camps will be anti-GMO vs pro-BEE. There is an irony there that would warm my heart.

Image Credit: Richard Green