Planes, Trains and GM Food

Skeptico has been posting recently on GM Food, his stance is a little more radical than mine but for the most part I’m in agreement with him. I decided to take a look at some of the common “complaints” about GM food and try to imagine the same arguments applied to manned flight:

It’s “playing god” or unnatural.

Man wasn’t supposed to fly! Those Wright Brothers are playing God by trying to give us wings!

The playing god argument has been used for so many things that it has become meaningless. It assumes the existence of a god and it ignores all the other times that we as a species have “played god”.

It’s wrong to mix genes from radically different organisms.

It’s wrong to be suspended in mid-air!

If you’re going to say that something is wrong, you really should give a reason. Just saying that something is wrong doesn’t make it so.

Religious and vegetarian groups would object to genes from some species.

Hot Air balloonists will object to these new-fangled winged chariots!

There will always be a group of people who object to something. If you object to planes, don’t fly in them. If you object to GM foods, don’t eat them (This brings up the labelling issue. Yes, I think labelling needs to be carefully handled).

Do we really know what we’re doing?

Do those Wright Brothers know what they’re doing? Someone could die in that contraption!

The Wright Brothers probably weren’t entirely sure what they were doing, that’s why they were experimenting. Unless we experiment, we won’t get any closer to knowing what we’re doing.

Have we evaluated the risks sufficiently?

People high in the air seems risky to me, they could all die if something goes wrong!

Well yes everything carries a risk. We can only hope that the risks have been evaluated effectively and that the worse-case scenarios have been considered.

Do we need genetically modified food?

Do we need aeroplanes? People managed for thousands of years without them.

We don’t need planes, but they sure are handy. We probably don’t need GM foods, but there’s a big chance it could solve a lot of problems, especially as our population grows and food resources become more scarce.

It is just going to provide luxuries for rich, and won’t feed the Third World.

Planes are just for rich people, the poor won’t be able to fly!

Commercial airlines, for the most part, service the rich. But look at all the other flight industries. Air ambulances, bush pilots, disaster relief, military backup, search and rescue. Flight has benefited the rich, the poor and the threatened. GM food can do the same.

Agriculture is already too technological. This will only make it worse.

Travelling is already too complicated, flying will just make it worse.

Surely only a Luddite would object to something purely because it is “too technological”. What does that even mean? Ever since agriculture began, tools have been developed to make it easier. Technology is not inherently evil, nor is it inherently good. It just is.

There are better ways to improve resistance and reduce chemicals on the land.

There are better ways to travel!

Better is very subjective isn’t it? Someone I work with prefers trains to planes, but I’d much rather get to where I’m going as fast as possible. Whether GM food is better or worse than any alternative is just an opinion unless there is hard evidence one way or the other.

5 thoughts on “Planes, Trains and GM Food”

  1. All I ask for is proper labelling – perhaps the face of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein with GMF right under it for basic labelling. Then, a warning if my apple is derived from peanut stock for the allergic. And for the vegans something like this : “The genetic structure of this beautiful organic strawberry contains elements of pig brains and bee pee. We tried to incorporate llama testicles too, but it tasted funny. Enjoy.”

  2. Surely only a Luddite would object to something purely because it is “too technological”.

    So true. Luddism is evident in much of the extremism of the anti-GMO crowd.

  3. I’m as skeptical and ‘reality-based’ as I suspect the other readers of this blog are. However, I have some reservations about the use of GM crops that are mainly based on distrust of large corporations and their cozy relationship with the US and other governments.

    Time and time again, industry has sought to ignore safety regulations and even common sense when profits are threatened. They cannot be trusted. The current administration shows even less enthusiasm than previous ones in enforcing existing regulation, far less implementing new ones. If it doesn’t involve human embryos, heck, it’s a green light all the way!

    Simply identifying the risks and applying regulatory lip-service advances the public good not at all. How many superfund messes were left behind for taxpayers to clean up, long after permanent physical damage was done to local residents?

    Are there risks involved in the use of GM food? Almost certainly. Have we identified those risks? Probably most of them. Does the potential for catastrophe exist. Again, almost certainly, although it may be small. Can we trust Monsanto and ADM to deploy their products wisely and responsibly? Certainly NOT!

    If an airplane crashes, hundreds can be killed. If GM crops cause widespread ecological damage, millions could starve. At some point, the analogy fails. The risk is likely the greatest for the already beleagured citizens of developing nations, many of whom are trapped in countries with true, predatory governments which won’t for a moment consider the welfare of their populations.

    Please consider that ther are human and political issues involved with deployment of GM crops that prevent the reality from approaching the scientific ideal. Are the FDA and OSHA run

    Sorry for the rant. I think I’ll post something like this on my own blog. Keep up the good work!

    Mike N.

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