Why we need genetically modified crops October 22, 2006Posted by Hegemony in Science, Science Rants.
I don’t usually post in such quick succession but my recent post about cloned animals got me thinking. Why is there so much opposition to genetically modified crops? I believe people that are against it fall into one of three categories: health concerns, concerns for the “sanctity” of nature, or environmental concerns. I’ll address these as scientifically as I can first before I rant about my personal feelings.
Some people feel that genetically modified (GM) food is not safe. Up front I’ll say that’s not true. I can’t for the life of me figure out how they think that. I’ve heard them talking about “toxic” DNA. Of course there’s no such thing. So what does DNA do? DNA codes for proteins. Each set of three DNA base pairs (called a codon) code for one amino acid. A chain of amino acids becomes a protein. All that is being changed in GM crops is the proteins they express. Can these proteins hurt you? No, in no way are regular plant proteins dangerous. Now prions on the other hand are dangerous, but that’s a different issue. Most of the proteins you eat are broken down and the amino acids absorbed so you can make your own proteins. There just isn’t any rational theory as to how this could be dangerous to anyone. In fact millions of dollars are spent by the FDA to test GM crops before they are used.
For others they have some notion that we shouldn’t be messing with nature. This seems to be a more abstract complaint and thus I’m even less sure what they are talking about. But I’ll say this, humans have been selectively breeding crops for millennia as the basis of agriculture. Cross pollinating the plants that did well and grafting plants together has been a common practice long before we even knew what DNA was. The main difference is that GM crops are doing the same thing faster. If you look at a codon from wheat it’s identical to the same codon from tomatoes. It’s all nucleic acid… ribose, phosphate, nitrogenous bases, that’s it!
Still others claim that protecting the environment from GM crops is necessary. They tell us that organic farming is the best way to feed the world. If all current farm land were converted to organic farms we would only produce 2/3 of the food we do now. And what’s so environmentally unsound about GM crops? They can produce massive yields with out the need for pesticides. It’s a fact of growing food that insects are pests and they’ve been doing just fine despite the fact we’ve been killing them for many years now. And I’ll be the first one to admit that the pesticides we use now are nasty. So how could we avoid the use of pesticides? Hmm… oh yeah, genetic modification! Here’s an example: some plants have proteases (proteins that destroy other proteins) that operate only at alkaline pH. All vertebrates have acidic digestive tracts. Insects however, have alkaline digestive tracts. By adding the gene for this protease to GM crops the plants have a natural defense against insects. Testing in this arena is the responsibility of the EPA, and they spend quite a bit of money to do it.
Now for the rant. Opposing GM crops is without a doubt one of the most idiotic things that a person can do. These foods can feed the world safely and cheaply. With over 20,000 people dying of starvation every day who are we to ignore the advancement that could save these people from suffering? People that are proponents of raw foods and the like seem to forget that most people don’t have the luxury of deciding what to eat. It’s selfish to oppose GM crops and everyone that does should think about the 20,000 lives lost every day. I bet starving people could care less if that bread was made from grain with a few transgenic genes.
In 2002 at the Environmental summit in Africa the US tried to give several tons of GM food to poor nations. Several groups including Greenpeace convinced the leaders of these nations that the food was poisonous. Can you fucking believe that? On this poor advice these nation turned down the offer. Of course there was nothing wrong with the food and those same crops have been grown elsewhere with success. In Zambia, where people are starving to death, Greenpeace unleashed their political agenda and probably killed many people. It wasn’t about the food really being dangerous (as I’ve outlined above) it’s about Greenpeace having an ulterior motive… politics. The world cannot be at peace when so many go hungry.