So, I’m wondering about all those anti-GMO food advertisements and movements and forums that you sometimes see. Are these products safe to consume and grow, both for the environment and us, do you reckon? What do YOU think of these idea?
Also, what is your opinion on treated foods, such as using irradiation treatment? Do you think that this is a ethical and human safe/environmentally safe resource? What about other treatment methods that said to be safe to use?
There’s a pretty good range between “modifying” an organism’s genetics by more or less speeding up what would otherwise be a (potentially) naturally-occurring intraspecies recombination of genetic information, and modifying it by re-engineering its genome using techniques that introduce foreign-species genetic information–or even genetic information which is itself engineered from scratch.
The former seems a lot “safer” than the latter, and I suspect the degree to which a the latter kind of genetically-engineered food is “unsafe” is based more on assumption than formal data.
Beyond that, what does it mean that any “food” is “safe”? Is sugar “safe”? Alar? I don’t mean to be snarky at all; deciding which of the things we consume is “safe” is a pretty complicated question to answer.
So in the end, I think much of the unease around modern genetic modification is an unease around the unknown and not around proven danger. That does not mean no danger exists, either from the direct effect of whatever food was modified, or the indirect effect of dinking around with Mother Nature’s “natural” equilibrium.
We can use modern genetic techniques to make food safer, and we can also use such techniques to make it more dangerous. Given that the whole point is that we have control of the process, guess which one we choose? The only real difference from old techniques, here, is that with the old techniques, we didn’t have as much control over the process, and so sometimes ended up with bad results without trying for them.
This seems more like IMHO stuff, but FWIW, here is my take.
First, virtually everything we eat (wild-caught fish excepted) is genetically modified. And the modifications were by a hit and miss process and never tested for possible harm. And viruses can and regularly do move genes between unrelated organisms, so that is not a criterion. The main difference is that modern GMO foods have actually been tested for possible harm and the induced mutations are intentional, not just what happens to show up. So I am completely happy with GMO.
As for irradiated foods, unless they actually show radiation (which I think unlikely to get approval), I don’t see the problem. They keep longer and are likely safer.
Anti-GMO folks are nothing more than conspiracy theorists. They also believe vaccines cause autism, they think we’re being gassed by “chemtrails,” and that the moon landing was faked. It’s all the same crowd.
The anti-GMO memes you see on social media are designed to scare paranoid, ignorant, and gullible people.
They are safe for us to eat. Unfortunately it’s political. Generally GMO and nuclear power make the left act irrationally, just like the list of topics that make the right act irrationally. The same people who use science responsibly to study climate change do not use science when talking about GMO and nuclear power because they’re disgusted by those. The perceived threat is high, and it doesn’t seem to matter if the actual threat is low.
Are they safe for the environment? That’s probably on a case-by-case basis. Unless the GMO is sterile, it will breed with nearby unmodified plants, but if the only plants around are domesticated, this won’t impact the environment itself. It will just make it impossible for the neighboring farmer to call her corn crops “organic” now that they’ve been “tainted”. Domesticated plants (that aren’t sterile) already breed with wild plants of the same type, so I don’t see it making the problem worse. (If wild tomatoes end up with beefsteak genes, how bad is that?)
I have no problem at all with irradiated food. It’s just like using UV light to kill bacteria in drinking water or infrared or microwave radiation to increase the temperature of the food, killing bacteria. You’re not exposing yourself to harmful radiation. As long as the radioactive material is disposed of properly there’s no concern. It’s probably safer than using preservatives (how safe are those preservatives?) because you have to literally eat those preservatives.
While some folks do behave a bit irrationally with respect to nuclear power, the simple fact of the matter is that nuclear plants have accidents (and always will), and no one has yet come up with a really good solution to the nuclear waste issue.
I personally wouldn’t put nuclear power in the same class as GMO foods. Your body can digest GMO foods without any issues and the end result is the same sugars, fats, proteins, etc. that you get from “natural” food. Standing in a puddle of nuclear waste isn’t quite as harmless, and thousands years from now, that puddle of nuclear waste will still be deadly.
When folks start talking about how only natural things are good for you, I like to point out that arsenic is 100 percent natural, and is also fat free, gluten free, and low-calorie.
I’ve seen chemtrails myself. I assure you that they are vastly different from contrails. Most people just aren’t observant enough to notice them.
On the other hand, I am perfectly fine with GMOs and vaccines. I also think that anybody who thinks the moon landings were faked is an extreme idiot.
Some people–especially these days–are anti-vaccine not because they are anti-science, but because they are simply uninformed or misinformed. Some people who are anti-GMO are not anti-science, but rather they simply don’t trust the government to keep harmful products off the market. They are bolstered in that view by the handful of high-profile cases where a product or procedure was approved, and then later banned because of harmful effects.
I’ve sometimes wondered how long (if I were disposed to do it) I could get away with selling “100% natural, organically-grown hemlock–permanent pain reliever.” Mind you, I don’t have a source of hemlock, so it’s a moot point.
Political/ideologic/fear-based opposition is not however based on logic and evidence, and so these folks will never be convinced, just like their counterparts in other movements heavily based on conspiracy narratives (like antivaxers). They rely on anecdotes and claims by outliers in the scientific community (who generally are untrained in the disciplines in which they claim to be experts, and/or are outright loons).
Meantime, food sellers have discovered extra $$ can be earned by promoting “non-GMO” brands to consumers, even though they’re no safer than GMO counterparts (and there’ve been numerous instances of organic foods contaminated with Listeria or other pathogens).
Ranting about nonexistent GMO food dangers will only be quelled once there is serious decimation of coveted crops like coffee or oranges by disease, which can best be overcome by genetically modifying them to resist pathogens (just like antivax propaganda is much less effective when people are confronted with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, like the recent measles outbreaks in California and Minnesota). Reality-based fears have a way of trumping* fantasy-based ones.
*hoping that bad associations don’t destroy the word “trump” as they did the word “niggardly”.
I’d be a little leery about eating Monsanto GMO food, but that’s because of Monsanto, not because of GMOs.
engineer_comp_geek, certainly nuclear power plants have their risks. That’s not the issue. The issue is that so do all other power plants, and the risks from nuclear plants are far lower than from coal plants. If we’re going to have power at all, then we can’t afford the risk from not using nuclear power.
And opposition to nuclear power and GMOs seem to cross party lines. While there are certainly liberals (and too many of them) who oppose both, there are also conservatives who oppose them (though not necessarily for the same reasons).
On the average, taken all with all, yes. But the dangers have a kind of statistical spike in them, with very low probability, very high damage. It’s like living right downstream from a dam. It doesn’t make anyone feel really comforted saying, “Driving on the freeway is more dangerous.” (We very rarely see traffic incidents causing 10,000 deaths.)
Fortunately, the danger (if any!) from modified foods is in the “freeway” model, not the “downstream from a dam” model. If large numbers of people would be made sick, we’d know that already. And if only one or two persons per million might get sick – well, you take your chances with mercury in fish, glass shards in peanut butter, botulism in canned beans, and so on.
Nothing in life is totally risk-free, but GMO foods are as safe as modern product testing can assure.
The good news is that GMO protests may start falling by the wayside. It was easier when it was the big bad Monsanto was the villain, but when Unviersities in developing countries start doing the GMO work on their own to increase staple yields (which you know, lets people live) aliong with increasing nutrition levels the GMO protestors wind up looking like hysterical freaks.
Eventually I hope that GMO opponents will be ashcanned alongside the folks who opposed test-tube babies.
Professional geneticist here. There are a few ways of answering this:
First and foremost, there is exactly ZERO evidence that any GMO has harmed a single human being’s health in any way whatsoever ever at all. There are some legitimate discussions, debates, and arguments to be had surrounding the use of GMOs, but (so far), impact on the health of consumers is not one of them.
Based on the understanding of the basic science involved, you’d almost have to go deliberately out of your way to design a GMO to be harmful, and (again, so far), no one has decided to do that. The chances we’re making are insanely minor, and well within the range of natural variation we’re exposed to with every bite of food we take.
Now, there are some related concerns regarding things like business practices and pesticide use and hybridization to wild related plant species that should be taken seriously, but the fearmongering around “Frankenfoods” is just utter nonsense.
There is a solution–at least a better solution than burying it–to the nuclear waste problem. It is called a traveling wave reactor. It produces a lot more energy for a given charge of uranium than the standard models and can use current nuclear waste as a charge. It produces some waste but it is relatively short-lived with half-lives in decades. The main problem is starting over. But I am in total agreement with the rest of your post.