Whether I’m getting coffee with a friend, grabbing a quick bite for lunch or just picking up some groceries, I spend a lot of time at Weaver Street Market. (I know I’m boujee, but have you tried their tofu spring rolls?)
For those of you who somehow have not made it to this classic Chapel Hill/Carrboro institution, Weaver Street is a health food co-op which, like many higher-end grocery stores, prides itself on foods that are high quality, organic and non-GMO. I love Weaver Street, but this third criterion bugs me — a lot.
GMOs have been a topic of hot debate over the past decade, but especially in recent years. Still, many Americans are fairly uniformed on the topic.
A 2016 study from the University of Florida found that while 84 percent of those surveyed were in favor of labeling products containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, 80 percent were also in favor of labeling foods containing DNA. (Ironic, because all plants contain DNA.)
Let’s start with a simple question: what are GMOs? GMO stands for genetically modified organism. GM plants have had new genes inserted into their DNA, oftentimes to make crops larger, pest/drought resistant or healthier overall.
In 2016, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a far reaching report asserting that there is no evidence for GM foods being less safe or healthy than foods that are not genetically modified. Almost all contemporary research agrees. However, some individuals are still skeptical.
The stigma against GMOs may come largely from a perception that they are unnatural and therefore unhealthy. Though we can wrap our minds around transfusing blood from one person to another, it’s too far-fetched, apparently, to transfer DNA between organisms.
To all the anti-GMO activists, I hate to be the one to tell you, but we’ve been modifying crops for way longer than genetic engineering technology has existed.
Take a moment to Google “watermelon painting, 17th century.” Looks nothing like the fruit we know and love, right? Watermelons are just one example of how crops have changed drastically thanks to humans. Like genetic modification, other well-accepted plant breeding techniques, such as artificial selection and hybridization, fundamentally change a crop’s genome. Without them, your dinner table would look incredibly different — in a bad way.
I find it disconcerting that people can look at all of the scientific evidence proving that GMOs are safe and effective and still think they’re scary or dangerous.
To the anti-GMO activists: you cannot pick and choose which scientific literature to believe and which not to. You cannot yell at anti-vaxxers or creationists to “believe in science” or “come into the 21st century” while also asserting that “Monsanto is NOT going to put that gene in my tomato,” without being a hypocrite.
Another thing anti-GMO activists should know is that their actions have real consequences. One huge point in favor of GMOs which has not been brought up yet is their ability to save literally millions of lives in developing countries.
Foods like rice and sweet potatoes can be fortified with essential vitamins and nutrients, preventing malnutrition in susceptible populations. Anti-GMO rhetoric not only ignores these life saving advancements, but decreases their popularity and likelihood to be funded.
Like with any technology, there are ways for GMOs to be abused. For example, wind can spread pesticides intended for crops that are engineered to be resistant to the pesticide to non-GMO crops, killing them. However, this is not an argument against GMOs as a whole, it’s an argument about one way they can be used: an important distinction.
While I’m always one for a good discussion, in recent years that of GMOs has been dominated by fear, misinformation and unhelpful Gwyneth Paltrow ads. Let’s believe science on this one and start worrying about more important things.
Illustration by Ruby Handa