Who was right?
In the last few weeks, there was this little old thing called the Just Label It campaign floating around. It wasn't asking for an end to GMOs, just a sticker on the supermarket shelves to let us know which was which. If you've followed this at all, you'll already know that the FDA invalidated a majority of the 1 million signatures gathered in support of labeling. (In the meantime, certified organic food can never be a GMO and, as there are only nine GMO crops, maybe we can all just buy the organic versions to eat at home in the meantime.)
I still didn't really understand the problem and it seemed time to give myself some book learnin' on the subject. Reading a timely article here and there was obviously not enough to explain what's going on.
First, I read Food Fray by Lisa Weasel. She wrote a lot about the history of Monsanto and it's politics, but not much about what GMOs actually are or why everyone's so worried about them. So I tried another book, this time, Dinner at the New Gene Cafe by Bill Lambrecht. He gives a good account of the GMO debate over in Europe** as well as the good and bad GMOs have caused farmers both overseas and in the United States. I felt like I had some understanding of the issue. Finally.
But one Michael Pollan quote toward the end of Lambrecht's book (page 309 in case you're curious) could have explained the entire debate a lot more quickly: "It was a potato, a Bt potato. It offered, perhaps, the farmer something. It certainly offered Monsanto, the company that developed it, quite a bit, But the benefit to the consumer isn't there. The risks, the uncertainties, are there."
And, really, that's the heart of this whole argument. Sure, it might help farmers in third world countries who don't have the money to grow foods with conventional pesticides. It might give off such large crops that we can send the leftovers to other countries as food aid. As AOL once said, "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better, stronger, faster" but do we want to eat it?
|Ad circa 1970s National Geographic|
**Fun Fact: Did you know that Monsanto had a ad campaign in France in 1998 promoting the labeling of GMOs (rather than having them be outlawed all together)? Lambrecht's book quotes one advertisement as saying, "You have a right to know what you eat, especially when it's better…After several months of debate, Europe has just adopted a new law for the labeling of food that comes from genetically engineered plants…We believe that products that come from biotechnology are better and that they should be labeled."