What makes GMO plants scary?


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It’s the new Nuclear Power. If handled responsibly and very wisely it can be one of the keys to our salvation.

However, in the hands of sort sighted governments and corporations more concerned about election cycles and immediate profits they’re dangerous.


And yet it ends up being the ones trying to handle things responsibly and wisely that get attacked for it instead of the factory farm full of GMO down the street…

Just like the new and improved Nuclear plants are the ones that get the political opposition while the old dirty waste-producing ones keep running. It’s madness. It’s the sort of politics that says “I am opposed to this, and if this happens it will make the thing I am opposed to look better, so I will let the worst instances persist and fight the best instances because they might weaken my position”.


And the activists pushing for responsible use are rapidly being overwhelmed by the ones who can’t tell the difference and don’t care because they just want something to scream about. Yeah, nuclear is a pretty good parallel.


I think their are two reactions that tend to get conflated. One is an objection to intellectual property restrictions on some GMO seeds. This would not seem to apply in the case of golden rice, which is the GMO equivalent of FOSS. The second is a sort anti-intellectual, anti-science, which I think of as the left’s version of creationism. The fact is that human have been genetically modifying plants and domestic animals for as long as there has been agriculture. Ever see a wild cow or wild corn? Somehow, genetic modification through direct gene manipulation is viewed as much scarier than modification through breeding (including cross-species hybridization–I haven’t seen any protests against mules.)


It started with reasonable fears of transplanted proteins in vegetables where you wouldn’t expect them. For example, transgenic soy beans have nut genes in them that create proteins that trigger people with nut allergies.

But in response, the industry became more careful about testing their products for allergens. These days the anti-GMO fervor doesn’t seem to have a sound basis. A lot of the criticism seems like an irrational hated of sciencey things in general.


For me, corporate profiteering and aggressive influence peddling is what makes GMO scary. The fact that the ‘open source’ alternatives get conflated with the ‘Round-up Ready’ crops taking over fields in North America isn’t all that shocking. Few of us really understand the science underlying genetic modification. Mix in the ever popular scare tactics for EVERYTHING, people just freak out at the unfamiliar.


Read “Tomorrow’s Table” by Ronald and Adamchak. She’s a geneticist, he’s an organic farmer. Nice balanced approach to the risks and opportunities for combining the two.

A lot of the objections to GMO come more from the manufacturers and their profits. In particular, a large company, let’s call them Squonsanto, was associated with Vietnam-era pollution and currently has some non-farmer-friendly policies used to protect their investment in the technology.

Something like Golden Rice should be a no-brainer. It’s free, it’s safe, it’s going to save lives.
Another example which the book uses is GE papaya: Would you rather have papayas with a changed protein in it from the genetic engineering, or be eating a lot of papaya ringspot virus protein, or no papayas at all due to the destruction of papaya plantations by the virus?

My other favorite example from the book is “conventional” breeding, usable by organics. Did you know that calrose rice, used for sushi the world around, was created by irradiating seed? So random mutation is OK for organic farmers, but carefully planned stuff is forbidden? Nope, not buying that argument.


No, there are no nut proteins in GM soy. They’d tested using such a gene, and discarded it for that reason.


Just curious: what’s the difference between profiteering and making a profit?

GMO products are scary because they are exempt from any labeling requirements that would make them part of a fair and well-regulated marketplace.

Each brand of peanut butter has to disclose its chemical composition (grams of fat etc.) even though everyone already knows what it’s made of. Each useless tchotchke has to disclose its country of origin. But GMOs get to pretend they are no different from competing items on the same shelves. This purposeful obscuration of fact (with the clear and stated intent of misleading consumers) makes them scary.

Personally I don’t find anything else about them scary at all. Just the fact that vendors are trying to trick me into using them.


Huh. A lot of (most?) crops have been genetically altered one way or another, often by accident. How could you possibly control for every single genetic variation, and what levels of genetic variation would be acceptable vs. unacceptable?


Ever talk to “deep green” or “primitivist” activists? These folks are against civilization, agriculture, and sometimes even language or humanity itself.

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I have to say that I am one of those that have no issues with GMOs in regards to safety and consumption. We’ve been doing GMO albeit at a reduced rate of change for millennia. I don’t even see labeling as being that necessary.

Going on about the (obscene?) profits and the controls that corporations have over even keeping the new seed that is made really is not an argument about GMO, it’s more of an argument about government and society in general.

I won’t touch GMO foods until it is clearly demonstrated that they won’t present antigens that would cause my body to trigger an adverse immune response.


Pretty much every edible apple variety is like that. Each apple seed is unique genetically and only a few of them would result in fruit we would find palatable. So when we find an apple tree with fruit that tastes good to us, that tree wins the genetic lottery: it gets cultivated, cloned hundreds and thousands of times. What else is lurking in the genes of our apples? DK;TG (don’t know; tastes good).

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Why should another person be allowed to decide what I eat?

I’m against fortification of foods under most circumstances, I think it is the wrong approach to dealing with a deficient diet. Who is someone else to tell me that I’m wrong about that when it comes to my own food choices?

I don’t want GMO in my diet, and I don’t want GMO polluting my environment. I should have that choice regardless of what some politically naive scientists think. Much like nuclear power, and world hunger, this is another occasion where scientists cannot seem to fathom that what they think is an engineering problem is actually a political one. What they are really arguing for with GMO is removing the individual’s right to determine their own diet - and that’s one argument that even the most skilled politician would have a hard time with.


True, we’ve been doing GMO at a very slow pace for millennia. But, we also slowly evolved along with the food. If we inadvertently bred a food that was toxic to us, we’d stop growing it. Natural selection then takes over and does its thing, but all around, this is a very slow process.

We are simply not prepared for the the greatly accelerated pace of modern GMO foods. It would take millennia of old-fashioned cross-breeding, hybridization, etc., to create the same GMO foods that now take just years or months to produce. Humans simply can’t evolve fast enough to keep pace.


Yup. Despite a couple of comments below, there are some serious risks to GMO crops as well, we need responsible people involved on both ends, not a bunch of people with knee-jerk reactions of ‘Don’t get in the way of GMO’ or ‘GMO is evil by nature!’

There’s no solution from within, we need a complete end-around.


C’mon, aren’t you being absurdly disingenuous? We all know the difference between test-tube manipulation of DNA and selective breeding over generations. They are different procedures regardless of how similar the outcomes are.

Put it on the label if the DNA’s been twiddled, and if you lie you are guilty of fraud and unfair trade practices just like any other labeled product and if that’s too onerous for you, you’re not qualified to sell foodstuffs. I’m not allowed to sell tainted meat just because I can’t figure out how to work a refrigerator, or because it got spores in it while I was watching the bikini trampoline channel.

All I want is for GMOs to be labeled. This is not any different from requiring that manufacturers disclose the country of origin of a product. Steel from China is not necessarily different from Canadian steel, but it still has to be labeled so that the market can work properly.