Unfortunately, I believe my former reader may have missed the point of my column of April 11 (“Control”). I’m not sure that’s her fault, as communication has to do with both author and reader, so I will gladly accept that I wasn’t clear.
My subject was control. I wished to point out that the desire to control one’s food supply is a basic human trait. My son controls the brand of yogurt he eats; medieval mystics starved themselves; anti-GMO activists want to know what’s in their food. Many fear GMOs because someone other than nature is controlling the food.
This gets right to the heart of why I write my column, raise chickens and grow vegetables. I want to know what I’m putting into my body and feeding my children. I probably did inherit a bit of this control freak tendency from a relative who will go unnamed (not you, Mom; don’t worry. Yes, I apologize. Yes, I sent out that Thank You note. No. No. I’m busy. Yes, I’ll call.).
What I did say in my column is that “No reputable scientific study has shown any danger in genetically modified foods as foods.” I stand by this. There are studies that purport to show dangers. Many are anecdotal, but a few are published in scientific journals. In my research I have not found one that stands up to serious scrutiny. The most widely cited is by Seralini et al. (Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2012) ; this study suffers from a number of methodological flaws. There is a great deal of popular media about GMOs, though much of it is ephemeral and sensationalistic in its treatment of the science (e.g. genetic roulette).
The environmental danger of GMOs, on the other hand, is quite real. The inserted genes in canola or beets can quite easily move to related weed species. This spreads the genes and no doubt will affect the efficacy of GMOs and their associated chemicals.
So are genetically modified plants a good idea? Probably not. Will they cause unknown health effects down the line in humans? Probably not, but we really don’t know yet. The anti-GMO fervor of some strikes me as a healthy part of our cultural milieu. I would like to see the foods labeled so that people can make choices about what they eat. I don’t know that I would avoid GMO corn. I know I eat it now, and I know anybody who consumes meat produced by a large commercial farm is doing the same.
As a species we do so much harm. We are almost all complicit in this. As I type, I use electricity from natural gas, possibly produced by fracking. I don’t like it, but using electricity is a big part of how I live. What I want to see is people having more control over what they eat and how they live. Choosing to eat or avoid GMOs is a part of it, but in my mind our health would probably be better served by driving less and walking more. I think the science is pretty incontrovertible on that.