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GMO Answers Piece "Random Thoughts etc"

February 26, 2014
The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science, compiled by Fourat Janabi, features contributions by public scientists, authors, farmers, science writers and journalists who answer the hard questions surrounding GMOs. It is “THE book on GMOs” intended to counter fabricated and destructive activism permeating the biotech discussion based on little more than anecdote and ideology. As an independent expert, Janabi does a notable job of collecting reliable content from reputable and credible GMO experts that can serve as a great educational tool for clarifying the misconceptions surrounding ag biotech. Recently on our GMO Answers web site, Janabi provided “Random Thoughts on Biotech,” great subject matter from The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science which wonderfully details how ag biotech is not as different from nature as many presume: 

If one takes the basic premise that nature makes stuff better than we do—arguably the root of those who eschew GMO produce—and follow it through to its logical conclusion, we find something interesting. Starting at the beginning: some 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, there existed a single-celled replicator that was, most likely, the common ancestor of everything alive today. Now, if you are anti-GMO, harken back to the thought that recombinant DNA technology is unnatural. If that were indeed the case, then I can say, with some confidence, that we (humanity) would not be here. The reason why is that nothing could’ve evolved from that original replicator. It would just be replicators ad infinitum, one after the undifferentiated other. Nothing would, or even could, change because random changes and mutations would not occur. (Even the original replicator would not have evolved to exist in the first place so we wouldn't have gotten that far.)

Food for thought: nature is the original engineer.

In order to go from that replicator to a 100-trillion celled human being, nature had to employ genomic engineering. The only difference between nature’s style and our own is that nature’s is directionless and purposeless-that is, there is no end goal in mind. Whatever happens, happens; good, bad, ugly, beautiful, painful, swift, agonizing, or any other of a hundred different combinations….

The key point is that evolution happens regardless of whether we rework it to our advantage (biotech crops) or leave nature be (organic). The changes between the disparate crop-growing methods are in degree, not kind:

  • Evolution is natural selection by random mutation

  • Pre-Industrial (i.e., organic) agriculture is artificial selection by random mutation

  • 20th century (conventional & organic) agriculture is artificial selection by accelerated

  • random mutation (mutagenesis)

  • GM agriculture is artificial selection by purposeful mutation

….Biotech crops usually have between 1 and 3 genes altered, but every new generation of organic and conventional crops that reproduces sexually will have a few different genes in there too (this is why farmers buy seed, and that seed purchasing predates Monsanto: because it is more reliable). Copying errors are inevitable: a DNA glitch, a passing cosmic ray etc., will, and do, induce genetic mutations. To say there is uncertainty in GMOs is likewise to admitting that there is uncertainty in any new generation of plant or animal. The average human offspring carries about 100-200 mutations, but they are still people

We need to realize that feeding 7 billion, let alone 9 to 10 billion people in the near future, isn’t going to be easy. If the solution fits on a Facebook photo as a caption, you can rest assured it will solve nothing. This chapter is 5,000 words long and is barely scratching the surface. This book is 35,000 words and barely strays beyond the tip of the iceberg. Some silly shared photo on Facebook demonizing Monsanto, chemical use, glyphosate, or showing a tomato with a hypodermic needle in it not only shows you things out of context, they detract from the conversations we should be having, if it isn't an outright lie to begin with (hypodermic needles are not used in the genetic modification of…well…anything).

No one, least of all the scientists and farmers contributing to food security, is pretending that the current state of agriculture is perfect. But it is far and away more advanced than the ancient and recent past, and any and all solutions to today’s problems will only come from the application of more research, science, evidence, and technology. A regression to the past will only results in a regression to the past’s problems, albeit with today’s population.

With that, I duly hope that you’ve picked up something from this book, and I especially hope that that something includes peace of mind. The amount of fear, paranoia, and hysteria one finds on the Internet is as disconnected empirically from reality as astrology is to astronomy and alchemy is to chemistry. Carl Sagan, in his usual candor, said it best: “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility in every stop. Our common sense intuitions can be mistaken, our preferences don’t count, we do not live in a privileged reference frame.”

Whatever your impression of genetically modified organisms may be, if we do not ground the discussion in the strictest of facts, we stand to lose very much. GMOs might not solve everything, but to not use every means at our disposal to combat climate change, food-security (and by extension, poverty), water use, and shelf-life for ideological reasons is inviting fragility and vulnerability to an increasingly complicated, inter-connected world.

To read “Random Thoughts on Biotech” in its entirety, visit here.

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