As someone who loves science, with more than just a passing interest, I tend to trust scientists in general far more than politicians, Hollywood stars, CEO’s or the general public.
Sometimes scientists get things wrong, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any group of people are more right about how the world works; my trust is placed in the most capable hands.
One of the more controversial subjects these days is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many people consume them without knowing it, some actively avoid them, and some are like me—trustful of the people who know more than me that the product that they are bringing to market has been well-researched, and has provided no evidence of any harmful effects to the consumer.
Recently, the FDA weighed in on genetically modified apples and potatoes, approving them for resale in the US. This won’t stop anti-GMO activists from attacking them, however. And companies like McDonald’s, have stated they have no intention of using the potatoes.
McDonald’s have not elaborated on their reasons to my knowledge, but assuming they’re aware of the science behind them, and the rigorous testing these potatoes must have passed by their manufacturer, J.R. Simplot, and then the FDA, I feel it’s safer to assume McDonald’s is simply making a smart marketing decision.
People who are OK with GMOs will still buy from McDonald’s if they already were a customer, and people who are afraid of GMOs will too. The only people McDonald’s might lose are people making a principled stand to avoid them because they’re being anti-science, and I suspect such people are pretty small in numbers.
One group of people are unwitting hypocrites however, and that’s the high number of marijuana users who say they only consume organic, non-GMO foods.
Go to any pot dispensary, and you will find a myriad of choices available to the consumer so vast, that no other consumable crop likely exceeds it in variance. There are certainly more marijuana choices available than there are varieties of apples and potatoes.
The reason for this is that marijuana is one of the most heavily genetically modified organisms on the planet. People have been combining varieties of seeds for centuries to come up with crops that are either heartier to produce a greater yield of usable plant, or more often than not to yield a higher THC content for better highs.
The bottom line is that it’s nearly impossible to procure marijuana in its natural state these days.
So these users are either supremely ignorant as to how that pot came to be, or somehow have decided that the “scientist” who lives next door working out of their basement, and may or may not have taken a few biology classes, knows more than the multitude of PhD holders at Monsanto, Simplot, and/or the FDA as to what is safe for human consumption. If there’s logic in that, I don’t see it.
The argument is that marijuana is genetically modified by cross-pollination, or cross-breeding, a process where the pollen of one plant is introduced into the stigma of another. Essentially, it’s the plant version of crossing a horse with a donkey to create a mule.
By doing this, you’re coupling two plants with DNA which is nearly identical, but specifically that share a common trait you hope to enhance by combining them. This will usually work to some extent, because that’s how procreation works in general.
This is oversimplifying it a bit, but basically, when any two organisms procreate, the commonalities they share have a high chance of being part of the offspring, the traits they don’t share have a 50:50 shot at becoming part of the offspring, and of course, if neither have a particular trait, they are all but guaranteed not to produce offspring with that trait.
Think of shooting a shotgun at a target 100 feet away. Most of the shot may centralize around the bulls-eye, assuming your aim was true, but there will be scattered buckshot all around your aiming point that’s rather indiscriminate. This is cross breeding. You’ll get pretty close, and you’ll often have something close to the desired result (a bulls-eye), but you’ll likely have a lot of other stuff you didn’t necessarily want as well (shot outside the bulls-eye).
What people like Monsato and Simplot are doing however, is specifically activating or deactivating a particular and singular gene they know will give the offspring they create the desired result, without changing anything else. If cross-breeding is a shotgun at 100 feet, GMOs are a marine sniper on his best day from just 5 feet.
While I know this can be a soft spot for creationists, evolution is a very natural process. Traits that are most common in surviving species carry on, traits that aren’t usually die off before procreation, and go extinct. It’s an incredibly slow process that can take up to hundreds, if not thousands of generations. Cross-breeding and GMOs simply speed it up to one generation, and often obtains something pretty close to the desired result of the breeder, GMOs are simply the significantly more precise of the two.
It may not seem natural, and by definition it isn’t, but it’s effectively just an infinitely faster version of evolution, something that is indeed entirely natural.
Science, somewhat justifiably so, isn’t always considered trustworthy. There is a long history of scientific discovery that has been at the expense of human lives. Whether it be malicious Nazi scientists doing experiments on their Jewish captors, or well-intentioned experiments that have simply gone wrong, scientific endeavors have occasionally killed humans.
However, when you think of all the diseases that have been eradicated, all the organ transplants and medical procedures that have given people new leases on life, or all of the wonderful technology that simply makes our lives easier, clearly science has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the human race.
GMO producers are simply either trying to being a better product to market, or often save lives by creating crops that can grow in places around the world who are starving because the produced GMO’s natural cousin won’t grow there, saving many lives. So if you’re against that, you’re unwittingly asking people to starve to death because you think it’s wrong for mankind to “play god” with food.
Either way, I love science, and I love the idea of using science to provide the world a better organism. Now pass me the GMO french fries.