Corn sky

Fear is a Strange Soil

In aid of promoting greater science literacy and understanding, I give you: GMO the good stuff. We see a lot of media about genetically modified organisms, and most of it is bad news. I don’t understand the fear of it, which is largely fuelled by poor understanding, media sensationalism, and a positively appalling lack of literacy when it comes to science. I do understand that people fear that which they do not know.

“Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grow in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.” –Terry Pratchett (Small Gods)

The problem is that while we here in the US can afford to self-righteously eschew the corn and potatoes that aren’t ‘naturally’ grown, the rest of the world wants, needs, and benefits from what GMO can do for you. So the media beating the drum to ban it leads directly to the deaths of poor people in other places, which are impacted by our NIMBY attitudes here.

Significant benefits from GM crops have come in the domain of socio-economics. Recent examples include:

  • Female small landholders spent an average of three fewer weeks hand-weeding their fields. The time saving was spent hauling more water to their personal vegetable gardens and with their children. (Gouse, 2013)
  • Farmer suicides in India leveled-off or decreased in most cotton-producing regions following the commercialization of Bt cotton. (Gruère and Sengupta, 2011)
  • Significant spillover benefits occurred in China, where insecticide applications in non-Bt cotton fields dropped from in excess of 40kg/ha to less than 10kg/ha. (Huang et al., 2010)
  • The adoption of Bt cotton in India results in up to 9 million fewer cases of pesticide poisoning per year. (Kouser and Qaim, 2011)
  • GM corn contains 30% fewer cancer related mycotoxins, than conventional or organic corn. (Pellegrino et al., 2018)

The quantification of human health benefits helps to explain the popularity of GM crops with developing countries farmers, particularly cotton farmers. Especially given that farmers have extensive communication networks and share their GM crop production experiences with neighboring farmers.

Me, I’m a potato, I guess. All eyes, no ears. Or maybe I’m some weird hybrid that grows potatoes underground, and corn above, and what has a mouth on a plant? I’ll just keep putting this out here, in hopes that someone will see it, and be willing to listen and consider that perhaps, just maybe, GMO isn’t as evil as the media portrays it. The benefits are staggering to our planet, not only to the human species, but if you believe agriculture should have a smaller footprint globally, then you must stop trying to embrace the dissonance of ‘less GMO’ and ‘less agriculture’ unless you are willing to admit you want people to die in job lots.


10 responses to “Fear is a Strange Soil”

  1. Sing it, sister. GMO, gimme more of that. I’ve never seen a single reliable, unbiased study that proves GMO is harmful. All I ever see is a whole lot of arm-waving and lockstep following of silly ideas.

    Love the Pratchett quote. Potatoes of defiance, unite!

    1. Biochemistry is biochemistry. Your body doesn’t know and can’t tell if Compound A was made by the wild type, the GMO’d type, in a laboratory, or fell from space. (Tho sometimes Compound A may be more or less available depending on the source and process, but that’s a different thing. Cyanide is cyanide whether you extract it from bitter almonds or rat poison.)

      Besides, nature does GMO all the time, on its own. DNA itself is basically GMO’d all the way back, by way of incorporated virus DNA (someone pointed out that human DNA is roughly 40% viral origin, that we know of; my guess is it’s more like 95%, had we ancient samples to compare, and the rest is natural mutations…. another form of natural GMO).

      1. That’s how we got the idea, isn’t it? Observing the non-sexual genetic exchanges?

  2. John in Philly Avatar
    John in Philly

    It’s interesting that the anti GMO folks don’t protest other “unnatural” things like antibiotics, refrigeration, electronics and so much more.
    As said before, “Common sense is indeed the most uncommon sense.”
    I don’t recall the exact numbers, but the mortality cost of, “We should farm like our ancestors did!!!”, is in the billions.

  3. Golden Rice. Rice specifically engineered to prevent blindness. But the ‘smart folk’ have decided that GMO bad, mkay.

    1. That one especially pisses me off, because recently they had a variety approved for US sale.

      The anti-GMO fanatics screamed to the sky about how how it wasn’t high enough in A to be labeled as a “good source” under US guidelines.

      …a five minute email to the agency got a polite note explaining that it was based off of US standard eating (which is, IIRC, 1/4 cup and not very often), not the areas that eat roughly a cup of rice for every meal as a norm. Kinda cool that the agency actually had that data on hand, too.

  4. a lot of these people are the ‘we should grow everything organically’ types too, and then i agree and tell them i hate those silicon-based vegetables.

    1. snelson134 Avatar

      My response to THOSE clowns includes Ringo’s comment from Last Centurion: “If the label says organic, worms and shit were involved.”

    2. Orvan Taurus Avatar
      Orvan Taurus

      And those germanium-based vegetables are even worse. Why, continue on that way and you could find yourself with tin and even lead.