Human beings have been using various agricultural techniques to genetically modify (i.e., breed for preferred traits in) their food for thousands of years, and the more recent and more rapidly innovative advent of genetically modified foods via laboratory has helped scientists and farmers to develop hardier, more nutritious, pest-and-weather-resistant crops that have the ability to feed more people while using up less space and fewer resources (which, I might mention, is a pretty great environmental development to boot).
Despite their boundless potential for feeding the hungry and alleviate poverty the world over, genetically modified organisms have inspired a small but vociferous and well-marketed opposition campaign among many of the same types of people who would probably dismiss you as a knuckle-dragging, anti-science flat-earther for questioning the absolute and catastrophic imminence of climate-change disasters. If rising global temperatures are indeed the all-consuming environmental problem that The Party of Science portends, then GMOs are going to be an essential part of any adaptation strategy — but let that not deter the voters of Jackson County, Oregon, who last month joined several other counties spread across California, Hawaii, and Washington to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops:
Residents in a southwest Oregon county voted emphatically to ban genetically engineered crops following a campaign that attracted a bushel of out-of-state money.
With most of the ballots counted in Tuesday’s all-mail election, Jackson County voters approved the measure by a 2-to-1 margin. ..
Though genetically engineered crops are common and no mainstream science has shown they are unsafe, opponents contend GMOs are still experimental and promote the use of pesticides. They say more testing is needed. …
“Regrettably ideology defeated sound science and common sense in Jackson County,” Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, said in a statement. “We respect the voice of the voters, but remain convinced Measure 15-119 is bad public policy. While this election is over, this debate is not. We will continue to fight to protect the rights of all farmers to choose for themselves how they farm.”
The editors of the Washington Post would agree with that sensible assessment, as they outlined in a piece this week criticizing the anti-“Frankenfood” “fundamentalism” of these anti-science and trend-chasing yuppies:
There is no mainstream scientific evidence showing that foods containing GMOs are any more or less harmful for people to consume than anything else in the supermarket, despite decades of development and use. If that doesn’t convince some people, they have the option of simply buying food bearing the “organic” label. There is no need for the government to stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm. Outright bans, meanwhile, are even worse than gratuitous labeling.
The issue is not just one of agribusiness profits, though some companies certainly stand to make money by creating and selling GMOs. The application of current biotechnological tools to agriculture offers a wide array of benefits , benefits that are only beginning to be seen. There is the potential to create crops that are easier to grow, better for the environment and more nutrient-rich. Smart genetic modification is one important tool available to sustain the world’s growing multitudes. Making good on that promise will require both an openness to the technology and serious investment in GMOs within wealthy countries. The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.
Amen to that.