Syzygy (syzygy) wrote in syz_satyagraha,

Better Living Through Chemistry

They say that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out; but if you put a frog into a pot of cool water and slowly bring it to a boil, it will sit there and cook. I believe there is a parallel here with our reactions to industrial agriculture and GMOs.

I've gotten some flack from friends because I don't believe that GMOs are horrendous in principle, except that they are input-inefficient--they take more resources to make than they are worth. I am against GMOs as they exist now, however, primarily because they are insufficiently tested, the corporations which sell them bully potential markets and regulators, and often they are cultivated for highly destructive purposes, such as to facilitate herbicide use.

A few weeks ago I talked to someone who was doing his dissertation on GMOs. To my surprise, he was not against them. He felt that people had confused antagonism towards industrial agriculture and GMOs, that GMOs themselves were not necessarily problematic, and he wanted to clarify the issue so that a debate could be held.

Realistically, however, it's worth pointing out that a debate is simply not possible. To begin with, Monstanto is not in the business of debating; they're in the business of profit-making at whatever cost to somebody else. Attempting to debate green revolution corporations like that is as naive as sitting down to play a fair game of poker with the most renowned cheater in the country--you'll lose, period. In addition, there is minimal investigation and little objective arbitration of such debates. In fact, the "debate" has already been held--you'll note that GMOs happen to be legal in most of the US.

While I believe that the energy of revulsion to GMOs should be pragmatically harnessed, he's got a point that it's actually a misdirected rejection of industrial agriculture. For instance, the problem with GM gene transfers into weeds in this case is not with the GM gene transfer itself, it's with our reliance on the combination of herbicide and GMOs. The herbicide is likely to be more destructive to the environment than the GMO is. And there are far more problems with industrial agriculture that are not related to GMOs, such as its extreme energy inefficiency. In cases where specific GMOs are the problem, such as the GM corn which kills monarch butterfly larvae, the essential problem is one common to all pesticides, not just GMO-based ones.

But GMOs are the pot of boiling water that we've been dropped into--they're new, and they're gross. Industrial agriculture crept up on us slowly, along with the rest of chemical industrialism. First we saw the advantages--more food, fewer crop failures. Nearly all of us have eaten industrially grown food most of our lives. Gradually we saw some of the disadvantages--diminished food quality, especially in taste. Suddenly there's an obesity epidemic and cancer is commonplace. Is the water boiling yet? Can we even tell?
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