They have been portrayed as the farmyard equivalent to mustard gas and perniciously christened “frankenfoods” by gung-ho vegan storm troopers.
And if you drink enough of the anti-GMO Kool-Aid, you may end up believing that Genetically Modified Organisms are the spawn of a satanic international conspiracy by a secret clan of diabolic scientists and engineers out to poison humanity.
But for all the hype against GMOs, most of the hysteria circulating about engineered foods is based more on media myths and misconceptions than solid, scientific data.
In fact, the entire concept of GMOs is basically bunk, since nearly every crop currently being produced on an industrial scale today is, in one way or another, the product of some sort of genetic engineering.
In other words, almost all the foods we consume could technically be classified as transgenic.
Throughout history, farmers have selectively bred and crossbred plants to improve their taste and yield.
This practice has gone on for more than 10,000 years, almost since the dawn of the age of agriculture, and has allowed humanity to be able to feed itself and engage in sustainable farming.
The big difference today is that this selective engineering of crops is now done in laboratories that can single out specific genes to speed up the selection process, rather than by the hit-and-miss techniques of rural agriculturalists.
By targeting and eliminating genetic material that may make a fruit or vegetable vulnerable to disease and insects or limit its annual output, scientists can replace the plant’s DNA with that from another stronger variety of a similar species.
The end result is larger crops and better food quality to feed the world’s growing population.
And while supermarkets and advertising firms are having a heyday playing up on the public’s fear of transgenics and labeling everything from apples to zucchinis as “GMO-free,” the only scientifically genetically engineered foods on the market today are corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, potatoes, papaya and squash. Period.
Furthermore, every one of those GMOs has been carefully studied and tweaked to prevent unintended effects such as toxicity and allergic reactions, while ensuring their nutritional composition.
The development and approval process is so rigorous that it can take up to 15 years.
Just like the unsubstantiated claims that vaccines can lead to autism, the uncorroborated allegations the GMOs can pose health risks have no scientific basis.
There has not been a single documented case of any transgenic food posing a danger to human health.
And as for the claims that GMOs can cause negative environmental effects, it turns out the exact opposite is true.
Not only do GMOs decrease the need to use pesticide (since most of these crops are insect-resistant), but they increase yields dramatically, which means that require substantially less land as compared with conventional crops to produce the same amount of food.
Moreover, since GMOs are usually more resilient than conventional crops, they require less mechanical weed removal, which translates into a reduction in the use of diesel and other fossil fuels for tractors and plows.
Consequently, GMOs have a smaller carbon footprint that their conventional cousins.
GMOs have become the unlikely scapegoats of science-phobes and self-appointed armchair experts who base their delusional philosophies on urban legends and media mythos rather than facts.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]