The NYT’s Mark Bittman ponders an American cereal manufacturer’s decision to cut genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from one of its products.
Bittman begins asking legitimate questions about the economics of GMOs, but his column gets confused by the time he reaches his third and final point, in which he intimates that “organic” foods are “cleaner.” Cleaner than what, it’s not clear, but we’re to assume he means non-organic, possibly GMO foods.
There are two legitimate safety concerns with GMOs. Just two.
- Are the plants or animals containing foreign genetic elements evolutionarily superior to local, wild versions, or competitively superior to other species in the area? If yes, a GMO or its genes are likely to “escape” into the environment, causing unforeseeable ecological changes and possibly damage.
- Do the introduced genes to GMOs encode products that cause an allergic response (in humans or other animals of interest, such as pets)?
American companies are required to answer both questions before the FDA will approve widespread, commercial use of a new GMO product.
Commercial GMOs don’t contain poisons and they aren’t “dirty,” as Bittman suggests. A newly invented GMO may not be good for the environment and it may not be healthy, but only rigorous scientific testing can determine that. So many GMOs have been shown to be evolutionarily or ecologically inferior to wild cousins, or shown to contain no allergens, that to dismiss any GMO without having first tested it is irrational.
Who benefits the most from GMOs — whether it is the biotech companies creating them, or corporate farms, or family or subsistence farms — is an important and interesting question. But whatever the answer is, however ugly the answer may be, does not cast a shadow on the technology itself. Economic problems can be fixed by changing economic policies.