The GMO Stigma

January 10, 2014

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could offer a healthier and more secure future for the poor across the world, says Henry Miller, a physician and fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.

  • Standard rice crops are heavy in carbohydrates but poor in vitamins.
  • Activists in the Philippines recently vandalized fields of "golden rice," a genetically engineered rice crop that contains beta-carotene.
  • As 200-300 million preschool children in developing countries are at risk of vitamin A deficiency (500,000 children go blind each year due to a lack of vitamin A), a vitamin-rich crop such as golden rice is invaluable.

Scientists responded to the vandalism, asking for support for crops like golden rice that could save millions from sickness and death, but the fact remains that many people believe that there is a significant difference between GMOs and conventional crops:

  • In fact, many varieties of corn, oats, pumpkins, wheat, black currants, tomatoes and potatoes would not exist in nature were it not for 50 years of "wide cross" hybridizations (moving genes from one species to another). In North American and European diets, it is only wild berries, wild game, wild mushrooms, and fish and shellfish that have not been genetically improved in some fashion.
  • There are no documented cases of harm to humans from genetically engineered crops.
  • Regulations that are not commensurate with the actual level of risk in producing GMOs have inhibited innovation that could otherwise improve global food security. For many potential crops, testing and development has become economically unfeasible.
  • Many places require GPS coordinates of GMO field trials to be provided, which only facilitates vandalism.

Until regulators recognize that GMOs are not a dangerous category of research, genetic engineering will fall short of its potential, only hurting millions who could benefit from improved crop developments.

Source: Henry I. Miller, "The GMO Stigma," Project Syndicate, January 3, 2014.

 

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