Rejecting GMOs hinders human progress and keeps the poor hungry

Rejecting GMOs hinders human progress and keeps the poor hungry
“Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.” ― Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, 1726

Let’s be clear, eating genetically engineered food is safe, healthy, nutritious, and delicious. Hundreds of millions of people buy and consume GE foodstuff daily to the betterment of themselves, their families, and the farmers they buy from. While GE crops and derived foods have been extensively and successfully safety tested for decades, the ill-founded anti-GE activist movement persists in railing against the research, production, and consumption of GE commercial fabric and food crops. This unfounded rejection has historically and will continue to hinder and otherwise negatively impact human prosperity and growth; this is particularly the case for the world's poorest people. 

As of the date of publication, many NGOs and extreme environmentalists continue to advance an agenda that seeks to prohibit, delay and restrict civilization’s ability to deploy genetic engineering in modern agriculture for the enrichment of humanity in general and the world’s poor in particular. 

A strictly GE/GMO-free, certified organic lifestyle may well be enjoyed without notable consequence by a minority of wealthy individuals in developed countries, but forcing such a lifestyle upon the world’s poor is unjust, unethical, unproductive, and unnecessary. Those who support human progress, and the flourishing of human civilization, have a duty to counter this erroneous agricultural nonsense where and when the opportunity presents itself. To make a stand for the flourishing of humanity, a flourishing much enriched, both figuratively and literally, by agricultural genetic engineering and modern agricultural chemicals and methods. 

Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals, first inadvertently and later through primitive selective engineering, for the last 30,000 years. Nearly the whole pantry of food and animal products we think of as natural and historically unchanged; would be comprehensively unrecognizable from their original prehistoric forms. 

The anti-GE movement has delayed, denounced, and disrupted the progress of an agricultural technology that has saved hundreds of millions of lives and will undoubtedly save millions more in the next few decades. As I type these words, the general consensus among Americans is that GE foods are largely unsafe or potentially unsafe to farm and consume. A recent study aptly titled “Extreme Opponents of Genetically Modified Foods Know the Least But Think They Know the Most.” captures the current state of play perfectly. “Genetically modified (GM) foods are judged by the majority of scientists to be as safe for human consumption as conventionally grown foods, and have the potential to provide substantial benefits to humankind, such as increased nutritional content, higher yield per acre, better shelf life and crop disease resistance—yet there is substantial public opposition to their use around the world. In the United States, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 88% of scientists thought GM foods were safe to eat, while only 37% of lay-people thought so, the largest gap for any of the issues tested.”

The irrational fear and material abhorrence of genetically engineered crops have a deep root in our evolutionary survival. More than a hundred thousand years of trial and error allowed our species to laboriously work out which plants and animals were edible and nutritious and which were dangerous, unprofitable, or low in nutrients. This information was collected and handed down through oral instruction from parent to child, family to family, and merchant to merchant. Unfounded scaremongering regarding GE crops plays on our natural revulsion of the unknown, unclean, the toxic, the infected, or dangerous. Thus if unchallenged, the anti-GE movement has the potential to spread unproductive misinformation and further delay a powerful technology that holds enormous potential for improving the lives of millions of the world's poor. 

The rejection of modern agricultural methods, genetic engineering, and the utilization of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is exclusively the prerogative of wealthy humans living in developed, largely Western nations. For when unmolested by unfounded scaremongering and poor political policy, the world's poor have embraced genetically engineered crops, foods, and modern agricultural methods as swiftly and employed them as vigorously as they could muster. 

In low-income South East Asian countries where many of the poorest in the region subsist near exclusively on unenriched rice, with modest portions of vegetables and meat, a lack of Vitamin A can result in crippling disability or death.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) Figures, Vitamin A deficiency results in the blindness of  >250,000 to 500,000 children annually, with at least half of them dying within 12 months. 

A lack of Vitamin A in the diet is a problem exclusively confined to the world's poor, a technical problem for which there is a readily available technical solution. The solution in question was first postulated by Peter Beyer, a Professor of Cell Biology at Freiburg University in Germany, and Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland. Beyer and his team utilized genetic engineering to insert the genes to produce bata-carotene into the DNA of normal rice. The result was a rice modified in such a manner as to produce beta-carotene in situ within the plant. The resulting Golden Rice, the color of the rice, a clear indicator of the Vitamin A contained within. In many regions of China, India, and Bangladesh, a daily serving of Golden Rice could prevent millions of cases of blindness, save an equal number of lives, and improve the economic prospects and general well-being of countless families in the decades to come. 

Unfortunately, many of the well-fed who object to GE technology are acting to influence the regions that most need Golden Rice in an effort to block or delay the use of GE technology. Greenpeace and other GE opposition activist groups and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; are more than willing to trade the unfounded risks of GE crops in general, and rice in particular, for the all too certain risks of malnutrition, poverty, blindness, and death that result from their lack. Our current cultural climate is operating on an extreme version of the “guilty until proven innocent” methodology regarding the genetic engineering of agricultural crops. This culture is unnecessarily costing the prospects and lives of millions of the world’s poorest. 

While many factors have contributed to the delay in the research, production, and distribution farming of key GE crops, the root cause is all too often an irrational fear of the unknown hazards and risks of GE products. We are allowing millions to go hungry, or suffer crippling malnutrition or poverty-induced pathology, to spare them the possible risks of any ailment or environmental harm that may result from the farming and consumption of GE agriculture. 

Every month that our collective global culture hinders the deployment of higher-yielding, more nutritious, more extreme environmentally tolerant crops which require less fertilizer and pesticide; is another month for which future generations will look back with regret. 

Over the next 25 years, the development, and successful use of genetic engineering in the production of agricultural crops, will play a vital role in the support of human flourishing and save and enrich the lives of millions. This will, however, only be possible if we support the research, development, and use of GE technologies in a rational manner. 

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