The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The devil's in the details: pros and cons of GMOs

Corn and teosinteI've noticed that many environmentally conscious eaters have a knee-jerk reaction against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.  In my opinion, our food system is severely broken and the current GMO system is broken too.  But I think it's a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Humans have been selecting plants and animals which suit our needs for thousands of years.  Take a look at the teosinte ear on the left compared to the modern ear of corn (or "maize" as the plant is known in the rest of the world) on the right.  By simple selective breeding --- choosing the plants which produced the biggest ears and sweetest kernels --- Native Americans were able to develop something resembling the latter from the former seven thousand years ago.  In my opinion, producing GMOs is merely an acceleration of this process.

Percy SchmeiserWhich is not to say that I'm on board with the policies of the big GMO companies.  The notion of suing a Canadian farmer for patent infringement when his canola crop was pollinated by a neighbor's GMO canola is astounding.  On the other hand --- did you know that that Canadian farmer knowingly seeded his entire field with the offspring of the few plants which had been pollinated by the neighbor's plants rather than with seed from the many other plants he'd grown? 

In my opinion, GMO food has potential to cut back on pesticide use and other environmental catastrophes associated with our current agricultural system.  In a perfect world, I'd rather see everyone using organic, permaculture techniques in a food system based at the community level, making pesticides irrelevant.  But I think that carefully regulated and tested GMO foods could be part of that picture.  All of us environmentally conscious consumers owe it to ourselves and the legitimacy of our cause to carefully weigh the pros and cons before swearing off GMO food.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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i strongly disagree, GMO's are very bad. there has been a total of 37 dead from a genetically modifyed bacteria. so why can this happen with plants and animals? well thats my opinion. whats yours?
Comment by cutler Fri Nov 13 21:40:51 2009
I wonder how the number of people dead from pesticides and herbicides used in traditional farming would stack up? I suspect we kill many more people that way!
Comment by anna Sat Nov 14 08:10:32 2009
Selective breeding is one thing. Transgenic organisms and the commodification/patent controlling of life itself are quite different. Considering Monsanto is the prime force behind GMO, I suspect I shall remain dubious of chemical genetic manipulation for quite some time.
Comment by Jerry Sun Nov 15 01:12:57 2009
Very good point about Monsanto and their patents being evil. Personally, I probably wouldn't use GMO seeds anytime soon, but I think that people's knee jerk reaction against the entire concept of GMO is badly thought out, if that makes sense?
Comment by anna Sun Nov 15 09:02:03 2009
GMO is about making plants resistant to herbicides so that MORE chemicals can be used.
Comment by Anonymous Mon Mar 31 18:02:11 2014
No, Anonymous, GMO is about making plants resistant so the SAFEST chemicals can be used.
Comment by doc Fri Apr 4 07:05:14 2014

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