Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Sociology Memo: Genetically Modified Food

I don't really understand the mindset involved in opposing genetically modified food. What's the alternative? Look to our past, look to the middle ages. Entire crops can be wiped out by a fluke of disease or pests or even weather. Countless man-hours are spent toiling in the fields using inferior tools, foods available are limited by season, and the foods people do get to eat are nutritionally lacking. Hardcore Vegans couldn't even survive!

It seems to me that people who really advocate backing away from technology are completely unreasonable and it would take a divine intervention to convince them otherwise. As for the rest, I think their arguments are misplaced. The argument isn't against genetically modified food, per se, but against how the rise of corporations and profitable benefits GM food gives us allows for some pretty mean exploiting. We have corporations that have monopolies on food. We have corporations that will take shortcuts on food safety.

But is it really a safety issue when it comes to, say, allergies? Smith's section on whether humans should be worried came off very strangely. In one sentence, he speaks about allergies as reactions to foreign and strange substances. In the next, he talks about more people having peanut allergies. Peanuts aren't foreign or strange; I eat them all the time as do many other people. In fact, all plants are toxic. But human and other animal bodies have adapted to eat these things, and some of us are less adapted than others. If we're going to be against GM foods because they can cause allergic reactions, we should be against everything that can cause allergic reactions. (Which is nearly everything.) This entire argument of his does not follow. All that should be done is mandating potential allergens on the food product, which is already done. (And if possible allergens are not clear, make it clearer.)

There are moral and ethical arguments to be made, but not against GM food itself. The really sick thing is the fact that we could easily produce enough food to feed the entire world, even easier with the help of GM food, but we don't do it. Farmers are forced to destroy surplus crops. "Banana Republics" arise. All under the guise of pure capitalism, as anyone who speaks out can be labeled a socialist... There's a lot to get angry over, but being mad over whether Super Food might have tiny little flaw x is ridiculous.

I don't really foresee an end to GM food; if anything, it will only continue its course and become even more awesome as the science improves. People don't even realize they're eating GM food; the suggestion that Oprah could destroy the industry is laughable. (Though it would be scary if she actually had that kind of power. Her power is formidable, but it's only on trivial things that don't take individual research.)

GM food already has so many benefits: resisting diseases, insects, herbicides, bad environmental conditions like drought; they're faster-growing to make more (and bigger!) food, and yes, we can even engineer out toxins found to cause problems. We're manipulating at the gene level, we're very close to the level of all-out god-status. Instead of letting the blind idiot god Nature run the show, we should step up to the plate as the powerful intelligent optimization processes we are and really do things better.

Posted on 2010-04-30 by Jach

Tags: food, memo


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