Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Both sides of the GMO debate are missing the real issue

Three days ago, the New York Times distinguished itself by publishing a piece titled "A Lonely Quest for the Facts on Genetically Modified Crops". 
Screengrab from the online version of that article. 
It was one of those proverbial shots heard 'round the world because it departed significantly from what everyone expected such a well-known liberal rag to produce, in that it evaluated the question of GMO safety on its merits rather than toeing the established liberal line in simply condemning GMO technology
By this time, the debate is so polarized that, if you Google "GMO meme", Google automatically segregates the results into "Pro" and "Anti" for you. 

Screengrabbed from Google. 
But the fundamental flaw in the NYT article is exactly that - it attempted to evaluate the question of GMO safety on its merits, which is the absolute worst way to look at the issue.

To consume or not consume GMOs is not primarily an issue of safety - it's an issue of personal choice.  But when I try to make this point, people usually respond by giving me a blank stare because they are so conditioned to think in terms of safe vs. unsafe that they can't manage the paradigm shift, the conceptual leap, to evaluating the question in terms of want vs. don't want

I personally don't care whether or not GMOs are safe - I would not choose to bring them into my home regardless.  If someone such as God Himself were to present me with conclusive evidence that GMO corn is 100% safe, I still wouldn't make my tortillas out of it.  That's just my personal choice, which I am entitled to make for myself. 

I have my reasons for that choice, but rather than getting all bogged down in the minutiae of my own personal opinions, I decided to write a parable that illustrates this fundamental point on a broader scale.  Different people may have different bases for want vs. don't want.  It doesn't matter what their individual reasons are.  They all have the right to make informed choices, as this parable teaches. 


A Jew and a Muslim walked into a grocery store and proceeded to the meat counter.  They asked the butcher, “Which of these meats is free of pig DNA?  We know that a lot of chicken and beef has had pig DNA spliced into it by this time, DNA sequences from those Texas feral hogs which are particularly robust and disease-resistant.  We wish to buy meat that hasn’t been altered, so we need you to point out what our choices are.”
The butcher looked at the pair of them and smiled condescendingly.  “With today’s technology and sanitation, there’s no rational reason to exclude any particular meat from your diet.  All of our meat is equally safe to consume.”
The Jew and the Muslim looked at each other with trepidation, realizing the extent of what they were up against.  The Jew spoke gently as she said, “But we don’t eat pork in whole or in part.  It’s just our choice – it’s part of our respective cultural heritages, a fundamental personal decision that underpins who we are as people.”
“Well, tough luck for you, then, because we have no intention of disclosing,” the butcher replied.  “If we reveal which meat contains pig DNA, the public might get the mistaken idea that it’s somehow inferior.  And that ain’t ever going to happen.” 
The Jew and the Muslim left the grocery store silently, contemplating the subtle but comprehensive manner in which their identities had been disrespected, and the degree to which their worlds were continuing to shrink. 
Think it couldn't happen with beef and chicken?  It has already happened with fish

One of the aforesaid memes, screengrabbed from this site.


  1. This is really good. I couldn't agree more. You said it perfectly. I just found your site last week as I was searching for gardening info specifically for my area. I'm in Santa Fe and I am just beginning to grow food in my landscape. Like you, I am in a subdivision so I have to make my food look nice. :-) I am enjoying your blog tremendously. Thank you.


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