Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frankenfood and Famine

The fight over genetically modified foods is a battle that has carried on for years on many different fronts. What opponents have called playing God, those in favor of the scientific advances being made in agriculture see a solution to a worldwide problem. Once again, the mediator in this debate is good old fashioned propaganda, and, like so many other situations the media sticks its nose in, the results can be and have been deadly for decades.

The genetic modification of foods started as nothing more than the interbreeding of different species in a laboratory. Experimenting with such began as purely that, experimentation: out of simple curiosity, researchers wanted to know what would happen if the genetics of one species were manipulated with the genetics of another. Becoming an expedited process of unnatural selection, the results of these trials produce strings of both unremarkable and fascinating organisms which grow and develop in ways never before thought possible. With the exchange of some proteins, individual chromosomes, and full DNA strands, plant species were created that could grow larger and in different climates.

Of course, once you mention that a lab experiment encompassing what is abstractly the slicing and dicing two beings and pasting them into one, a Frankenfood of sorts, the crazed pitchfork wielding mob screaming “monster!” is not far behind. This mob, littered with various personalities like environmentalists and theological zealots, is mostly headed by Greenpeace. And once they nabbed the media’s ear, common sense gave way to ignorant fear.

The media was thrown into its usual disarray as when any group has an aversive agenda, shoving misinformation down the general public’s throat and frightening them into submission. Erroneous claims were splashed across newspapers and websites such as animal and plant genes being mixed and sold, upsetting the natural course of life by playing God with a Petri dish, untested, unregulated sales of produce that would ultimately replace all produce in American stores, and worst of all, fighting the technology that could end world hunger. I recall in my undergraduate program in an ecology class, we were given various environmental issues and had to give a presentation on the pros and cons of each. While most projects had differing arguments and points to make, the group presenting on GM foods presented and debated facts that mirrored each other, as if one side stood in Bizarro world and the other in our own. “Foods are unregulated” “Foods are regulated by the government.” “They mix animal genes with plant genes”. “No they don’t”. “They’ll sell nothing but GM!” “No they won’t.” If soon to be college graduates couldn’t extract from their in depth research more compelling arguments than this, how can the average American by simply watching TV?

As mentioned before, science is driven by curiosity, and all the advances that come with it are the result of experimentation, simple trial and error. We would not be where we are medically, environmentally, or socially if someone somewhere hadn’t asked themselves “what if?” These lab explorations began with switching the genes of plant species with one another, and gradually migrated towards playing with animal genes. However, in spite of the outrageous claims, these animal-plant experiments are simply that-experiments. The Greenpeacers insist that labs are taking fish genes and putting them in lettuce and taking rat genes and putting them in tomatoes and stocking the shelves with them, therefore vegetarian and vegan practices are undoubtedly in danger! Once GM foods infiltrate and overrun the produce market of America, vegans and vegetarians will be unable to find animal friendly vegetation and they will starve and vie. I mean die. Unfortunately for the anarchists, universities and agricultural researchers alike assure us that though they are observing what such changes in an organism these manipulations create for the purpose of science, these specimens were never meant to be used as a food crop, and will never be sold in any store to the general public. Even if they wanted to, the government would never allow it.

One statement that has been a widely used favorite of the GM opponents is that these crops are completely and totally untested and unregulated by the U.S. government. This produce is created in labs, grown in crops, cut and sold in stores, without the government even bothering to glance over their shoulders at, let alone examine the process. Right. The Federalians are good, but they are not that good; they would never get away with that. As a matter of fact, GM foods are more carefully tested than any other produce sold in stores and it took millions of dollars and years of testing to be approved for human consumption. They are also heavily regulated by the U.S.D.A to determine the effects on the surrounding environment where they’re grown, the F.D.A for food safety, and the E.P.A if a pesticide is involved in the crop growing. To be perfectly clear, it’s probably safer to eat GM produce than organic or even plain old pesticide riddled regular vegetables. But, thanks to the American way of business, never fear! You will always have a choice on what types of produce you want to buy. If you don’t want the Frankenfood, you can pay extra for that crazy organic crap, which, mind you, you spend more time washing off bugs, slugs, and caterpillars (yup, found ‘em all in my lettuce). If you don’t like the added protein from the insecta class, and don’t trust the GM stuff, you will always be able to buy the regular veggies. To monopolize the market with one type of food is not just frustrating, it’s communism. But hey, even if we had one choice, and one choice only, who are we to bitch if we are lucky enough to have food?

Many have also argued that by manipulating the natural order of these species DNA strands and creating hybrids is like playing God, and therefore is an abomination. I believe that letting people all around the world starve to death is an abomination. Now I’m not a Bible Thumper myself, but I believe that God is as much like a parental figure as anyone else. No parent who wants their child to grow and become successful believes that doing every little task for them will help them achieve this. No decent parent comes running the minute their child cries out, ready to pull them out of the mess instead of letting them learn to find their own way. Like any good parent, they provide the tools and sit back to see what their child can accomplish with them. God has provided us the tools. He has provided us the brains that developed the technology to resolve our own problems. And not only do we keep crying for help, straddled by religion-induced self-helplessness, but we actually fight the people who might just have the answer.

The various hybrids created by these experiments have been engineered to not only grow larger and feed more people, but they can actually sustain life in harsher climates with fewer necessities. Many people in third world countries starve, not because they’re lazy, not because they don’t want to help themselves, but because in most countries, the summers are too hot, the winters, too cold; the region too dry or far too wet, the soil, useless. They cannot grow their own crops because no crops survive. Many of these GM foods can last in dry heats with minimal water or in flooding rains. They can survive permafrost; they can survive with few nutrients most other crops require in rich soil. They would thrive in nations in Africa or Southern Europe. And people would live. Norman Borlaug knows this story well. Using similar technology, he helped engineer various strains of grains (wheat and rice) and introduced these specimens to Mexico, India, and Pakistan, doubling their food production in less than 5 years. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970 and has been credited for saving over one billion (yes, BILLION) people from starvation. Way to kick ass, Mr. Borlaug.

So taking this into consideration, some Americans are still not happy with GM foods being sold in America. Fine, but this technology is not just for you. We are fat. We are gluttons. We really don’t need it. But others do. So let’s send the food and technology over to the other countries and let them enjoy it, right? Wrong, said Greenpeace. Damn it, those little tree-hugging hippies are at it again! And this time, it wasn’t just propaganda through interpretive dance that we could all ignore. At the 2002 Environmental Summit in Africa, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth crammed their misinformation down the throats of several African presidents, convincing them GM foods were poisonous and harmful. Therefore, many countries turned down tons of GM foods that had been donated by the U.S., leaving their people to continue starving. One fact Greenpeace forgot to mention? In the last 50 years, not one person has ever become ill or died as a result of consuming a GM food product.

It never ceases to amaze me that the people who are fighting the biotechnology that could feed the world are always the ones who have enough food in their refrigerators. Even if there were risks, could you look at your starving child and deny them food that may make them sick in 30 years, even though without it, they will die in 30 days? As one Greenpeace hippie dude said about GMs, “yeah we could save the world but, like, uh your kid might grow four eyeballs!” Watch out world, we’re in the presence of a mental giant here. Norman, we miss you.

Minhaj Gedi Farah, starving baby weighed just over 7 pounds at 7 months old. Weeks later, after receiving nutrients through an IV, he's almost at a normal weight for his age. Come on Greenpeace, you're doing this to everyone.