THE POWER OF SCIENCE

Posted in Rants on September 8th, 2010 by Ed

The FDA is on the verge of approving genetically engineered animals for human consumption. It has not yet done so, but let us not feign suspense about the decision they will reach. Unlike most westerners, Americans are already eating enormous quantities of GMO corn, soybeans, and other staple crops. Despite the highly controversial nature of this issue, I have to admit that I have never taken the time to form an opinion about it. I understand all of the issues involved – health-related, legal, ethical, and environmental – but I cannot muster the outrage expected of someone of my ideological persuasion.

Our fields, grocery stores, and stomachs are already so packed with lab-engineered Miracle Foods that I have a hard time seeing how GMOs are much of a step down. I mean, are those Doritos, Cocoa Puffs, and Miller Lites going to be better for you if we kick out the GMO corn? Are Monsanto, ConAgra, and Tyson going to have any less of a grip on the American food system if GMOs are ruled unfit for human consumption? Which is worse for me, the GMO milk or the non-GMO milk laced with Bovine Growth Hormone and "Doctor, I think I have anthrax" sized doses of antibiotics? If we trust the FDA to declare regular farm-raised "Atlantic Salmon" – which I can only assume is fed an engineered diet of slaughterhouse waste and chemical additives – safe for consumption, why should we grow skeptical about their judgment now?

My point is not that GMOs are great or even safe. It is that GMOs have become a buzzword and a distraction from the larger deficiencies in our food chain as a whole. The dangers of GMOs mirror the dangers of any heavily processed food, patented seed, or chemical-addled livestock. There is no point in "winning" a battle over GMOs if we're going to continue to eat Cheetos and patronize Taco Bell. Hell, if GMOs cause cancer and shorten our lives they'll fit right in with our current choices at the supermarket.

Politically, this is an instance in which people on the left are undermined by the extremity of their own rhetoric. Talk of "Frankenfoods," modified corn that will have us dropping dead, and vicious, feral strawberries waiting to kill us in our sleep accomplish little, especially since pro-GMO advocates have such pleasant-sounding (although ultimately dishonest) arguments on their side. They can claim that increased yields and pest/virus resistance will alleviate hunger and reduce the need for chemical pesticides. This, of course, is nonsense. The root causes of hunger are social and political, and they do not stem from a lack of available food globally. There is enough food for everyone and the relevant issue to confront is what prevents it from ending up on the plates of people who go hungry.

I'd like to get worked up about GMOs but I have yet to hear the argument that will push me past indifference. With or without them, we confront the same problems. Agribusiness does whatever it wants. Science keeps coming up with new ways to "improve" food with chemical additives and more exotic processing. Most of our food supply is altered in some way that serves to make us fatter and provide us with little to no nutritional value. I may be wrong, but I think every minute spent wailing and rending our tunics over Genetically Modified, factory farmed salmon is a distraction from the more important question of why we're eating chemically enhanced factory farmed salmon in the first place. Let's stop eating shit rather than bickering over what specific kinds of shit should be allowed on the grocery store shelves.