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Aug 2, 2014 08:37 AM

You guys have thoughts on this take on the GMO issue?

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  1. Well, I tend to agree with Mr. Tyson that GMO foods are not a cause for concern. On the the other hand, I am infuriated that GMO food purveyors feel that they HAVE THE RIGHT NOT TO TELL US WHETHER A FOOD HAS BEEN GENETICALLY MODIFIED. GMO foods don't bother me, but they bother a lot of people. And those people should have the right to avoid buying them in the marketplace.

    I think that it is telling that GMO food sellers feel that they have to hide the fact of the nature of the food from us. And why do they do this?--For their own profit. They know, or suspect, that they could not make a go of it economically, if they let people decide for themselves.

    Mr. Tyson's analogy between GMO foods and selective breeding also is weak. Selective breeding or hybridization takes two roughly compatible plants or animals and breeds them for the desired characteristics. This is a far cry from inserting genes from (say) a rat into a cow because the rat has some characteristic than would be useful in the cow. Or, for example, the GMO advocates taking a gene that produces a natural pesticide in some inedible plant and inserting it in corn to make the corn produce its own pesticide.

    While I don't get upset about GMO products, I keep in mind that the judgment that these combinations are perfectly safe comes from the same people (scientists, broadly) who blithely told us in the 1970s that hydrogenated vegetable oil (margarine) was better for our hearts than the animal fat in butter. I dutifully started substituting margarine for butter in all of my cooking, only to be told in 2000 or so, "Oh, we were wrong. Actually, hydrogenated vegetable oil is really MUCH WORSE for you than the saturated fat that you would find in butter. Sorry about your clogged arteries!"

    People who fear any advance in science have been burning books (and scientists) for years. With the world's expanding population, I wonder if we can produce enough food without the use of GMOs. (Malthus depressed me.) But scientists/agribusiness should give us the choice of determining what we put in our bodies. They shouldn't keep the content of food a deep, dark secret, even if they think it is a harmless secret. After all, isn't openness and honesty one of the hallmarks of good science?

    4 Replies
    1. re: gfr1111

      The people who have a problem with gmo are free to not buy it.
      They should expect everything to have gmo's unless labeled otherwise. Furthermore, labeling sonething non-gmo, is worth it from a business standpoint, it's product differentiation, thus a rent seeking activity. So we can expect anyone with non gmo products to label them as such. It will become very clear which products are gmo and which are not, all thanks to market forces and people being driven by profit.
      Seems simple, why impose more costs on the system?

      1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

        That's right. There are plenty of food producers advertising their products as "GMO free." That whole aspect of the controversy is a red herring. The real purpose of those trying to force labeling of products containing GMOs isn't to uphold the principle of truth in labeling, but to drive GMOs out.

        1. re: GH1618


          ..since I refuse to use that damn heart.

      2. re: gfr1111

        You bring up some good points. I know very little about the science of GMO's and I'm interested in learning more. I certainly do not believe that every technological advance in the food system has been good for all involved. In fact many have been environmentally devastating, even while often improving efficiency (and profit).

        Furthermore, many of us do feel like we need to do additional research before deciding that a food is 'safe,' even when it's approved by the USDA. In addition to the margarine you site, I would add artificial sweeteners to the same list of foods widely thought to be harmless and even healthy at one point. I know others feel that way about some of the FDA approved drugs. In no way do I think GMO foods are dangerous in the same way, but I think it's generally a good idea to self-educate when an industry is willing to spend that much money to prevent information from going on labels.

      3. Win.

        But the bit about red "delicious," apples... wow! Tyson obviously hates good food.

        Also, we don't always modify foods to taste better, we generally prioritize end profit, ie. higher yielding versions (shorter crop cycles, bigger fruits, denser plants, round-up ready, less likely to bruise, easier to ship etc.)

        Had we prioritized taste more than higher yields we would be in a different spot, probably with far less backlash, and higher grocery prices (and higher quality)

        There are some ways in which genetically modifying organisms leads to things I have a problem with but in itself it is just a tool. I see similarities to modernist cooking movement in many aspects.

        2 Replies
        1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

          "But the bit about red "delicious," apples... wow! Tyson obviously hates good food."

          Where do you get that? His description of what one finds in advance of cultivation does not mean that he hates food. However, if you mean that his first example was a red delicious, which is an abomination, suggests that might be what he likes best, then I understand.

          Meanwhile, this has, for the most part, been my feeling about most GMO, although some stuff becomes a little consternating, if not dangerous.

          However, my objection has been the corporatisation and the breeding in of non-sustainability to maximise profits. I won't even get into the lawsuit destruction these companies wage.

          1. re: Lizard

            I just meant that I think red and "delicious," are an abomination, and not a great example really. I was listening and as he said it I was thinking to myself "awww yuck!"
            I was intentionally not touching the lawsuit stuff. I know about it, but not enough to have a decent discussion about it, or really a valuable opinion.

        2. I had never heard of him before, but I always like to see someone put down fools. It isn't sufficient, though. The subject is a serious one and deserves a more serious analysis than he gives it here. The place I look to for authoritative opinions on scientific questions which affect public policy is the National Academy of Sciences. They have produced a report on the subject and that is what I rely on.

          1 Reply
          1. re: GH1618

            Neil deGrasse Tyson comes with some authority although, granted, not specifically on this subject.


          2. Any broad argument on the virtues and dangers of GMOs that doesn't address the economic realities of the market for GMOs and the issues associated with limiting huge portions of the world's agriculture to a few species that lack natural variations in their genetics isn't really giving the matter due consideration.

            Monopolization of large parts of the agriculture industry by an expanding multinational corporation answerable to essentially no one is a problem. Worldwide spread of monocultures in place of more varied crops (in terms of both what crops are grown and the genetic variation among any given plant species) has the potential to be a huge problem as well.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cowboyardee

              Thank you! That is my concern as well.

              1. re: paulj

                Thanks for that. I adore the man. He always speaks and writes so simply and

                1. re: paulj

                  Along the same line from Steven Novella (medical blogger)