Genetic modification

Is genetic modification (GM) a good way forward?

Several people made interesting comments last time I posted here about GM. I have thoughts buzzing and I’ll write properly when I have something to say. But for now, here are some notes. I hope I’m not talking scientibollix here – will let you know if I find out that I did so.

By the way, I’m talking about GM in the field. GM in the lab is fine if it’s contained there.

Is GM a crime against nature? Oh please, don’t start on that nonsense.
Do GM foods damage people’s health? No. There’s no credible evidence of that.
Do GM crops reduce agrochemical use? Sometimes in the short term. Sometimes the opposite.
Do transgenes escape? Yes. You can’t catch them once they’re out.
Do GM crops or other GM organisms influence other species’ evolution? Yes. Superweeds and superpests are appearing.
Does GM offer a new Green Revolution? Maybe, but do we need that? We waste too much food and we don’t do enough bioprospecting.
Does GM offer new ways to control disease? Maybe.
Does GM contribute to antibiotic resistance? Maybe.
Does GM exploit people? Sometimes, yes.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to Genetic modification

  1. EqFe says:

    Do we know for a fact that GM foods don’t damage people’s health. I don’t think that we do, although living in the UK you can watch the experiment being conducted on 300 million plus people in North America. Truthfully, I’m more worried about all the Roundup Sprayed on our food crops and released into the environment that I am out the effect of GM crops themselves, but I don’t think that we know yet.

    • argylesock says:

      Good point but I did say that there’s ‘no credible evidence’. Many have sought such evidence and not found it. Many have claimed, therefore, that there’s no damage to human health. It’s a classic fallacy – confusing ‘absence of evidence’ with ‘evidence of absence’. If I see any credible evidence that GM crops harm people’s health, I’ll write about it on this blog.

      Meanwhile I think this is a good example of something that you said to me recently on another forum. People want to read what they already believe. Some people want to read that GM crops are Good, some people want to read that they’re Bad. The question of human health impact is an easy one to pin beliefs on, but good science points to other questions now. It reminds me of the arguments about childhood vaccination. Who cares about science when you can quote an anecdote?

      An academic advising me on how to cite good science told me that a key point is whether a website is written in green ink! Of course he meant, whether the evidence has been peer reviewed, but I like the idea of a ‘green ink test’.

  2. manuelinor says:

    I have actually been thinking of writing a post on GM for the last few weeks, I just haven’t gotten around to it! I agree with some of your answers to the questions you pose 🙂
    I think one of the biggest problems with the issue of GM is the terminology (like many other contentious issues) – ‘genetic modificiation’ can be quite ambiguous (as some argue, modern wheat is technically ‘gm’ because it has been knowingly bred for specific attributes over the centuries) and I think this ambiguity is taken advantage of by some.

    For me, it comes down to the ethics of it – partly when it involves mixing genes from completely different taxonomic kingdoms (Nature hasn’t thought it was a good idea before now, so who says we know what we’re doing?!), and partly when it involves corporate monopolisation and ‘ownership’ of a crop plant and subsequent bullying of growers/farmers, especially those in developing countries. Watch Food Inc. if you haven’t already seen it 🙂

    • argylesock says:

      When you write about GM I’ll read with interest.

      About the terminology: you probably know that genetic engineering got renamed ‘genetic modification’ a few years ago. I think it’s a blatant, cynical attempt to exploit the belief some people have, that you mention. The belief that adjusting an organism’s genome in a test tube is no different from selective breeding.

      About the commercial gains: I’ve no problem with people making money on the land. But as you say, it’s not all right to bully farmers and growers. Terminator seeds are an example of that, I’ve heard, but I haven’t researched that story yet.

      About Nature knowing best: I have mixed feelings. At an extreme (which you’re not advocating) all farming and all medicine would be called unethical. But as a scientist I’ve noticed that it’s well worthwhile to listen to what the natural world tells us.

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