One North College

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Genetic Dispositions

“Future Food” [spring] presents an unbalanced and inaccurate assessment of food future options and GMOs.

Evidence says varieties from conventional breeding can take care of future food demand. With conventional breeding, world average crop yields increased 1.5 percent per year between 1961 and 2006. India, which bans GMO crops except cotton, is food self-sufficient and the world’s largest rice exporter.

There is no scientific consensus that foods from GMO crops are safe. China, India, the European Union, and many other countries ban all or most GMOs. We know too little to assess risks. For example, how often do genes move between organisms? What do our gut commensals do for us?

The lobby for GMO crops is dominated by seed companies that get stronger intellectual property rights for GMOs than for varieties from conventional breeding. Seed companies profit [from GMOs], but their effect on farm profits and food costs are marginal.

With respect to agriculture, there are many things we can do to keep people and the environment healthy, including using less poison and [reducing] greenhouse gas emissions. GMOs are a sideshow.


While I agree that we need to improve crop production, I’d love to see more vision and action to protect farmland and curb population growth. Furthermore, when addressing hunger in a world that overproduces and wastes a billion tons of food yearly, let’s bring more attention to the problems of food affordability and farmers’ access to markets.

GMOs and their associated inputs have resulted in significant harm to soil health, to waterways, to biodiversity, and often to farmers’ bottom line. Agro-ecological methods, on the other hand, build healthy soils and provide competitive yields under normal circumstances, and superior yields under severe weather conditions. At the same time, they mitigate against problems associated with climate change (like flooding).

“Future Food”  traces genetic modification back to Cato the Elder in 160 BCE.

He was a newcomer.

Genetic modification involves artificial selection [and] manipulation by humans that alters genomes of plant or animal species. That process began more than 10,000 years ago and occurred all over the globe. Teosinte was bred to maize in Mesoamerica more than 10,000 years ago, cereal grains were selectively bred in the Fertile Crescent as early as 9000 BCE, and bananas were selectively cultivated in Papua New Guinea before 5000 BCE.

References to crop rotation, hybridization, grafting, and more appear in the Torah (exact date unknown) and the Talmud (6th century BCE).

Modern techniques of DNA manipulation represent the current phase of a process that began more than 10,000 years ago.


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