I have compiled a list of over 80 questions that people have about GMO’s, and I am going to try to give everyone the “quick and dirty” answer. Although there is much more information out there, both pro and con on the subject of genetic engineering, if you want an honest, fast-track answer, then you’ve come to the right place.
This book isn’t meant to be a comprehensive dissertation on any particular aspect of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) or any GMO-related topic. It’s meant to be a “quick and dirty” guide, a fast track to some correct answers.
What does ‘Quick and Dirty’ mean?
‘Quick and dirty’ is a phrase that’s been around for a long time. I first learned it at my daddy’s knee on the family farm. It means a fast fix for a problem—anything from a plugged valve on a tractor to a poultice for an injured horse. It may not necessarily be the perfect fix, the kind of repair you could make in better conditions with better equipment, but it gets the job done. Since then, the phrase ‘quick and dirty’ has become popular in computer technology, and has been used by programmers since the 1970’s. But I still think of this phrase as it relates to farming—a sort of combat triage for tractors.
Why is there so much confusion surrounding GMO’s?
In spite of woeful cries that information about GMO’s is suppressed in the U.S., that simply isn’t true. There’s tons of information out there, but it can be a little hard to find if you are not a search engine whiz—which I hope you will be by the end of this book.
One reason authentic information can be hard to find is that there is a maelstrom of incorrect or biased articles, essays, and websites out there using “non-GMO” and “GMO free” as search engine optimizing (SEO) keywords. Therefore these articles float to the top in search engine results and dominate any search containing the keyword “GMO”. So even if you sift through several pages of search engine results, you might not find anything helpful.
Another reason is that there is a lot of honest confusion about what GMO’s are and how they affect our lives. And people get multiple topics all pretzeled up. For instance, someone may start talking about gluten intolerance, and then claim it is on the rise (maybe, maybe not) because wheat has more gluten in it (true, yet it’s been true for over 50 years) because it’s a GMO (not true) and high gluten wheat causes gluten intolerance (not proven yet, not even close). This whole conversation is actually five separate topics.
It also seems that whenever someone holds a strong yet unauthenticated opinion on any subject, if you dare to disagree with them, they’ll say, “Well you’re not a scientist!”
I shouldn’t have to be a scientist to have access to authentic information. YOU shouldn’t have to be a scientist to be privy to authentic, accurate information.
Why do we need this book?
People have questions. You have questions, I have questions. And the answers to those questions are out there, but there’s so much chaos and confusion, so much hysteria and hyperbole, that real answers—authentic information without bias—can be hard to find. There are some really excellent bloggers and journalists who have tackled various GMO-related topics but these articles tend to be really long and may not address your particular question.
What people really want is a quick, short guide that answers their questions.
I also believe we need to break some topics down into individual questions and seek out the facts like Captain Ahab in pursuit of Moby Dick.
As Frank Lloyd Wright famously said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”
It’s good to be cautious. No one wants to see a return of something like Agent Orange or DDT. Ever since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, we have lived with a healthy fear of over-manipulating our resources and damaging our natural environment beyond repair.
And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. Yes, there needs to be more research, more testing of products created through genetic engineering. But there’s also a lot of unnecessary fear-mongering out there. There are snake oil doctors saying the craziest things—and sometimes they sound plausible, if you fail to approach their claims with the same skepticism you might apply to corporate behemoth Monsanto’s claims. They even have their own radio shows, which means that sometimes completely inaccurate and misleading information is being broadcast everywhere.
I’ve also noticed that environmentalists are happily drinking the Koolaid of misinformation and spreading it via their websites. Why? As a professional marketer, it makes no sense to me because ultimately they will look like fools, which will damage their long term credibility, but in the short term I suppose it serves their purpose.
Where do I stand on the topic of GMO’s?
Like you, I started out just looking for real information. I wasn’t prepared to be pro-GMO or anti-GMO. And after finding some answers, I am still not prepared to take a stance one way or the other. There is still so much to learn.
Are GMO’s safe? What I have learned is that sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no. Sometimes the jury is still out. Sometimes the answer will always be relative to the observer, like in quantum physics.
One thing I am prepared to take a stance on, however, is hysteria, hyperbole, and hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, I am finding far more hysteria and hyperbole in the anti-GMO camp. Sure, there’s plenty of corporate pro-GMO whitewash to go around. But for the most part, genetic engineering companies want the public to have access to good facts. (They might not publish all the bad facts, but that’s part of the public relations game, and it’s our responsibility to exercise some healthy skepticism and do the investigative journalism.) The anti-GMO crowd, however, is often fighting dirty by spreading propaganda. Or they’re honestly and passionately misinformed.
So I have decided to bring you some facts—and I grant you, they are facts that I have selected; you might select others—some color commentary, and some advice on how to find authentic information on your own, if you wish to.
What is at the core of the GMO controversy?
I think Nathanael Johnson at Grist, who covers GMO issues regularly, says it best:
“The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms — if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole — it’s about the stories we’ve attached to them. Both sides have agreed that this thing, this rhetorical construct we call GMOs, will be used to talk about something bigger. It’s the setting for a proxy war ...”
But a proxy war for what? There are so many agendas out there.
Corporate interests are big, of course, but they’re also the easiest to identify and tackle. Organic farmers can be forgiven for being rabidly anti-GMO—their own interests are at stake as well. Environmentalists are also concerned about how GMO’s will interact with natural resources, and their concerns should be respected.
When speaking with individuals about this topic, there seems to be so much personal bitterness involved. There’s a lot of poor health in the United States and elsewhere these days and people seem to want to have an easily identifiable Frankenstein. GMO’s fit that bill perfectly.
And individuals often get so caught up in their own personal rewriting of Frankenstein that they lose sight of the truth—or any desire to find it—altogether. One man insisted that local spraying of cotton fields was causing widespread allergies, although Bt cotton in that region has reduced pesticide use by over 60%. A computer engineer who never exercises and lives on pizza and soda blames GMO’s for obesity. Everyone seems to have their own script for this drama, but very few seem to have the facts.
In journalism, the first thing a cub reporter is taught are the six basic questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. These are the cornerstones of good reporting. You have to ask ALL these questions to get at the meat, the authenticity, of any story.
I have added one more. And that is … “really?”
So whenever I read an article, blog post, or web page about GMO’s, I ask myself, “who, what, where, when, why, how and REALLY?”
The fascinating thing about healthy skepticsm and seeking out the facts is that one question will lead you to another story, where another question will occur to you (or maybe you’ll just think, really?) which will lead you to yet another story, and so on. Especially now, in the Information Age—it’s easier than ever to suss out the most current developments and find out who is behind the stories. And all of this leads to an even more fascinating tapestry of information.
Ultimately, I hope to empower everyone, whether you are neutral, pro or anti-GMO, with authentic facts and information. I have always believed that the power of an argument lies in the authenticity of the facts supporting it.
“People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.” – Will Rogers
While preparing to write this book, I conducted a small survey on our attitudes to GMO’s. There were six answers available. Respondents could indicate that they were pro, anti, neutral, in favor of labeling, or wanted to learn more before deciding. And there was a wild card answer, which was that the respondent blames GMO’s for creating many diseases. The results indicated 48% were anti-GMO, 24% were pro-GMO, 24% were not sure but want GMO labeling, and less than 4% were neutral or didn’t care. Not one single person selected “I’d like to know more before deciding.”
I thought it was interesting that so many people felt it was necessary to take a stand before fully understanding the issues. As one woman put it, “It’s a non-choice—why would anyone choose it? What position would someone take in the meantime, while deciding?” On the one hand, that question short circuits my brain because I don’t typically take a stance on something before feeling at least a little bit informed. But it is also strangely insightful. What position are you going to take while deciding?
It gets complicated. Are you anti-GMO in your food chain, or anti-GMO due to environmental concerns? Do you support finding ways to feed millions of people in third world countries or do you believe that GMO’s in a global market suppress third world economies? Do you avoid GMO produce yet buy corn-based pet food? Do you object to genetic engineering making insulin available and affordable?
What will I find in this book?
First, we’ll tackle the basics, including a brief overview of how they are actually created. Then we’ll move on into answering specific questions about some of the most well known and controversial crops, like Roundup Ready crops, Bt corn and cotton, golden rice, non-GMO’s like dwarf wheat, and GMO animals. Then we’ll move on to questions about GMO’s in your daily life. After that, we’ll expand into topics like farming practices, seed, and Monsanto—and from there we’ll go on to address many questions about GMO’s in the environment. We’ll also take a look at questions about GMO’s in what I call the “global village”—how prevalence of GMO’s, price pressure, and subsidies affect other countries for better or worse. Then we’ll take a look at GMO’s in the media and online, and I will show you how to measure credibility and how to spot red flags—including my ‘red flag’ list of personalities to avoid, and why. We’ll finish up with an action list of things you can to do to support positive action (whether you are pro-GMO, anti-GMO or neutral) toward creating a healthy and abundant food future.