By Anna Sorokina, arts & entertainment columnist
When we try to make a case for something – a topic we’re passionate about or have a strong opinion on – we tend to take things out of context. We turn to logical fallacies and rhetorical embellishments and sometimes outright ignore relevant points presented by the other side, therefore unfairly delegitimizing the opponent. This is problematic because it doesn’t allow for a balanced assessment of the issue, but instead gives ground to ad hominem attacks and unnecessary conflicts.
Last Thursday, Nobel laureate and Distinguished University Professor Richard Roberts made a case for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) during a “Beyond the Books” series event. And while I understand the point of the talk was to convince the audience that GMOs are beneficial to the world, I think the event was more polarizing than it was informative, because it simply spun various – sometimes nude – points in favor of GMOs without contextualizing them.
I agree with professor Roberts that genetic modification has existed for many years and that it allows for selective breeding. However, I don’t think that appeals to history or technological superiority are relevant when addressing the current situation with GMOs. Even if the technology itself has the potential to be neutral, the fact of the matter is that today, it’s monopolized by far-from-benign multinational agrochemical corporations like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Dupont. Because these technologies are patented (hello, Roundup) and overused to the point of soil being robbed of its resources, the ecological impact is detrimental. Many studies, which are easily available on the Internet, prove that the GMO revolution is forcing farmers to buy more chemical pesticides, which is a great business move for biotech giants that want to sell as much fertilizer as possible.
When it comes to the social effect, patents make it less cost effective to end malnutrition globally. A comprehensive report by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated that GMO soy and corn don’t increase crop production, while organic farming methods can increase yield by 116 percent. Yet, Roberts and others, who are either misled by GMO propaganda or may have financial stake in biotech, continue claiming that genetic modification will help end malnutrition. As for vitamin A deficiencies, I agree that golden rice is a wonderful product that prevents blindness, but it’s only a tiny fraction of what biotech-controlled GMOs do. Putting so much weight on it to underplay the damage caused by biotech corporations doesn’t make sense.
Something else that doesn’t make sense is Roberts’ claim that dangers of GMOs are the result of a smear campaign by the greens to disenfranchise those in developing countries. Okay, so Greenpeace has some sort of secret mission to harm people with nutrient deficiencies? When they called me last week asking for donations to save polar bears, they were actually going to use my 10 dollars to plan yet another conspiracy against innocent Monsanto?
Another interesting claim that came out of the talk was that the reason GMOs are banned in Europe is because Europeans are afraid of big agricultural companies controlling the food market. While this is part of the truth, this doesn’t address the underlying issue. After all, Europeans don’t spread fear about Apple products for no reason even though Steve Jobs’ creation controls almost the entire market of consumer electronics, computer software and online services. It’s more likely that the reason for this opposition lies in studies that have either found negative health effects of GMOs or that have simply called for more research to be done to evaluate the safety of GMOs.
When we present things out of context, the efficiency of crop breeding techniques and the technology’s use in developing golden rice present genetic modification in a favorable light without getting at the root of the issue: GMOs’ monopolization and corporatization. When assessing the positive and negative role the technology plays today, those are the things we should be addressing instead of envisioning a magical world in which GMOs are neutral.