An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post complained loudly about the decision by Oregon voters in two counties to ban GMO crops. According to the writer, Oregon voters were just being silly since everyone knows that GMO technology is the “miracle” that will feed the multitude:
there is nothing reasonable about anti-GMO fundamentalism. Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.
Of course the writer failed to mention one excellent reason why voters might have taken such a drastic step.
When corporations design GMO crops their motive cannot always be counted upon to be benign. In fact, rather than to make a food crop more nutritionally dense, the most common motives for modifying the organism is to increase the yield, make it more attractive, pest resistant, shelf-stable or easier to ship.
In fact, we know from experience that if any of these marketing advantages can only be had at the expense of nutritional value, the marketing advantage of the GMO will trump any nutritional concerns.
There is a darker side of GMO’s that has nothing to do with concerns about “mad science.”
GMO products are programmed to succeed brilliantly; so brilliantly, in fact, that they pose a threat to the survival of heirloom varieties of the same food crops that must compete for cultivation in order to remain viable. Without those diverse organisms in active cultivation, not only is the pleasure of choice diminished, but food security may actually be threatened. If you wonder how that is possible, I recommend you read the chapter on rice in “Much Depends on Dinner” by Canadian cultural historian Margaret Visser.
Quite apart from the threat to food security from diminished diversity, there is an economic reason why Oregon farmers might not wish to have GMO’s in fields near their own. Through distribution by wind and animals, those GMO’s can easily end up invading the fields of non-GMO farmers, asserting their super genes and overwhelming the heirloom varieties raised intentionally there.
Like Vermont, Oregon has a gourmet food industry that brands itself with the variety and abundance of its native products. The economic consequences of a GMO or Monsanto hybrid invasion for a branded organic farmer could be devastating.
We have chosen in Vermont merely to require that products containing GMO’s be labelled as such. That protects the consumers’ right to know; but if biodiversity and food security is to be protected, there will have to be some way to confine the proliferation of GMO’s in the environment.
Perhaps establishment of “GMO-free” counties is something Vermont should consider as well.