Recently Mark Lynas, a leading environmentalist and leader in the campaign against Genetically Modified crops announced he had changed his position, he stated that he was wrong, mislead and was misguiding the public through the anti GM campaign. What made him change his mind? Science, he stated that science, peer reviewed papers and looking at the facts are what has changed his mind. So what is GM? What are the myths? What are the facts? And where does its negative image stem from?
In my opinion GM’s negative image stems from a lack of understanding, lack of reasoning and a bit of fear mongering. I remember GM being discussed at school as an ethical issue, the discussions always started with the notion of yes it can help feed the world and it can reduce chemical use but…. what if this or what if that, so the discussion always ended with GM was just us playing God, it was unsafe and we were probably going to create some mutate animal by mistake. The discussions had no fact behind them, just the reasoning of a child’s mind into which were sowed the seeds of doubt, about the safety, the ethics and the potential benefits When really it couldn’t of being further from the truth, GM is the way forward, it has reduced insecticide use and has helped to produce better crops. So in detail lets look at what GM is.
A genetically modified organism is a organism that has had its genetic material modified, so what does modified mean and how long has this been going on. The modification of genetic material can be anything from natural breeding and evolution to scientists splicing genes between plants, so its been going on forever. But how long have humans being involved in the process? Humans have been involved for for as long as we have been domesticating animals, we’ve been selecting and breeding the best varieties of crops for our use, so effectively all crops whether they are GM, conventional or organic have been genetically modified by humans. Now some people argue that when scientist start splicing genes it becomes unnatural, unsafe and we are playing God, but what we are actually doing is speeding up the process and reducing variability. How this works is a few hundred years ago humans realised that if they kept seeds near radium the radium would cause mutations in the seeds and therefore the plant (although they didn’t know it at the time they were altering the plants DNA) creating a wide variety of plants, some where better others weren’t and in many there was no change. So this process was a real hit and miss affair, it was also very time consuming with many generations of plants often needed for the desired effect and it was also unsafe for the researchers. So that’s what GM is and where it started from, so lets look at some of the myths.
I’ll start by using cotton as an example, cotton has been a shinning example of what GM has to offer but a quick Google search will show you that there is still a lot of misconceptions about it. Number one being that nobody wants it and that growers are forced to have it, THIS IS WRONG conventional cotton seed is still readily available to growers but the reason why nearly 100% of the Australian cotton crop is GM is because of the benefits it offers to the growers, in fact GM cotton was even pirated and smuggled into India where it was banned because a farmers were that keen to use it. Myth number two is that it has caused an increase in pesticide use, THIS IS WRONG the use of Bollgard (Bt) GM cotton has actually seen a reduction in pesticide use of over 80% in the last decade. Myth number three is that GM cotton has lead to an increase in weeds and weed resistance, although it is possible IT IS STILL WRONG. Let me explain, any weed or pest can quite easily build up resistance to a control method if only one method of control is used, farmers have know this for many years before GM was about and have always used a variety of controls including physical, chemical and biological. Since the introduction of Roundup Ready cotton we are no different we still use other control methods along with herbicides (Roundup) to control weeds and avoid resistance. Roundup Ready cotton also has the added benefit of protecting farmers against spray drift (always read the label and never spray when conditions aren’t right) as you’ll see in the photo below with the Roundup Ready cotton on the left and conventional on the right. Myth number four is that GM is dangerous, THIS IS WRONG even after three billion GM meals have been eaten world wide there are still no links between it and any sort of disease or illness and on a side note while researching for this post I can across a article on a anti-GM website that stated that the use of GM cotton has caused mysterious rashes on growers and people who wear GM cotton (nearly everyone) THIS IS WRONG there is no evidence to suggest this has even occurred let alone a link to GM cotton and as I sit here typing I’m wearing underpants, shorts and shirt all made from GM cotton, combined with working all day around the GM cotton the only redness I have is sunburn (so remember slip, slop, slap and stay safe in the sun).
Other myths surrounding GM crops include that terminator seeds prevent farmers from keeping seeds for next the season, while this is true naturally bred hybrid crops eliminated that option years before GM. Another myth is that mixing the genes of two totally different species such as a fish and a tomato is totally unnatural, but while the concept may raise a few eyebrows its totally natural and viruses do it all the time, the process is called gene flow. But I believe the most important misconception is that GM crops only benefits big corporations when really it doesn’t, in the end it benefits the farmers and the environment through lower inputs and reduced chemical use among other things.
GM is the future of cropping and is essential to meet the worlds rising food demands, so please go out there and spread the good word clear up the myths and misconceptions, tell the world why we need GM, why we want GM and why GM is the future but most importantly tell them that GM IS SAFE.
Feel free to comment if you have any questions.
To view Mark Lynas speech and apology click here