The question is, are you really interested in understanding genetically modified foods? Or have you already decided that, no matter what, they must be bad for you? The road to understanding is often a long, drawn-out slog that most people fail to even initiate, preferring instead to sit in a ditch puttering over their own prejudice. We are all victims of this very human neurosis at some time or another and there have definitely been times where I have been obstinately slow to come to understanding.
But if you are interested in understanding why genetically modified foods are important, how they are not in fact dangerous, and why they are likely to remain benign then you do not need to read any further. You need only perform an honest web search, most likely Wikipedia, and check the sources that fabulously enlightening site uses and confirm these claims yourself.
To begin, we need to know a little about genetics. Don’t freak out. I know that is a frightening term. It is a frightening term even to those of us familiar with some of the nomenclature. Terms like RNA, DNA, polymerase, catalyst, amino acid, and transcription/translation have ways of daunting us into submission. And you should know that I will not go into much detail because, frankly, most people do not have the background knowledge to translate it. But I think I can paint a simple enough image of the process to help us understand why placing a gene in a foreign body is not the equivalent of a Frankenstein experiment. I am not a geneticist, but I have a brain, a degree in biology, and access to the internet. So, here we go.
If you don’t believe in evolution then the journey stops here. You can’t be included in the discussion because you reject rational discourse outright and refuse to apply the same dialectic and careful examination to your faith that you do everything else so, I am sorry, but you must leave if you are among that sad, desperate, huddled mass of idiots that rejects facts in favor of false consolation.
If you do believe in evolution by natural selection then we are free to continue. If you are rusty on the topic please brush up because I am not going to explain it in detail here. I will only summarize it by saying that beneficial genes promote reproduction or survival and thus generally continue in a gene pool. Genes that detract from this have a tendency to dissipate. Over time these genes accumulate or die away and can result in a new species. While there is always chance involved in survival, the process of natural selection is not random. It is deliberate. Mutations are random but whether that mutation thrives within a gene pool is not random. It is determined by how it contributes to the survival of an organism and species. Mutation, of course, is the engine that supplies entirely novel genetic material.
That being said we now understand that all species share genetic material. Not only do some species share the exact same genetic material, such as between the great apes and human beings, but the great majority of species share the same machinery such as amino acids and the mechanisms for translation and transcription. There are few exceptions to this rule. This is why scientists ask the question, ‘Did all human life come from one bacterium to ultimately ramify into the complex of genomes we see today?’ What does this mean? It means that when you put a gene from one organism into another there is nothing new or foreign about it. The genetic code is universal and thus it can be thought of as a set of legos that, no matter the model you take pieces from, another model will easily accommodate those pieces.
That having been said, we can now address the notion that placing a ‘fish’ gene inside a chicken or species of corn, will somehow make said organisms smell or appear like a fish. This is ridiculous and exposes only an immense ignorance about genetics. To give you an example of why I have lost faith in humanity, watch this youtube video of a crowd of people taking a course in science from an eleven-year-old child. There is actually a slide revealing a tomato with fins and a fish tail. Really?
I will give you an example of how genetically modified foods work, why they are beneficial, and how fear-mongering has a tendency to breed ignorance.
Papaya crops in Hawaii were one time at risk of a virus that threatened to decimate the industry. However, thanks to gene modification, the industry was saved and no one died of cancer as a result. Please feel free to examine these findings for yourself instead of listening to lectures by parroting pre-teens.
To add insult to injury to GM-hating vegans everywhere, I will add that thanks to ‘Bacillus thuringiensis’ corn now has resistance to both insects and herbicides and apparently some other properties as well. And again, no one died of cancer. Adding these bacillus genes did not turn the corn plants into bacteria. Surprise.
It is not true that genetically modified foods cause cancer.
Maybe one day some study will legitimately prove that such a risk exists. But none conclusively state as much so far. If you are thinking of citing Dr. Seralini of France and his study regarding the rats, cancer, and blah, blah, blah then please stop yourself and read the following article by The Economist.
It is fair to say that this does not prove that GM foods are safe. It is also fair to say that until legitimate studies are published that confirm one another and come not just from one man in France that you cannot claim GM foods to be the source of all evil and cancer. In short, the article exposes that the cancerous rats were prone to cancer in the first place and no link or connection could be illustrated proving that the GM foods caused the cancer. It is notable that several previous studies have never found a link between GM foods and cancer. But because of this study Kenya banned all GM crops and Russia apparently suspended imports.
If you read on you will find that due to more fear-mongering, ‘…a group in the Philippines destroyed a field study of Golden Rice, a type genetically modified to carry beta-carotene, a chemical precursor of vitamin A. Deficiencies of this vitamin contribute to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children every year, and make many more blind.’
This is another example of how ignorance and uninformed beliefs kill people and result in human suffering. Do you have a right to be ignorant?
The bottom line is this. There is no legitimate evidence linking GM foods to cancer. There is no reason to believe that placing a gene from one organism into another will create a monster that will eat your face. Please, do not take my word for it. Read scientific journals and non-bias sources that are not linked to Monsanto or to some conspiracy theory or animal rights group.