The attached image was posted on the Snopes Facebook group with the usual question attached, is this true? No. No it’s not true, but it sounds emotionally true to anyone who thinks farming is a clean business, or that food is somehow sanctified by nature when it grows wild somewhere. Even in 1913 farmers bought seeds from seed producers, and if you are doing science you use the tools of science like the bunnysuit pictured in the bottom half of the image in order to avoid cross-contamination between the various test crops you are working on. If you want clean food you have to engage in cleanroom practices. The fact that the 1913 farmer who is grinningly sweating all over the food he’s offering you doesn’t seem to phase anyone screaming about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Farmers want to buy seed from seed manufacturers because, and most farm raised people know this, the hybrid seeds are hardier and produce better crops. My farming Uncles in Kansas proudly wore their Dekalb caps, announcing they used Dekalb’s proprietary hybrid seeds. They could afford to buy good hybrid seed because of the demand for corn crops to feed the nearby beef producing industry. If you are a smart farmer you grow the crops that other industries demand in bulk quantities, because farming to meet corporate demands will pretty reliably produce profits for the farmer.
Hybrid seeds are the end product of crossbreeding which has to be duplicated every year by the seed producing corporations. Hybrid seeds cannot be harvested and then replanted the next year, and most farmers do not have on site storage to hold the seed volumes they would need to replant what they sowed the previous year. Nor is that a good farming practice, to replant the same crop year after year. Most farmers with an understanding of soil fatigue will rotate crops from one field and one season to the next field and season. It is a dance that takes decades of work to understand, and patience that daunts the imagination to comprehend.
The problem here is not the ownership of the seed technology or that it is GMO based. The problem is a yawning chasm of understanding between people raised on farms and familiar with farming practices, and the city dwellers who don’t know the gory details involved in getting their food to the market, and aren’t actually interested in learning about them. Most organic food consumers would decide to starve to death rather than put the stuff that is produced in their mouths in the first place; or would if they actually did understand just how dirty the entire farming process really is.
GMO’s are a good thing. GMO crops are the answer to several of the health problems we face today. Problems like vitamin A deficiency in areas that subsist on rice giving rise the the Golden Rice project, one of several positive GMO developments I listed in this article. GMO saved the Hawaiian papaya industry, and Hawaii promptly banned all new GMO’s from the island. Tellingly, the GMO papaya is one of the few organisms they didn’t ban. If we are going to have bananas on the table in the near future, we will have them because we will Genetically Engineer a banana that is resistant to the fungus currently wiping out banana crops. The list goes on and on and on.
Consumer ignorance of exactly what GMO is (one third of people surveyed did not realize that all food has genes in it) is causing massive problems in the sugar industry because the roundup ready sugar beets they are relying on are the subject of targeted boycotts by ignorant consumers. There are no substitutes for these beets which can replace them without massively larger pesticide spraying regimens, but the farmers will doggedly attempt to switch back to the products that sell even though their farming operations are not set up for the kinds of demands that older methods of farming requires. Only big agri can swing that hammer, and they have regulations written (like organic regulations) specifically to allow the kinds of farming they find profitable and available.
Organic foods are not any better for you, nor are they more organic than any other product on store shelves. Every living thing we’ve ever encountered or created is organic. Nearly every chemical we produce was discovered in nature first and is therefore natural. Nine tenths of the loud, shouty, feary statements about GMOs and food are baseless and indefensible and yet they continue to spread.
How quickly we forget as a species that people still die of hunger all over the world every single day. Someone died of hunger in some city in the US in the short time it took me to write this article. In the early 1900’s there was a crisis looming on the horizon. The human population on the planet was increasing at a rate that farming practices of the time could simply not match. People in Europe and America were going to start starving to death in ever increasing numbers if something wasn’t done to increase the crop yields that farmers produced. The Green Revolution solved that crisis by enabling farmers to meet the growing food demands of the population.
We are facing another crisis in food today and it will take new technologies to bridge the gap between what we can produce now in the relatively stable climate we’ve enjoyed throughout human history, and what we will be able to produce tomorrow as the climates change and the need to produce food with fewer byproducts drives the research into lab-grown meat and aeroponic and hydroponic plant farming techniques. We will either have to embrace these new kinds of food, or we will starve. Choose wisely.
Here’s a fun test. Type “Natural Food” into your favorite search engine and look at the images that come up. Now look at all those organic and natural food images. Red apples. Giant tomatoes. Bright yellow bananas. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? With these images in mind, understand that none of the images are of naturally occurring fruits and vegitables. Not a single image is of something found in nature unmodified by man. No really, they aren’t natural foods.
This image shows a natural plant, a plant found in nature before humans altered it, and what foods we created from it. That is a natural plant, the food we get from it is man-made in the sense that most people use. If what we create is natural then all foods are natural and organic and the labels attached to them are nothing more than marketing. The idea that foods are natural? That Adam and Eve ate an apple in the Garden of Eden? The idea that there were recognizable apples in the beginning of human evolution some hundreds of thousands of years ago? This is the depth of misunderstanding that is encouraged in the average consumer.
When I read the script, I said okay, he’s trying to get the truth out there. And that’s all any scientist tries to do. Establish what is objectively true and share that, whether or not it agrees with any of your prior philosophies.forbes.com/Neil DeGrasse Tyson