May 22, 2019 | 66° F

Large global population needs, benefits from GMOs

Open Season

Last month, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead announced Scotland’s intent to prohibit the growth of genetically modified (GM) crops, in favor of preserving the nation’s “clean and green” standing. The move to issue a formal ban has ruffled feathers since, coming under heavy fire by the nation’s business sector and scientists alike. Others, with Monsanto fresh in their minds, have come out in support of the ban.

Here’s the fact of the matter: Monsanto’s scare tactics leave small-scale farmers shaking in their boots. Not only are their patents unethical, but their enforcement of these patents onto small-scale farmers borders on monopolization. Monsanto’s firm grasp on the nation’s food supply should certainly be a cause for concern. Just Saturday, California’s Environmental Protection Agency listed glyphosate — a key ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling commercial weed killer, Roundup — as carcinogenic. Each of these points are emblematic of an admittedly broken state of U.S. food production and distribution, and moreso, telling of the global commodification of agriculture. But the onus shouldn't fall on GMOs.

Transgenic crops have time again been deemed safe for human consumption, despite their oft-tarnished reputation and lowly approval ratings. Those in favor of genetically modified crops cite their proven environmental benefits in practice, like lessening the necessity for pesticide use. Ben Miflin, a senior fellow at Rothamsted Research, argues that dissension toward genetically modified crops only spurs from the “intrinsic dislike of such powerful manipulation of genetics.” Regardless, Scotland has made its stance crystal clear.

“There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers, and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector,” Lochhead wrote in an official press statement. “Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality, which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash.”

The question is, would there be an industry to gamble without remaining competitive with GM crops? Andrew McCornick, vice-president of The National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), sees the GM crop ban as a move that could usher in less competitive markets, driving a fragile, local industry into the ground. “There is going to be one side of the Border in England where they may adopt biotechnology, but just across the river, Tweed farmers are not going to be allowed to. How are these farmers going to be capable of competing in the same market?”

Scotland’s small-scale farmers (at least, collectively) remain in favor of the Scottish government’s decision. But censure over Scotland's now-stifled future in agricultural biotechnology has mounted from the scientific community. In conversation with IFL Science, Rothamsted Research's Hue Jones said, “This is a sad day for science, and a sad day for Scotland. GM crops approved by the E.U. are safe for humans, animals and the environment and it’s a shame the Scottish Parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector.”

In today’s day and age, GMOs should not be cause for alarm. If anything, they are a vital asset in an environment of gross population upticks and dire food shortages. GMO technology can create more nutritious crops, combat disease and generally improve the quality of our food supply. Is selective breeding not genetic modification by way of human intervention? Natural mutations in the DNA code structures of our crops happen ad nauseum, and aren’t without their fair share of blunders and missteps. It’s in our best interest to be our own editors, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s ourselves, to guide mutations in a positive direction. In fact, GM crops yield fewer mutations than their "natural" counterparts, not more.

That’s not to say that genetically modifying crops at the degree scientists do today shouldn’t be under a more watchful eye. Some GMOs are harmless, but there’s little to speak to long-term effects. With global food supplies at stake, safety should absolutely be called into question with new regulation, if Roundup’s cancer-causing streak can teach us anything. This is the industry that sustains our livelihood, and that isn’t something to be taken lightly. But rather than taking the Luddite approach, it's our responsibility to press lawmakers to pave the way for promising, forward-thinking science. The murky waters of the American agricultural complex require transparency, not digression.

Chris Roney is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and American studies. His column, “Open Season,” runs on alternate Mondays. He is a former Copy Editor of The Daily Targum. 

Chris Roney

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