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    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Organic food isn't the solution. Opt for GM food to save the planet.

    I am reading Matt Ridley's excellent book The Rational Optimist, in which he denounces (pp. 149-156) the irrational fears toward GM crops held by a lot of people (especially in Europe) and by organisations such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.

    Organic food causes more problems that it solves

    If we wanted to feed all humanity with organic food all rainforests would need to be cut down for agriculture. Even so it wouldn't be enough and a sizeable percentage of the world population would starve.

    As a person concerned about my own health, I usually buy organic products whenever they are available. Yet, Matt Ridley convinced me that this attitude is not sustainable at all and even encourages the destruction of our environment.

    Organic farming, while supposedly better for our own health, is a terrible idea for our planet. First of all, it exhausts the soil's nutrients, especially potassium and phosphorus, and the only ways that organic farmers have found to replenish them is by using cattle manure, squashed fish or crushed rocks. The use of cattle manure requires a lot of extra land to raise the cattle, which are the most unecological of all domestic animals. Not only do cows require a lot of food, they also produce vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than CO2. Scattering dead fish isn't the solution either when fish stocks are already dangerously low in most of the world. As for rocks, they require mining and transportation, which also consumes a lot of energy and manpower.

    Another problem of organic food is that it requires more work for tilling and weeding and often also more careful washing and refrigeration to prevent decaying. The use of all these extra calories to produce organic food has an environmental cost too.

    GM food can improve health and prevent deforestation

    What we do not want is our food to be filled with insecticides and dangerous chemicals that could compromise our health, cause infertility or cancer. This is why so many people in rich countries have turned to organic alternatives. What too few people know is that genetically modified crops can considerably reduce, and in some cases completely eliminate the use of pesticides, but also improve our health.

    There are now soy beans enriched in omega-3 to fight chronic deficiencies in the modern Western diet, hopefully lowering the incidence of heart diseases. Corn/maize, which is abundantly consumed in North America, is poor in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, the 'feel good' neurotransmitter. New GM corn enriched in tryptophan aims at reducing depression. More importantly, golden rice was designed for poor countries in Asia and Africa where people suffer from shortage of dietary vitamin A, a deficiency which is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year. GM food can save lives and improve health.

    But the two main achievements of GM crops have been 1) to increase yields and 2) to become resistant to insects. This combination makes it possible to obtain high yields with a minimum use pesticides (typically 80% less than in non-GM crops). Higher yields also mean that less land is necessary and more of it can be converted to nature reserves.

    GM food is safe

    The most common objection to the use of GM food is that it may be unsafe. Over a trillion GM meals have been served worldwide without a single case of human illness caused by GM food. That ship has sailed. Or it should have. I am stupefied to hear regularly people who are dead against GM food, going to demonstration and boycotting companies using GM crops simply because they don't understand anything about it. These people actually believe that GM food will make them sick or cause cancer. I still haven't met any of them have who have a working understanding of genetics. Ignorance breeds fear.

    How many of them know that during the second half of the 20th century, most new crops were developed using gamma rays, nuclear radiations or carcinogenic chemicals ? As Matt Ridley explains, "much pasta comes from an irradiated variety of durum wheat". Genetic engineering is very gentle and rational in comparison.

    Some objectors claim that genetic modifications are unnatural. This couldn't be further from the truth. Mutations happen all the time in nature, and even in our own bodies during out lifetime. Evolution is driven by genetic mutations. But isn't it different if humans are the ones selecting the mutations, directing evolution ? Perhaps, but we have been doing it since the dawn of farming and domestication over 12,000 years ago.

    The vast majority of domestic crops used by humans don't exist in nature. They were selected over the centuries to produce 'unnaturally' large and high-yielding crops. Cereal farming could not have started without the selection of mutations that prevents the grain from shedding on the ground before it is threshed by humans. Many domestic plants couldn't even reproduce on their own, without human intervention, any more. GM crops are just a way of improving what our ancestors have been doing for over 120 centuries.

    Last edited by Maciamo; 20-05-14 at 14:43.
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