The False Dichotomy of GMO vs Organic
Confession: I eat GMOs. I also will occasionally buy organic food.
This seems contradictory to some people.
Personally, I don’t see the contradiction. I choose what looks best to me in the moment. I think both can be healthy and delicious. In my experience, both are often produced with efforts to be as sustainable as possible.
In my recent podcast interview with Rob Saik, he pointed out that in our “privileged, elitist, entitled” developed world, food has become a sort of religion.
Rob points out that many feel the need to belong to the religion of vegan, carnivore, GMO-lover, locavore, paleo, etc.
This often happens with the best of intentions, such as eating healthier, doing better for the environment, or supporting animal rights.
These are great intentions. But when it becomes dogmatic, people often draw boundaries that shouldn’t exist.
“How can you eat meat? You’re a monster!”
“Organic celery? What a yuppy!”
“Soybean oil? Don’t you know there’s GMOs in there?”
These imaginary lines create doubt and fear of anything that doesn’t match one’s food religion. What often starts as a good intention can end up being a condemnation of perfectly safe food that doesn’t fit with their point of view.
These condemnations go far beyond judgements at the grocery store, to fear-based documentaries and articles, to legislation to keep new technologies out of food production.
In the interview Rob points to pest problems in Uganda that are keeping farmers from growing corn. These pest problems can actually be solved with commercially-available genetically engineered technology. However, this technology is outlawed in the country.
Rob emphasizes that the laws against the technology are not based on any factual evidence of harm, but instead the ideologies of European anti-GMO zealots.
He reminds us of a fact shared in his TED Talk: according to The Economist, in 2013 3.1 million children (under the age of five) died from malnutrition.
There is still not one recorded death directly resulting from eating genetically engineered food.
He also reminds us that “about 1,500 crops have been mutated in one way or another under the science calls mutagenesis and paradoxically, those nuclear chemical mutated crops can be labeled organic.”
So why the concerns? Rob believes it comes from fear and/or condemnation of anything that doesn’t fit with one’s food religion.
This journey for Rob started when he was at a Chilliwack concert. The lead singer was speaking out against GMO’s. Rob actually interrupted the concert to tell him he was wrong about the issue.
Rob has since become an advocate for the use of technology, including genetic engineering, in food production.
“ALL farmers out there would want to use LESS fertilizer or chemical to grow a crop. Which means that all farmers would actually want to farm more organically; that is, they would want to move AWAY from the utilization of pesticides and fertilizers to grow crops. The only science that I see right now that is on the horizon that would allow us to grow crops more organically is genetic engineering.”
Rob posits that the question is NOT “can agriculture feed 9 billion people?” Instead the question is “Will agriculture BE ALLOWED to feed 9 billion people?” Insinuating that some of these food religions might stand in the way.
Despite his belief in genetic engineering being an important part of the future of agriculture, Saik is very clear that he is NOT against organic farming.
“There is a lot we can learn from organic farming: integrated pest management strategies, crop rotation, cover crops, intercropping, soil health, etc. There’s a lot of things we can learn from organic farming IF we were able to bring the two sides together: conventional (genetically engineered) and organic. If we could bring the two together as opposed to polarizing this argument, I think we would move all of agriculture [forward] in a more sustainable manner.”
Why can’t organic agriculture and GMOs both be an important part of agriculture? Even further, why couldn’t they be used together to further reduce inputs and environmental impact of modern agriculture?