What Part of GMO Don’t You Understand?


Shutterstock photo.

A few of you may still have doubts about global warming, even though the overwhelming scientific evidence says it’s a no-brainer. Regardless, some dissenters will say the argument for global warming is based on crap science

Comedian Andy Borowitz wrote a satirical piece for the New Yorker, called Many in Nation Tired of Explaining Things to Idiots. The polls confirmed: “…a majority… will no longer bother trying to explain (global warming) to cretins.”

While Greenland melts, let’s move onto another hot button topic: GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

Most of my friends are convinced that GMOs are bad. Period. End of story. Maybe they are bad?

At a dinner party with friends a few years ago, I recommended that they read another New Yorker article, Seeds of Doubt. I received scolding stares. My argument didn’t go well

Your mind may be made up about GMOs. I can’t make a scientific argument for, or against, GMOs. I’m not schooled in the subject. I’m not saying there is no cause for concern. (I’ve got a few.) Yet there is ample evidence to suggest that not all GMOs are harmful. And there are supporters where you’d least expect them. There’s even a Facebook page called Hippies for GMOs.

Before you start piling on hippies and the bad boys of agricultural, genetic seed manipulation—Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer—let’s roll back genetic modification a few thousand years. We’ll call it GMO creationism.

Recently scientists discovered that grafted trees have been swapping mitochondria for thousands of years. In other words, there is a flow of DNA between the understock of an apple tree and the grafted scion wood. Bingo: genetically modified apple trees.

And next time you sample sweet potato fries, you’ll be nibbling on a GMO product that’s 8,000 years old, thanks to a soil-borne bacteria.

In late June, more than 100 Nobel Laureates condemned Greenpeace for their stance against genetically modified rice—infused with beta-carotene. The GMO rice could inexpensively prevent a major Vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. Is that so bad?

Congress just passed a confusing GMO food labeling law with bipartisan support. That’s the good news. The bad news: It will be hard to decipher labels to tell what’s really a GMO product.

I’m not trying to diminish the potential harm of GMOs. And it doesn’t mean that I’m eager to have GMO crops on my plate every evening of the week.

Still, over half of European Union members have put a block on GMO food crops. This may exclude the possibility for GMO Cannabis availability in Europe, but who cares? Hippies are producing fine Cannabis buds, already, thank you

I enjoy French fries and potato chips as much as the next slob. A new GMO potato promises to make fast food better for me. Wait a minute…. This has a bit of a Diet Mountain Dew ring to it.

I am skeptical of the hype on both sides.

Genetic manipulation, through traditional F1 hybridization or genetic modification, has increased the number of bushels harvested per acre. Farmers like a good yield and deserve an occasional return on investment. Farmers were contending with burdensome capital costs, bad weather, pestilence and commodity price fluctuations, long before GMOs became controversial.

I am worried about the monopolization of seed genetics. Market dominance is a businessperson’s dream-come-true. But we need more varieties, not just the handful of GMO patented seed options.

Control the seed options, and you rule the farm and table.

This is worrisome for both farmers and consumers.

In my starry-eyed fashion, I would prefer non-patented, public domain, save-them-for-sowing-next-year-if-you-want-to seeds. This could be extrapolated across the food spectrum, but you’ll need to grow the crops yourself or pay more to local farmers to grow non-GMO food.

Dane County Farmers’ Market on Augusts 6th on Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin. The largest producer’s-only farmer’s market in the U.S.




Wendell Berry, Kentucky author, farmer and activist is quoted in the recently released documentary, The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry. “The traditional farmer, that is the farmer who was first independent, who first fed himself off his farm and then fed other people, who farmed with his family and who passed the land on down to people who knew it and had the best reasons to take care of it… that farmer stood at the convergence of traditional values… our values.”

Neglected, aging values.

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized and disconnected from its food sources. The average age of a Kentucky farmer is 63 years old.

Farm-to-table on a Social Security check.

Dinner with 105 of my favorite Perennial Plant Association friends at Tangletown Gardens and Farm, Plato, MN on August 2nd.

We will need to pool all of our best resources. Wendell Berry, his wife Tanya and daughter Mary know that the values of farming and the culture of rural communities have been badly damaged.

Love of place, community and neighbors is essential for a healthy world. Tanya Berry, in The Seer, quotes her friend, the poet Gary Snyder: “Stop somewhere. Be somewhere.”

Stay someplace.

Plant your backyard. Support your local farmers.

Help the Berry Center resettle America.


Posted by

Allen Bush
on August 10, 2016 at 6:57 am, in the category Eat This, Ministry of Controversy.

Comment List

  • Jim 07 / 05 / 2016

    Exactly. This post, like many others, doesn’t address this obvious point.

  • Allen Bush 19 / 06 / 2016

    Elizabeth, I agree.

  • Allen Bush 01 / 09 / 2016

    Jim, it is an obvious point and a concern. Eventually, the weeds develop a resistance to Roundup.

  • Debbie Teashon 02 / 09 / 2016

    Another problem is allergies. If you are allergic to certain items, it is good to know what is in your food. My pipe dream would be labels that said what has been added in the engineering, plus all -icides that are used to grow the crop.

  • Allen Bush 09 / 10 / 2016

    Debbie, I am encouraged by what I see on the local food scene wherever I go. I was blown away last week by Tanglewood Farm in Minnesota and the very impressive farmer’s market in Madison, Wisconsin. Louisville is a big foodie town, too. And the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky is working to find solutions to help rebuild rural communities and foster a new economy for farmers. It’s a long shot but as Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.”

  • admin 10 / 10 / 2016

    Great rant! The facts that biological diversity is reduced, that farmers have to purchase seed rather than just collect some for replanting each year, is a recipe for disaster.

  • Mary Jean Gilman 21 / 11 / 2016

    Yes, I agree with the responders who commented on the outcome of using GMO rice to feed the masses. Reliance on pesticides and fertilizers may enable more annual crops but alters the soil which has been supporting the population for thousands of years. It’s peripheral to the topic, but population control is the answer, not GMO food production.

  • Debbie Teashon 21 / 11 / 2016

    Alan, That is encouraging. We’ve come so far away from the land that it is encouraging to hear efforts to bring us back.

  • Carol 21 / 11 / 2016

    I love fresh corn that doesn’t go starchy within minutes of picking –like corn did years ago. Yup, genetically modified…

  • Allen Bush 22 / 11 / 2016

    Thanks, Kermit. The non-profit Louisville Grows is urban farming. I am impressed with their vision and progress. http://www.louisvillegrows.org/about/about-louisville-grows/

  • Leslie N Inman 22 / 11 / 2016

    It’s not the GMOs…. as much as it is that 90% of all GMOs are ‘RoundUp Ready’. Monsanto said the use of Round Up would decrease with GMOs, but it’s increased. And it certainly looks like just another way to sell more Round Up. I just don’t want to eat another serving of Round Up.

  • Lat 22 / 11 / 2016

    I saw a program recently which introduced me to the concept of ‘terroir’, a french word that embodies the concept of earth or land. In my understanding of it, I thought it a beautiful way to describe the integrity of the soil and its unique qualities that are transferred into the food we eat.

Leave a Reply