When it comes to arguing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) there is a big obstacle: the name GMOs describes things ranging from bacteria producing human insulin to super-sized salmons. General claims about GMOs tend to be as crude as asserting that “All mammals are cute”.
The idea that we can support (or oppose) all GMOs as a group is naïve (or mischievous). Individually however, many GMOs can (and even should) be supported. As an example, we will pick one GMO and have a rational discussion about it. The same should be done with the rest, case by case. Only in this way we can have a truly honest debate. First however, we should recognise the different types of opposition that we will find:
a– Rational opposition. This includes concerns of the type “GMOs express foreign genes which can be toxic or cause allergies” or “they can contaminate certified organic crops” or “they promote monocultures”.
Now, we can select a GMO and have a discussion about it:
We will not pick GMOs used in medicine, defending them is too easy (if someone in your family has diabetes or growth deficiency or you are planning to go through in vitro fertilisation, I presume you will embrace bacteria or tobacco plants producing human proteins with all your heart).
We will be bold and focus on a GMO for food production.
We could focus on cheese. Virtually all the cheese in the world is produced using proteins originally from cows now made by yeast; we will talk however, about the most reviled type of GMO: a GM crop.
If we pick a crop like Golden Rice, created by a non-for-profit organisation, that shall take care of anti-capitalist quibbles. But Golden Rice has being profusely defended elsewhere and we are not here for an easy ride.
We will talk about a full-blown, for-profit GM crop: Artic Apples. These are normal apples (of the Granny Smith or Golden Delicious varieties) that have being genetically modified to prevent browning by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.
Now, as mentioned above, we need to face 3 types of objections to Arctic Apples: a- rational, b- anti-imperialist, and c- quasi-religious.
Engaging with type-c objections is futile and we will pass over it. Fighting religious fundamentalism is a grim job and it is not our job. People of this confession won’t change their mind (even when reminded that pain is natural and ibuprofen is not). If a group believes that Nature knows better or that they should reject anything that was invented after 1859 AD, we will let them be as long as they don’t try to impose their believes on us. Be wary though of insincere people who pretend to be rational opponents when in fact they are type-C (or B) opponents. This will show up later, when after all rational opposition has been crushed, they will still be against ANY GMO.
Having forgo answering type-c opposition (Mother Nature knows better) we can tackle the type-b opposition (GMOs are produced by corporations trying to take over the food supply and to subjugate the world):
Artic Apples are not produced by a multi-billon dollar corporation. They are commercialised by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a company with 7 employees, owned by its own employees. If anything, anti-capitalists should support this type of enterprise: Companies owned by their employees (remember collectivisation of the means of production?).
At this point however, I have to reveal myself in my true colours: I do not think that capitalism is evil and if a company makes a profit out of a good idea that is fine with me. Communism has been a greater cause of starvation than capitalism anyway. Therefore, the fact that someone wants to make money, from computers, cars, clothes, music, farming -you name it- shouldn’t matter in principle.
This leaves only rational opposition in front of us.
-GMOs express foreign genes which can be toxic or cause allergies
Artic Apples do not express foreign genes. On the contrary, they don’t express the apple’s gene polyphenol oxidase. They are normal apples from which the gene that causes browning (polyphenol oxidase) has been silenced using RNAi technology (see my previous post on RNAi). There is NO foreign gene which might be toxic or cause allergies expressed in these apples.
-GMOs can contaminate certified organic crops
Edible apples are clonal crops. They are propagated by two methods: grafting or budding. This means that apple trees are not grown from seeds. No Artic Apple tree will “contaminate” a non-GM orchard (unless someone gets in the orchard and plant an Artic Apple tree).
-GMOs promote monocultures.
Commercial apples are –already- monocultures. We do not eat wild apple varieties; most wild apples are actually inedible. All the apple varieties in supermarkets and shops come from trees generated clonally from older trees. Artic Apples cannot promote monocultures because apples are monocultures (also any variety can be made “arctic” using RNAi).
There may be more rational objections to growing and eating Artic Apples. So far however, I couldn’t think of any other pressing argument which deserves being discussed. This, of course, doesn’t make a case for eating (or buying) these apples but it does show that there is nothing wrong with them. It is just a matter of choice, like buying Pink Ladies or Braeburn apples. If you like Golden Delicious apples and think that having non-browning Golden Delicious is a good idea, then Golden Delicious Arctic Apples are for you, if not, no. However, don’t let anyone scare you into thinking that Arctic Apples are the work or the devil or an instrument of capitalist domination; they are just new sub-varieties of apples and they are also, like bacteria producing insulin or tobacco plants making Ebola-fighting drugs, GMOs.
Watch a non-browning Arctic Apple not browning:
Note: No, I do not work for Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc nor I intend to work for them. Also, I am a Dad and my wife -a Mum, which for some seems to confer onto her more authority than her PhD- and I would be happy feeding our son Arctic Apples (no, we are not asking for free apples neither).