I have written about my lack of respect for the anti-GMO position as being nonscientific, agreeing with those who characterized this issue as being “the climate-change of the left.” (I am not alone on this: Neil DeGrasse Tyson feels this way, too.) While I still think the anti-GMO stance is wrong, I am willing to admit the picture is more nuanced than I previously felt. What both reinforced my opinion of GMOs while informing me of the bigger picture was a series of posts by Nathanael Johnson called Panic-Free GMOs at Grist.org. (As an aside, did you know that some of the hybrids for some crops were created by bombarding seeds with radiation? That’s natural?)
I think that there are a lot of other issues with agriculture — especially large-scale agribusiness — that we need need to be concerned with. So, if I am not opposed to GMOs, what am I unhappy about?
1. I oppose any restrictions on research in the area of genetic engineering, by either side. I also oppose restrictions on food production and distribution not based on science.*
2. I oppose monoculture. Monoculture can cause a raft of environmental and social problems.
3. I oppose any crop developed through genetic modification or traditional techniques which allows farmers to increase pesticide or herbicide use, and therefore increase the exposure to harmful chemicals that farm workers face.
4. I oppose the use of slave labor in farming cacao and other crops.
5. I oppose the mistreatment of farmworkers, especially undocumented migrants in the United States. (This goes for exploitation of workers in other fields as well, such as construction.)
6. I oppose the use of child labor in agriculture.
7. I oppose the creation of sterile seeds, however developed, and patents on seeds which prevent farmers from saving seed from one crop to use for their next.
8. I oppose the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.
9. I oppose the inhuman conditions under which chickens are raised.
10. I oppose raising crops in climates for which they were not originally suited, and the massive diversion of resources (usually water) which this requires. That means I am unhappy at rice being grown in California’s Central Valley, which is essentially a desert.
11. I oppose fish farming methods which result in environmental degradation, as well as overfishing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a good guide to environmentally sound choices. (Eat more catfish! No Chilean Seabass!)
12. I oppose the destruction of habitat for the creation of palm plantations, or other crops or livestock.
13. I oppose any regulation that favors large agribusiness over small local farmers.
14. I strongly support increasing federal oversight of agriculture .
Except for 1, 3, and 7, very little of that involves GMOs.
Am I perfect in adhering to these principles? No, and I admit it. But I am working on it — buying Fair Trade coffee and chocolate, where available. Looking to limit my use of products with palm oil or palm kernel oil. Checking the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List before getting seafood. (It’s hard: my favorite seafood craving is grouper. I love fried-grouper sandwiches, and I admit I do not ask the restaurant where they get their fish from.)
I think those are reasonable stances to take.
*That, of course, goes for antiscientific regulation in general, whether it is GMOs, abortion regulations based on scientific fairy tales, or requirement that teachers include Intelligent Design in classroom education. (Not all of those are equally unscientific, of course. There is room for GMO debates and there is none for creationism; I do not mean to equate the two.)