Wednesday, October 23, 2013

GMO Foods Are, Fundamentally, as Natural as a Bird's Nest

Three letters appeared in the 7/30/13 NJ Star-Ledger in response to John Rigolizzo Jr.'s article opposing forced labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) foods. "Genetic changes are good" argues against GM labeling, and sums up some of the many benefits of the similar but slower age-old process of "hybridization"—DNA alteration through selective breeding. "Labels for consumers" argues for mandatory labeling, based on the consumer's alleged "right to know." Finally, a letter writer representing an activist group promoting "organic" food argues that "GM food should be illegal."

I left these comments, focusing on the false dichotomy between man and his needs and nature:

RE: GM food labeling

I agree with Arthur L. Yeager ("Genetic changes are good"). 

GM foods are good or bad on their own individual merits, and that's how they should be judged. Blanket condemnation of an entire technology is childish and irresponsible. But blanket condemnation is exactly what a GM label would imply. GM labeling is Luddite propaganda, masquerading as relevant information. 

Yes, there are always risks. But the potential for the occasional bad product is not a reason to condemn GMO technology, any more that the occasional safety problem is a reason to condemn automobile technology. To add to Yeager's list of GM benefits, I would add Amanda Maxham's excellent Voices for Reason series GMO Monday, which zeros in on the benefits of GM technology as applied technology. 

To build on Yeager's conclusion that "
Scientific progress allows us to more efficiently implement this process of hybridization for the benefit of all [and] should not be unnecessarily impeded," it should be remembered that technology is man's practical means of altering naturally occurring matter for human benefit. Many species like bees that build hives, birds that build nests, ants that tunnel, ground hogs that dig, and beavers that build dams, alter nature on a very basic level. But, they are limited to instinctual programming, which means they and all living species other than man must adapt to their background environment in order to survive. That's what they are equipped to do. 

Man is not so equipped. Raw nature is misery and death to human beings. It is full of hazards, including things that are toxic to eat, like poison mushrooms. But nature does offer the basic raw ingredients from which man can survive and thrive, provided he acts according to his nature. 

Man's primary means of survival is his reasoning mind, which enables him to do what animals can't; alter nature to suit his needs, which he can do and, when free, does do on a vast scale. But, fundamentally, man's use of reason to alter the environment to advance his survival and quality of life is as much a part of nature as the instinctual ways that other species use to advance their lives. Man and his means of survival are part of nature. Therefor, the foods produced from GM technology, being a product of man's means of survival, is a natural phenomenon. Like all that man creates from Earth's raw materials, GM technology takes natural matter, and rearranges and improves it for human benefit.

As to Frederick Chichester, his call to outlaw GM foods is plain thuggery. Producers have a right to develop and market GM products, and consumers have a right to voluntarily buy them. Production and trade are fundamental individual rights, and no one has the right to interfere at the point of a gun. People should, however, be free not to produce or buy products they don't like.

Related Reading:

On Genetically Modified Crops and Food Labeling

GMO Monday by Amanda Maxham at Voices for Reason

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