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¯\_(ツ)_/¯ =Me on GMOs and Achieving Sustainability

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It is with great trepidation that I dip my toe into discussing GMOs but I hope that I can contribute just a bit more sanity against the great weight of vitriol out there. Unfortunately the extreme polarization on GMOs has made it hard to find balanced perspectives and it is frustrating that so many who I would otherwise consider allies for Sustainability are perpetuating outright lies to win their case against GMOs [3]. If one steps back from the scrum and takes in the whole panorama in as unbiased a fashion as possible I think the conclusion is ultimately quite clear: GMOs are mostly irrelevant when it comes to Achieving Sustainability.

1.) There is no evidence of GMOs impacting human (or animal) health1)Like with organics [4], health claims are what drives virtually all the active anger. I refuse to waste more verbiage discussing this non-issue with GMOs [5].

2.) The problems with GMOs are really just existing problems with our industrial agriculture system

3.) So what's good about GMOs

Firstly, we should not accept something today just because of claimed potential sometime down the road, especially if there are reasons to suspect it might never bear fruit (eg fusion power plant). The first claim is that GMOs will increase productivity. We have already practically maxed out crops like corn's possible productivity [11] and conventional means continue to be responsible for virtually all recent yield gains [12]. The other that deserves skepticism is that GMOs will yield varieties that will help us adapt to climate change, such as resistance to extreme droughts. So far no significant improvements have been affected in the real world [13]. With our changing climate we'll definitely need new varieties whether conventionally breed or GMO, so let's keep the research going, but no credit is yet deserved for this. There are however a couple areas where GMOs have demonstrated clear benefits:

Photo by World Bank Photo Collection [14] [15]

4.) Some real worries about GMOs

So far we don't have clear evidence that GMOs generate unique problems such as genes mixing with wild plants or as previously emphasized any health issues such as allergies. Instead GMOs principally are exacerbating currently existing problems with our food system. There are three particular excaerbations which I am very concerned about:

5.) Conclusion: Achieving Sustainability in our food systems can happen with OR without GMOs

Aaron Redman [31]


Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

Footnotes   [ + [33] ]

1. Like with organics [4], health claims are what drives virtually all the active anger. I refuse to waste more verbiage discussing this non-issue with GMOs [5].
2. I could not figure out who actually made this image, would love to properly credit them!
3. In general technologists over estimate the ease of getting people, particularly the rural poor, to adopt a new technology, especially one so wrapped up in culture and tradition like Rice and for an invisible benefit.
4. This of course is great for the companies that can keep selling new solutions as their patents expire--another reason to move this type of research into the public domain.
5. An easy solution, as with the other problems, is not necessarily getting rid of GMOs. Most of the tail risks could be minimized by encouraging more diverse varieties of crops whether GMO or not and some improved regulation