You want your foods GMO-free, right? Why?

I’ll freely admit that we go for the GMO-free (and organic) alternatives pretty routinely at this point when we’re buying our food. (Most of all, we try, try, try to avoid processed foods. That’s still our guiding force, even more than simply being raw.) I know there’s arguments about whether organic alternatives are in any way better; I get it.

I’m less attuned to worries about GMO foods, though — although I see half my Facebook feed going on about it. Anyway, here’s an argument against going GMO-free, via the New York Times:

However, a review of the pros and cons of G.M.O.s strongly suggests that the issue reflects a poor public understanding of the science behind them, along with a rebellion against the dominance of food and agricultural conglomerates. The anti-G.M.O. movement, I’m afraid, risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What is needed is a dispassionate look at what G.M.O.s mean and their actual and potential good, not just a fear of harmful possibilities.

Let’s start with the facts. Humans have been genetically modifying food and feed plants and animals for millenniums, until recently only by repeatedly crossing existing ones with relatives that have more desirable characteristics. It can take many years, even decades, to achieve a commercially viable product this way because unwanted traits can come in the resulting hybrids. While it may be nice to have a tomato that can withstand long-distance travel, the fruit also has to ripen evenly and, most important, taste good.

Genetic engineering makes it possible to achieve a desired outcome in one generation. It introduces only a single known gene or small group of genes that dictate production of desired proteins into a plant, imparting characteristics such as tolerance of frost, drought or salt, or resistance to disease or weed killer. The technique can also be used to enhance a plant’s growth or content of an essential nutrient, or, in the case of animals, reduce the feed they need.


A legitimate safety concern involves possible delayed deleterious effects of genetically modified products on consumers, the environment or the “balance” of nature. As with an organism’s natural genes, introduced ones can mutate or disrupt the function of neighboring genes. Thus, continued monitoring of their effects is essential and, as with defective cars, malfunctioning products may have to be recalled.

Are there risks to G.M.O.s that scientists have yet to consider or discover? Of course there are. Nothing in this life is risk-free, but that is not enough reason to reject valuable scientific advances.

That might not convince you — I’m not sure it convinces me, as it all seems sort of “well, yeah, but the same is true if you’re arguing for GMO-free foods” — but it’s never bad to be armed with the facts — or what approaches the facts.

And I know it’s a little off the Ashtanga topic — not much Ashtanga stuff out there today.

Posted by Steve