Browsed by
Tag: genetic modification

All Food Is Genetically Modified. Now We’re Just Better at It. – Article by Chelsea Follett

All Food Is Genetically Modified. Now We’re Just Better at It. – Article by Chelsea Follett

The New Renaissance Hat
Chelsea Follett
September 11, 2015
There is huge potential for progress in biotech.

A recent article in Business Insider showing what the ancestors of modern fruits and vegetables looked like painted a bleak picture. A carrot was indistinguishable from any skinny brown root yanked up from the earth at random. Corn looked nearly as thin and insubstantial as a blade of grass. Peaches were once tiny berries with more pit than flesh. Bananas were the least recognizable of all, lacking the best features associated with their modern counterparts: the convenient peel and the seedless interior. How did these barely edible plants transform into the appetizing fruits and vegetables we know today? The answer is human ingenuity and millennia of genetic modification.

Carrot_Comparison(Photo Credit: Genetic Literacy Project and Shutterstock via Business Insider).

Humanity is continuously innovating to produce more food with less land, less water, and fewer emissions. As a result, food is not only more plentiful, but it is also coming down in price.


The pace of technological advancement can be, if you will pardon the pun, difficult to digest. Lab-grown meat created without the need to kill an animal is already a reality. The first lab-grown burger debuted in 2013, costing over $300,000, but the price of a lab-grown burger patty has since plummeted, and the innovation’s creator “expects to be able to produce the patties on a large enough scale to sell them for under $10 a piece in a matter of five years.”

People who eschew meat are a growing demographic, and lab-grown meat is great news for those who avoid meat solely for ethical reasons. It currently takes more land, energy, and water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce equivalent calories in the form of chickens, but also grains. So, cultured meat could also lead to huge gains in food production efficiency.

Another beautiful example of human progress in the realm of food is golden rice. The World Health Organization estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 children become blind every year as a result of vitamin A deficiency, and about half of them die within a year of losing their sight. Golden rice, largely a brainchild of the private Rockefeller Foundation, is genetically engineered to produce beta carotene, which the human body can convert into vitamin A. Golden rice holds the potential to protect hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world from vitamin A deficiency, preserving their sight and, in many cases, saving their lives.

Humans have been modifying food for millennia, and today we’re modifying it in many exciting ways, from cultured meat to golden rice. Sadly, it has become fashionable to fear modern genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), even though scientists overwhelmingly agree that GMOs are safe.

Anti-GMO hysteria motivated the popular restaurant chain Chipotle to proclaim itself “GMO-free” earlier this year (a dubious claim), prompted a political movement calling for the labeling of GM foods (a needless regulation implying to consumers that GMOs are hazardous), and even fueled opposition to golden rice. advisory board member Matt Ridley summarized the problem in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:

After 20 years and billions of meals, there is still no evidence that [GMOs] harm human health, and ample evidence of their environmental and humanitarian benefits. Vitamin-enhanced GM “golden rice” has been ready to save lives for years, but opposed at every step by Greenpeace. Bangladeshi eggplant growers spray their crops with insecticides up to 140 times in a season, risking their own health, because the insect-resistant GMO version of the plant is fiercely opposed by environmentalists. Opposition to GMOs has certainly cost lives.

Besides, what did GMOs replace? Before transgenic crop improvement was invented, the main way to breed new varieties was “mutation breeding”: to scramble a plant’s DNA randomly, using gamma rays or chemical mutagens, in the hope that some of the monsters thus produced would have better yields or novel characteristics. Golden Promise barley, for example, a favorite of organic brewers, was produced this way. This method still faces no special regulation, whereas precise transfer of single well known genes, which could not possibly be less safe, does.

Fortunately, while regulations motivated by anti-GMO sentiment may slow down progress, they probably cannot do so indefinitely. For those who wish to avoid modern GM foods, the market will always provide more traditional alternatives, and for the rest of us, human ingenuity will likely continue to increase agricultural efficiency and improve food in ways we cannot even imagine. Learn more about the progress we have already made by visiting and selecting the “Food” category under “Browse Data.”

Chelsea Follett (Chelsea German) works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of
Second Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – November 27, 2014

Second Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – November 27, 2014

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov II
November 27, 2014

Today Wendy Stolyarov and I had an excellent second interview and conversation with Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club. We discussed our recent activities related to the life-extension movement, the impact of “Death is Wrong”, and many philosophical and practical ideas surrounding the pursuit of indefinite longevity.

Watch the recorded interview here.

What Does Greenpeace Have Against Golden Rice? – Article by Bradley Doucet

What Does Greenpeace Have Against Golden Rice? – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
November 17, 2013
Imagine if you stumbled across a naturally-occurring variety of rice that was rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A found in carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. A lack of vitamin A in the body leads to an increased risk of blindness and increased susceptibility to disease, which can in turn lead to premature death in small children. If you could get people in poor rice-based societies to substitute this newfound variety of rice for the kind of rice they normally eat, then you could help them dramatically improve their health.Well, no such naturally-occurring variety of rice exists on Earth. Fortunately, though, some very intelligent human beings have created such a variety through genetic modification or genetic engineering (GE). It is called “Golden Rice” because of its golden colour. But far from celebrating this life-saving invention, groups like Greenpeace are fighting to stop it from being accepted and implemented. My first reaction to this was that the good people at Greenpeace and similar groups are out of their gourds. But skeptical though I was, I wanted to give them a chance to change my mind, to prove me wrong. What I found was not very impressive. Here are some of the reasons the organization gives [1] for claiming that “Golden Rice is environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security.” 1) “The tens of millions of dollars invested in Golden Rice would have been better spent on VAD [vitamin A deficiency] solutions that are already available and working, such as food supplements, food fortification and home gardening.” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. But who is to decide where money is better spent? I personally would rather have lots of people trying lots of different things. The best solutions will win out in the marketplace if people are free to choose. Oh, and Golden Rice is a form of food fortification. It just takes place at the genetic level.

2) “If cross-pollination or seed mix-up causes Golden Rice contamination, it could prove difficult, if not impossible to eradicate.” The use of words like ‘contamination’ and ‘eradicate’ are clearly meant to poison the debate, to get people to equate Golden Rice with dangerous diseases and harmful radiation. Rhetoric aside, is there any reason to expect more cross-pollination or seed mix-ups with Golden Rice than with other varieties? Are we afraid that basmati might cross-pollinate jasmine rice?

3) “If any hazardous, unexpected effects would develop from Golden Rice, the GE contamination would affect countries where rice is an essential staple and put people and food security at risk.” The reason they have to imagine hypothetical hazardous effects is that as far as anyone can tell, Golden Rice has no actual hazardous effects. It’s safe. It’s been tested. In the absence of any indication that it is harmful, we should go ahead and consume it. Or at least let other people consume it if we ourselves are filled with irrational fear.

4) “It is irresponsible to impose Golden Rice on people if it goes against their religious beliefs, cultural heritage and sense of identity, or simply because they do not want it.” Uh, no argument here. It’s not just irresponsible, it’s completely immoral. But who, exactly, is talking about imposing anything on anyone? Groups like Greenpeace are the ones that want to prevent people from being able to choose Golden Rice. I’m unaware of anyone who wants to force people to eat it, or farmers to grow it.

5) “Golden Rice does not address the underlying causes of VAD, which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a healthy and varied diet.” So what? An artificial knee doesn’t address the underlying causes of bone density loss, but it sure makes life better for people whose natural knees are worn out. Getting at underlying causes is great, and I am certainly all for the economic freedom that will help the poor escape poverty. But in the meantime, treating some of the more dire symptoms of poverty also seems like a good idea.

6) “[T]he single-crop approach of Golden Rice could make malnutrition worse because it encourages a diet based solely on rice, rather than increasing access to a diverse diet of fruits and vegetables, considered crucial to combatting VAD and other nutrient deficiencies.” Golden Rice is a food, not an approach. The sooner the people in poor rice-based societies can get access to a diverse diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, the better, but again, in the meantime, Golden Rice can help. To forbid this option while holding out for a better one is perverse.

7) “Despite all the hype surrounding Golden Rice, it still remains unproven whether daily consumption of Golden Rice would actually improve the vitamin A status of people who are deficient.” This is patently false. Scientific studies have shown that the beta-carotene contained in Golden Rice is “highly available and easily taken up into the bloodstream by the human digestive system.” There is no reason to believe that Golden Rice would not improve the vitamin A status of people who are deficient, and every reason to believe that it would.

Since the reasons Greenpeace gives for opposing Golden Rice are so transparently inadequate, I have to wonder what the real, unstated reasons are. I can’t help but think that the people in charge of this campaign are unscientifically opposed to the transformative technology of genetic engineering itself, despite all of its potential to improve human lives. It really seems to me that they are motivated by an ecological religion whose goal is not to make human life better, but to preserve the non-human natural world for its own sake, and to stop us from altering it in any way unless it is to return it to a previous state before humans started altering it, which was somehow a better state despite being less suited to human survival and flourishing.

I’m all for reducing pollution and dealing with other environmental problems to the extent that doing so actually improves the human condition. Prioritizing the environment to the detriment of human well-being, though, I can’t get behind. And preventing the deployment of beneficial technologies that we have no reason to think would have any harmful effects on people or the environment? That is simply indefensible. Greenpeace should cease its harmful campaign against Golden Rice and get behind this life-saving technology.

1. Greenpeace refers to Golden Rice as “GE ‘Golden’ rice,” which I find clunky. For the sake of readability, I have replaced every instance of “GE ‘Golden’ rice” with “Golden Rice” in quotations from the Greenpeace website.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.