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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
Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The depredations of the multinational agricultural corporation Monsanto are rightly condemned by many. But Mr. Stolyarov points out that arguments against Monsanto’s misbehavior are not valid arguments against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as a whole.


– “Against Monsanto, For GMOs” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Monsanto – Legal actions and controversies” – Wikipedia
– “Copyright Term Extension Act” – Wikipedia
– “Electronic Arts discontinues Online Pass, a controversial form of video game DRM” – Sean Hollister – The Verge – May 15, 2013
– “Extinction” – Wikipedia

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 9, 2013

                The depredations of the multinational agricultural corporation Monsanto are rightly condemned by many. Monsanto is a prominent example of a crony corporation – a company that bolsters its market dominance not through honest competition and innovation, but through the persistent use of the political and legal system to enforce its preferences against its competitors and customers. Most outrageous is Monsanto’s stretching of patents beyond all conceivable limits – attempting to patent genes and life forms and to forcibly destroy the crops of farmers who replant seeds from crops originally obtained from Monsanto.

                Yet because Monsanto is one of the world’s leading producers of genetically modified crops, campaigners who oppose all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) often use Monsanto as the poster child for the problems with GMOs as a whole. The March Against Monsanto, which took place in cities worldwide in late May of 2013, is the most recent prominent example of this conflation. The blanket condemnation of GMOs because of Monsanto’s misbehavior is deeply fallacious. The policy of a particular company does not serve to discredit an entire class of products, just because that company produces those products – even if it could be granted that the company’s actions result in its own products being more harmful than they would otherwise be.

                GMOs, in conventional usage, are any life forms which have been altered through techniques more advanced than the kind of selective breeding which has existed for millennia. In fact, the only material distinction between genetic engineering and selective breeding is in the degree to which the procedure is targeted toward specific features of an organism. Whereas selective breeding is largely based on observation of the organism’s phenotype, genetic engineering relies on more precise manipulation of the organism’s DNA. Because of its ability to more closely focus on specific desirable or undesirable attributes, genetic engineering is less subject to unintended consequences than a solely macroscopic approach. Issues of a particular company’s abuse of the political system and its attempts to render the patent system ever more draconian do not constitute an argument against GMOs or the techniques used to create them.

                Consider that Monsanto’s behavior is not unique; similar depredations are found throughout the status quo of crony corporatism, where many large firms thrive not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of political pull and institutionalized coercion. Walt Disney Corporation has made similar outrageous (and successful) attempts to extend the intellectual-property system solely for its own benefit. The 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act was primarily motivated by Disney’s lobbying to prevent the character of Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain. Yet are all films, and all animated characters, evil or wrong because of Disney’s manipulation of the legal system instead of competing fairly and honestly on the market? Surely, to condemn films on the basis of Disney’s behavior would be absurd.

                Consider, likewise, Apple Corporation, which has attempted to sue its competitors’ products out of existence and to patent the rectangle with rounded corners – a geometric shape which is no less basic an idea in mathematics than a trapezoid or an octagon. Are all smartphones, tablet computers, MP3 players, and online music services – including those of Apple’s competitors – wrong and evil solely because of Apple’s unethical use of the legal system to squelch competition? Surely not! EA Games, until May 2013, embedded crushingly restrictive digital-rights management (DRM) into its products, requiring a continuous Internet connection (and de facto continual monitoring of the user by EA) for some games to be playable at all. Are all computer games and video games evil and wrong because of EA’s intrusive anti-consumer practices? Should they all be banned in favor of only those games that use pre-1950s-era technology – e.g., board games and other table-top games? If the reader does not support the wholesale abolition, or even the limitation, of films, consumer electronics, and games as a result of the misbehavior of prominent makers of these products, then what rationale can there possibly be for viewing GMOs differently?

                Indeed, the loathing of all GMOs stems from a more fundamental fallacy, for which any criticism of Monsanto only provides convenient cover. That fallacy is the assumption that “the natural” – i.e., anything not affected by human technology, or, more realistically, human technology of sufficiently recent origin – is somehow optimal for human purposes or simply for its own sake. While it is logically conceivable that some genetic modifications to organisms could render them more harmful than they would otherwise be (though there has never been any evidence of such harms arising despite the trillions of servings of genetically modified foods consumed to date), the condemnation of all genetic modifications using techniques from the last 60 years is far more sweeping than this. Such condemnation is not and cannot be scientific; rather, it is an outgrowth of the indiscriminate anti-technology agenda of the anti-GMO campaigners. A scientific approach, based on experimentation, empirical observation, and the immense knowledge thus far amassed regarding chemistry and biology, might conceivably give rise to a sophisticated classification of GMOs based on gradations of safety, safe uses, unsafe uses, and possible yet-unknown risks. The anti-GMO campaigners’ approach, on the other hand, can simply be summarized as “Nature good – human technology bad” – not scientific or discerning at all.

                The reverence for purportedly unaltered “nature” completely ignores the vicious, cruel, appallingly wasteful (not even to mention suboptimal) conditions of any environment untouched by human influence. After all, 99.9% of all species that ever existed are extinct – the vast majority from causes that arose long before human beings evolved. The plants and animals that primitive hunter-gatherers consumed did not evolve with the intention of providing optimal nutrition for man; they simply happened to be around, attainable for humans, and nutritious enough that humans did not die right away after consuming them – and some humans (the ones that were not poisoned, or killed hunting, or murdered by their fellow men) managed to survive to reproductive age by eating these “natural” foods. Just because the primitive “paleo” diet of our ancestors enabled them to survive long enough to trigger the chain of events that led to us, does not render their lives, or their diets, ideal for emulation in every aspect. We can do better. We must do better – if protection of large numbers of human beings from famine, drought, pests, and prohibitive costs of food is to be considered a moral priority in the least. By depriving human beings of the increased abundance, resilience, and nutritional content that only the genetic modification of foods can provide, anti-GMO campaigners would sentence millions – perhaps billions – of humans to the miserable subsistence conditions and tragically early deaths of their primeval forebears, of whom the Earth could support only a few million without human agricultural interventions.

                We do not need to like Monsanto in order to embrace the life-saving, life-enhancing potential of GMOs. We need to consider the technology involved in GMOs on its own terms, imagining how we would view it if it could be delivered by economic arrangements we would prefer. As a libertarian individualist, I advocate for a world in which GMOs could be produced by thousands of competing firms, each fairly trying to win the business of consumers through the creation of superior products which add value to people’s lives. If you are justifiably concerned about the practices of Monsanto, consider working toward a world like that, instead of a world where the promise of GMOs is denied to the billions who currently owe their very existences to human technology and ingenuity.