I was asked to elaborate in a less douchey way why I’m so hard on GMO opponents, so I thought I’d write out my entire position on it. This is very, very, very long… but I think it’s a good read.
The discussion in public forms, as currently phrased, is often completely nonsensical. Here’s why:
Genetic Modification is a label describing a collection of tools we can use to change the properties of plants and organisms. We’ve been doing it literally for millennia through hybridization and artificial selection - both of which are essentially educated guesses and a little blind luck.
So at the highest and most abstract level, saying you are against organisms that have been genetically modified doesn’t make any sense. Almost every crop, food, plant, or animal we consume has been modified by hybridization or artificial selection. So clearly a GMO Opponent doesn’t mean the mere *modification* of an organism genetically. After all, I can use hybridization to combine Cotoneaster and Blueberries to create a new, still poisonous berry that can kill you.
So we can step down a bit to the next level of the discussion: Opponents of GMOs obviously mean a *specific kind* of modification - most likely transgenics or RNA Interference (the newest and most accurate types of modification). But since approximately zero GMO opponents I’ve talked to know those words I automatically can tell they don’t know much about the specifics of the practices, at least in an academic sense. In order to understand the technology you *have* to know what those words mean. Sorta like saying “Yeah, I understand how cars work” but I don’t know what the words ‘transmission’ or 'gasoline’ mean.
So, the person should say “I’m an opponent of transgenic gmos” if that’s the case at the very least. But even then, transgenics is just a tool - taking gene A from plant A and put it in plant B to give B plant A’s properties. It’s sorta like being against using a certain kind of combine, or tractor, when farming. RNA Interference is turning on and off a gene already in plant A.
Of course, I have to ask, *why* they’re against that particular tool? I generally assume that either it’s because they feel that the tool (the method of conducting the modification) isn’t well understood (Thus, leading to unpredictable results), or that the *results* of using the tool aren’t well understood or are unsafe. (There certainly may be other answers, but I’ve yet to encounter them)
If the former (they feel the tool isn’t understood) I immediately try to understand their knowledge in the area. Are they aware of how much information exists on gene therapies, modifications? How long the techniques are in practice? Generally not (especially if they don’t know the term transgenic). Most often this 'feeling of unease’ around the *tool* comes from a complete lack of understanding. At the very least, I’m not aware of any evidence that gene transfer is outside of our understanding. (Please correct me if I’m wrong) or that the results of doing so are unstable.
Generally though, it’s the later: The results are unsafe. Well, they can be. A scientist could lace a gene that produces cyanide into a cucumber and produce deadly cucumbers if they so chose to. But, that cucumber couldn’t and wouldn’t pass any of the independent (or not independent!) testing that takes place. But even still, if a transgenics opponent thinks the *results* of a transfer are unsafe… which one? Each GMO crop is different, and simply because the same *tool* is used in a different set of crops doesn’t mean the different crops share the same properties or safety concerns. Case in point, the same equipment that tills the soil for tobacco is used for soy or corn. Just because tobacco is unsafe to consume doesn’t mean the same is true for the other crops that also use the same tool in the production process.
So, even if a new, peer reviewed study came out that a particular type of Bt Corn caused issues - they’d recall the corn in a heart beat (Please see the Starlink Corn Recall - the creators spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the off chance there MIGHT be an allergic reaction, which there wasn’t) but that doesn’t mean anything about the *tool* used to make the corn, it only tells us about the gene that was transferred using the tool.
A person would need to be against modification on the whole (which they can’t be since nearly everything is modified by one process or the other), via a particular modification technique (which they would need to be able to identify, preferably using the correct name, the specific technique), and then either describe the problem with the technique (Which I’ve yet to see done in a GMO discussion) or the problem with the *result* of the technique, which would be specific to a particular plant or gene (which they would also need to be able to identify).
And if that plant had an issue, we’d be able to find it and recall the plant, but would certainly not testify to the safety of any other plant.
When I talk to most GMO Opponents, in general I get the sense they just, kinda don’t like the idea of genetically modified food, and the unease makes them fight against it. And *that* is what I mock whenever possible.
I would (and have in the past!) take a GMO opponent seriously if they said:
“I’m against GMO plant bt Corn, because the xymz gene can cause slightly higher rates of kidney activity. Here’s an article showing the correlation, and here’s reviews of the article”
“The introduction of glyphosate resistance has increased the use of glyphosate, which is worse from the environment than the organic pesticide blah blah. Here’s an article describing the differences between the two. That’s why I’m against GMOs that have the round up gene”
I’m glad to say I’ve had conversations like that before (and they’ve always resulted in me doing hours of reading), but they are very, very, very rare.
The other criticisms (generally of a vast global agriculture industry conspiracy involving every government, scientist, safety agency, research firm, and independent safety testing lab) or that the whole agriculture industry is garbage for this or that reason are red herrings and unrelated to the actual issue of GMO safety.