We feel that genetic engineering is an important and crucial technology. Ignorance and myths surrounding this field hinders advancement at best and harms at worst. It’s especially a concern to us as vegans for these reasons:
- Animal testing: Insisting on unfounded safety testing leads to more animals being harmed in order to perform this testing.
- Animal alternatives: GM technology can help create alternatives to animal products. For example, insulin used to be obtained from slaughtered animals; now it is manufactured by genetically modified bacteria. It could also be possible to use GM technology to replace animal foods. Cheese has been difficult to mock, and the lack of acceptable vegan cheese analogues could be a barrier for many potential vegans.
- Nutrition & Health: GM technology can benefit vegans by creating plants rich in nutrients vegans lack, such as vitamin B12 and DHA. This would make it easier for people to go and stay vegan. Recently, CSIRO scientists have been enabling canola plants to produce DHA. People who are vegan need DHA, and synthetic DHA can help save the lives of fish, who are often used as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. People are animals too, and there are many in dire need of help. GM technology could help bring essential nutrients to starving populations, and GM foods could even be used as vehicles for vaccine delivery.
- Environment: Creating plants that use fewer pesticides and fertilizers will help us strive toward a sustainable agriculture that’s less detrimental to all life on this planet. Fewer insects would be killed, less runoff will poison fish, and no- or low-till agriculture will save the lives of ground-dwelling animals.
There are many in the vegan community co-opting the vegan cause with conspiratorial thinking and junk information on GMO. The best antidote to this is good critical thinking. Please be sure the source for your information is well-qualified and scientific.
A popular weapon used by those critical of agricultural biotechnology is to claim that there has been little to no evaluation of the safety of GM crops and there is no scientific consensus on this issue. Those claims are simply not true.
NOTE: This piece was co-written with a writer at the Genetic Literacy Project, JoAnna Wendel.
“The science just hasn’t been done.”
– Charles Benbrook, organic researcher, Washington State University.
“There is no credible evidence that GMO foods are safe to eat.”
– David Schubert, Salk Institute of Biological Studies
“[The] research [on GMOs] is scant…. Whether they’re killing us slowly— contributing to long-term, chronic maladies—remains anyone’s guess.”
– Tom Philpott, Mother Jones
“Genetically modified (GM) foods should be a concern for those who suffer from food allergies because they are not tested….”
The claim that genetically engineered crops are ‘understudied’—the meme represented in the quotes highlighted above—has become a staple of opponents of crop biotechnology, especially activist journalists. Anti-GMO campaigners, including many organic supporters, assert time and again that genetically modified crops have not been safety tested or that the research done to date on the health or environmental impact of GMOs has “all” been done by the companies that produce the seeds. Therefore, they claim, consumers are taking a ‘leap of faith’ in concluding that they face no harm from consuming foods made with genetically modified ingredients.
That is false.
Authorities were investigating a new suspected case of crop contamination on Thursday – the second in the Pacific north-west in five months – after samples of hay tested positive for genetically modified traits.
The investigation was ordered after a farmer in Washington state reported that his alfalfa shipments had been rejected for export after testing positive for genetic modification. Results were expected as early as Friday.
If confirmed, it would be the second known case of GM contamination in a major American crop since May, when university scientists confirmed the presence of a banned GM wheat growing in a farmer’s field in Oregon.
The suspected outbreak comes in the run-up to a ballot measure in Washington state that would require mandatory labelling of all GM foods.
Alfalfa is America’s fourth largest crop, behind corn, wheat and soybeans, and the main feedstock for the dairy industry. A confirmed case of contamination could hurt the organic dairy industry, which is now worth $26bn a year, forcing farmers to find new sources of GM-free feed. It could also hurt a growing export industry. Alfalfa is increasingly sold for export but buyers, such as Japan, do not want GM products.
Campaigners said the suspected case of contamination provided further evidence of the difficulties of containing GM crops.
“It’s telling that these things keep happening repeatedly,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food and Safety in Portland, Oregon. “It’s a systemic problem. We have a failed regulatory system for these crops.”
You may have run across this article “10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods” on the FoodConsumer website. It’s been making its rounds on social media (Facebook and Twitter). I would like to address some of the inaccuracies in this article – point by point:
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
Well, surprisingly enough, I agree with this one. Or at least with the statement: GM foods ALONE won’t solve the food crisis. GM foods and genetically engineered (GE) crops aren’t a silver bullet in resolving problems with food security. I refer to Mark Lynas (former Greenpeace activist and author) who said in a recent talk he gave at Cornell University:
“[GE/GM] cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?” Mark Lynas (April 2013)
Hey, I’d say so. It is important to note that the introduction of GE crops (in particular) has enabled wider adoption of “no-till” farming (see a farmer’s perspective on this). No-till is a system which conserves soil moisture, prevents erosion, dramatically reduces nutrient and pesticide movement to streams and rivers, and reduces fuel use. All good, in my opinion.
Did you know that if we still farmed using the inputs and techniques that we did in the 1950s, we would need 2 billion more hectares available to produce what we produce today?