December 14 2014

One of my goals in life is to be open-minded and accepting, which can be incredibly hard, but I always try to hear people out. Even if I don’t end up agreeing with them, I usually learn something. Please hear me out.

Remember a time when you were really for or really against something, and someone you heard, or something you read managed to change your mind. An issue about which you had made up your mind, knew how you felt, could argue about forever. If this has never happened to you, I hope it will at some point. It’s a pretty cool experience. For now, try to imagine how or why it could happen.

…got it?

OK, now I’m going to bring up something that many of you probably feel strongly about, and I want to bring up one part of the issue that isn’t often discussed.

Enter: genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) organisms. What you get when you take a gene from one organism and put it into another organism. Sometimes these two organisms are distantly related, and sometimes they’re very closely related.
I just want to make one point: not all GMOs are the same.

The thing that ties them together is pretty obvious, namely, that they are genetically modified. If you are against the process of genetic modification, if you fall on the “tinkering with nature is wrong,” side of the fence, then this one common point is very important to you. There’s plenty of writing out there on this part of the issue, so let’s move on.

What makes individual GMOs different from one another is the gene that’s added to the organism. I also think it’s important what the purpose for adding this gene is, who’s doing it, and how and to whom it will be sold or donated. I think the good/bad of a GMO is dependent on these factors, not just the fact that it is a GMO. In light of this fact, it’s frustrating that the national conversation involves grouping all GMOs together and ignoring the differences between what gene has been added to the organism, what it does, and what it’s for. If someone adds a gene to a crop that makes it poisonous to humans or other animals, that could obviously be bad. If someone adds a gene that makes a crop extra nutritious, that could be great. I think this is the nuance we should focus on.

So, my point here is: if you are against herbicide-resistant crops, you don’t have to be against all GMOs. If you’re against all GMOs Monsanto produces, you don’t have to be against all GMOs, because other companies, and also nonprofits and universities, can produce GMOs. If you’re against all patented GMOs, you don’t have to be against all GMOs, because GMOs can be unpatented and donated rather than sold.

There is endless potential for different uses of GMOs, and we’ve seen only a fraction of it so far. I like to think of a possible best-case-type scenario to illustrate this: a nonprofit uses donated funding to develop a GMO crop that solves a major problem; the nonprofit works with the community affected by said problem to tailor the GMO to their needs, then donates the seed for the crop. We don’t hear about many examples like this. But we could. This is why I care and why I chose this subject to share with you all. The widespread, blanket rejection of all GMOs makes innovation difficult. Let’s talk instead about how we can make them better.

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Berkeley, CA

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