There are a lot of urban legends about GM foodstuffs. The word “genetic modification” brings up images of Frankenstein’s Monster and burbling puddles of ambulatory, flesh-eating goo. It also spawned a hilarious set of B-movies about killer tomatoes (a still of which heads this post), amongst other well-known and often beloved monsters and villains.
The truth, of course, is both far more benign… and far more sinister and terrifying.
For the record, the Frankenstein’s Monster type of GM food doesn’t happen. I don’t believe it’s going to give you cancer or irritable bowels any more than it’ll give you super powers. The cost isn’t that the food itself is dangerous, because it isn’t. We’ve been genetically engineering food (and animals) for tens of thousands of years. That’s nothing new.
The difference is where we accelerate change and dabble in that intricate web of life which spans our planet in ways it has not been dabbled with before and then use our questionably sane legal system as a brute-force tool to ensure that this meddling continues, despite not knowing the long-term effects.
There are several large GM aggro businesses out there – you’ve probably heard of Monsanto, for one of the worst and most visible, but there are others – and, like every other corporation ever, they exist to make money for their shareholders. This isn’t inherently evil, but excessively unbridled displays of capitalism certainly isn’t saintly.
The issue comes where, to protect profits, either something incredibly dangerous is done deliberately because the company wants to recover cash sunk into some endeavor, or corners are cut and something equally dangerous because of what’s not done, not to mention buying lobbyists, corporate over-reach, intimidation and outright thuggery.
I’m talking about things like escaped modified plants and Monsanto suing farmers for collecting the seeds from their own fields contaminated with the result (and I do stress that it’s not only Monsanto doing this sort of thing, and I’m not accusing any particular company of any particular crime) but also about something much worse:
The escape of a genetically engineered life-form which is absolutely 100% poisonous to everyone, everywhere, with the potential to destroy all life on Earth.
Think that sounds insane? Think again.
A few years ago, somebody had the fantastic idea to create a bacteria which could quite happily live almost anywhere and turn plant matter into alcohol.
At first glance, this would seem to be a fantastic idea: apply bacteria to dead plants, wait, collect alcohol, turn into fuel/booze/industrial solvents and then laugh all the way to the bank.
But bacteria don’t think about consequences when they go about their oblivious, weird little bacterial lives. They just eat, shit and reproduce. And if the bacteria that’s eating, shitting and reproducing itself all across the world is shitting out 100% proof alcohol, then what do you think happens to the plant and animal life that live off that land?
“A hangover” doesn’t begin to describe it, because “alcohol poisoning” does a better job. Terminal alcohol poisoning, as in dead.
And this wouldn’t have been an accidental ELE, this was one that had it’s own fucking PR wagon. In the words of the (admittedly click-baity) cracked article (forgive me, I can’t find the article I wanted to use):
This bacterium was going to be released; it had all of the necessary approval. It was only a matter of proper marketing and shipping at this point.
That’s right kiddies, we were almost wiped out by the worlds tiniest, most omnipresent bacterial fraternity.
It’s bad enough that farmers wanting to use GM seeds must then purchase seeds and cannot re-use them (I get it, a company can’t exist on selling seeds once to a person, but I can’t agree with holding the future of all food production hostage either), but the wrong GM techniques used without extreme caution could just kill everyone, everywhere.
Beware the last harvest.