3 simple steps for anti-GMO activists:
- Oppose GMO crops on the basis that there is insufficient publicly funded research.
- Destroy publicly funded research.
- Go to 1.
There have been opponents of biotechnology derived crops (often referred to as genetically modified organisms, GMOs, or GM crops) since before the commercial introduction of this technology in the mid-1990s. There are a variety of reasons cited by those opposed to this technology, but two of the most often heard complaints are 1) GM crops are produced almost entirely by large corporations, and 2) there is insufficient publicly funded research investigating these crops.
I have some personal experience with these arguments. A few years ago, I attended a public hearing in Boulder County, Colorado where there was debate on whether to allow Roundup Ready sugar beets to be grown on County owned land. Many Boulder County residents stood up to argue against allowing GM beet production. A vast majority of those speaking against the technology relied heavily on these two points, and it is easy to find these same arguments all around the world whenever anti-GMO sentiments are expressed. The anti-GMO crowd will nearly always begin and end the debate with some version of “Monsanto is evil!” or “Where is the research proving this technology is safe?” I am not going to address the validity of these two arguments, as that has been done many times by many other people.
What I want to do here is draw attention to the hypocrisy currently being exhibited by some players within the anti-GMO movement. Currently in the UK, field trials are underway to test a new variety of wheat that has the potential to resist aphid damage without the use of pesticides. The wheat was developed through biotechnology, and uses knowledge of insect pheromones. The technology is a great example of scientists using knowledge of the insects biology to reduce reliance on pesticides. This is a goal that, in theory, is shared by nearly everyone in society. Certainly anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist should support research into methods that could dramatically reduce pesticide use. Not only is it an ingenious idea, but it is publicly funded, being carried out at the Rothamstead research center in the UK. So one would think that this research would be embraced by even the most ardent GMO skeptics, right? After all, it addresses the two most commonly cited complaints about GMOs. It is not patented by giant corporate interests, and it will add to the body of knowledge on the benefits and risks of GM crops.
People who oppose GM crops because there is insufficient research should be particularly strong supporters of public research (untainted by evil Monsanto). But here’s the rub: a group calling themselves Take the Flour Back has threatened to destroy the trial. They are even asking people to “…bring your own biohazard protection and dustmask…” At first glance, I suppose it should not be too surprising that a small group of individuals would threaten to take such action. Vandalism of GM crop research is certainly nothing new. But it is difficult to reconcile this action with the claims of the anti-GMO movement as a whole. It appears that the modus operandi of the hard core anti-GMO crowd is now to destroy the very type of research they claim must be done to prove the technology is safe.
Even if we assume there are legitimate reasons for opposing GMO technology as a whole (which I do not personally believe to be the case), it seems to me that we should ALL be able to agree that public research on the topic is a good thing. Destroying publicly funded research demonstrates a complete disregard for science and knowledge, and removes any credibility from those who would condone such acts. It also completely undermines the two most common arguments for opposing GM crop technology. It is inconceivable that any group could be so entrenched in their beliefs that they are willing to vandalize publicly funded research that could reduce the environmental impact of crop production. This act, if it takes place as planned on May 27, will long be remembered as an example of what is currently wrong with the environmental movement. The anti-science faction of the environmental movement must be excised before we can hope to make any real progress in feeding the world in a sustainable manner.