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Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Sincere Reply to an Anti-GMO Commenter

I often post on the volunteer driven site, Biofortified.  What I appreciate about this site is that it is independent of any commercial interest and that it is run by the next generation of agricultural scientists relative to me.  It is one of the few places on the internet where there is a vigorous, many-sided discussion of GMO technology.  There is a sincere anti-GMO commenter on this site who has commented and re-commented on my most recent post on Biofortified. 
I have no idea who Tore is, but I made this effort to communicate with him/her person to person.  

Tore, I’ve lost track of the thread for your last comment, but I’d like to reply in general.
I can tell that you have a great deal of passion about your opposition to GMO. I respect your passion and I respect the need for skeptics for any enterprise. I’m 57 so I grew up in the generation that more or less invented distrust of the establishment (at least we thought we did). I get the need for hard questions.
Though I have never done any plant genetic engineering myself and have only been connected to that effort through lab colleagues or consulting clients, I have had the privilege of knowing many of these people on a person-to-person basis, some of the people who have made this happen over the last 40 year. I wish that you could know them – from academia, from commercial companies, from regulatory agencies. There is a human side to this whole deal that few people will ever know. There was, and still is among this community, an idealism behind all of this that transcends the economic drivers.
One thing that I appreciate about the Biofortified site is that it is managed and driven by the next generation of scientists who are involved in plant biotechnology. I certainly appreciate the fact that they let “old guys” like me contribute, but I particularly appreciate their new perspective on this science. Frankly, molecular biology as a field has been moving so fast that it is hard for folks like me to keep up.
I sometimes wonder if there needs to be a “statue of limitations” on saying that “the sky is falling” when it comes to GMO crops. We are into this 16 years and billions of planted and harvested acres. I do feel like the scientific community (public and private) did its very best to anticipate any downsides. I fully acknowledge that scientists can’t anticipate every possible negative outcome, but in this case it seems like they did a pretty good job.
Tore, I don’t want to diminish the heart behind your concerns. I also don’t want to pretend that GMO technology is all that is needed to feed the world. Actually only farmers will ever feed the world because they are the ones that have to integrate that option among the scores of critical decisions they have to make every growing season. In some cases, farmers will have GMO options in their “tool box” and I think that is a good, and well reviewed potential choice. I think that as dependent we all are on their risk-laden careers, we should respect their choice of GMO crops when they are available