Integrating Biotech and Organic – Frame of Mind

There’s a new comment on my post Exposed, Indeed that perfectly encompasses the ideas I’m attempting to explain on this blog:

Oops, you’re forgetting something… The public has already seen movies like “The World According to Monsanto” and Jeffrey Smith is all over youtube and google video too talking about his “Seeds of Deception” book. This stuff thoroughly debunks you, dear. So whilst you waste your time on this, I’m buying 100% organic and so is everyone I know.

I don’t think the commenter bothered to read the post before commenting. If she had, she might have realized that at least some of the anti-GE information out there is based on lies and exaggerations, which indicates that I am not “thoroughly debunked”.

Unfortunately, the writers of things like “The World According to Monsanto” have an agenda, so are incapable of and/or unwilling to present information in a “fair and balanced” manner. Instead, they twist the hard work of scientists to say things that the researchers never intended. They select studies that have been debunked, attribute unrelated problems to the “evils of genetic engineering”, and so on.

I suppose one might say that I have an agenda, but in my defense, I am simply advocating that people keep an open mind and seek to understand the science before rushing to conclusions or succumbing to propaganda. The best sources of information are never those on the fringes, never the fundamentalists or extremists.

If I want to really understand politics, I don’t turn to Ann Coulter or Al Franken. If really want to really understand genetic engineering, I don’t read press material from seed companies or anything put out by Jeffrey Smith, the self-appointed figurehead of the US anti-GE movement. Frame of mind can make a big difference when trying to wrap our heads around a complex issue, and I don’t think people on the extremes are in the best frame of mind for this purpose.

As a vegetarian, I hear and read a lot of arguments for and against animal agriculture. I’d like to use some of these as an example of how frame of mind can change the way things look. Some vegetarians and vegans beleive that all animal agriculture should be stopped. It’s all unethical, they might say, so supporting any incremental changes (such as cage free eggs) goes against the ultimate goal. On the other hand, some former vegetarians beleive they can best achieve better conditions for animals by consuming animals from organic/free-range/pastured/etc farms. While I’m not willing to go so far as to eat pastured buffalo, I beleive that supporting these incremental changes is better than trying to convince people to go cold turkey.

The organic/GM debate is the same way. It would be wonderful if everyone grew their own organic produce in their yards, only purchasing local foods from small farms that care for their land, only eating foods in season, and so on. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for a lot of reasons I won’t go into right now. So-called “conventional” agriculture is here to stay whether we like it or not. Trying to change the entire system at once is futile. Instead, we should strive to make small changes that will add up.

We should support small farmers, encourage people to eat more produce and whole grains, decrease pesticide use, and whatever other things are deemed to be better than the status quo. In other words, every farmer is not going to go organic, if not for any other reason than cost. Those farmers could be farming in a more ecologically sustainable manner if they integrate some organic ideals into their methods.

Genetic engineering, if we keep an open mind and pay attention to the science, could help. With genetic engineering specifically, we need to stop making gut reactions. We need “more splitting and less lumping”, as advocated by Ronald Herring in his recent article in Nature. We can’t put everything in one box anymore.

Most of the arguments against genetic engineering are being demolished by new research and new policy. Instead of clinging to old news, let’s all look towards the future. GMOs aren’t just for corporate farms anymore. On the near horizon are crops that will help farmers of all types (drought resistant, virus resistant, nitrogen efficient, nutrient enhanced, and more). Glyphosate resistant crops have increased the use of glyphosate but have decreased the use of far worse chemicals. Seed companies are releasing certain improved crops to poor farmers at little or no cost. Antibiotic resistance markers are being phased out, cisgenics are being investigated over transgenics…

Instead of following some hard line dictated by the likes of Jeffery Smith (who depends on successful fearmongering to sell books), we should all strive to find the most accurate information sources and make our own decisions.