There is little food on the plate of humans anywhere that has not been genetically improved. We began to ferment grape juice into wine and add yeast to alter flour thousands of years ago. In 1862 an Austrian monk in an Italian monastery by the name of Gregor Mendel began to crossbreed simple garden peas and created significant improvement in their taste, yield, and strength. More than 30 years later, his work was published in the journal of the Royal Society of London, and a new agricultural science of hybridization was born to improve our food. Hybridization, however, remained subject to guesswork, chance, and trial by error.
Modern Food Science
This all began to change when Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the recipe for life in the DNA molecule in 1953. Succeeding scientists discovered on the DNA molecule strings of chemicals that turned out to be the code for every single trait of life, be it plant, animal, or human. Further down this yellow brick road of science, others learned to take the gene recipe for a trait from one life form and transplant it into another. This gave us an exponentially greater ability to protect our food from vermin, heat, disease, and drought, and to give food amazing health advantages.
In the 21st century we have an opportunity to feed the entire world with bountiful, nutritious food thanks to genetic advances. But for reasons unknown to this scientist, there are people working diligently to thwart this effort by claiming these improved foods can harm people’s health. Anti-technology activists make this claim even though in more than 50 years of development and research, not a single human has been harmed by genetically improved food.
Fighting Against Science
Now anti-technology activists are using a most insidious method to stop genetically improved food after their previous campaigns failed. They claim they simply want all food that contains genetically modified ingredients labeled to that effect. Although this sounds harmless, what it does is make every consumer wonder why he or she is being warned about these ingredients. People who do not know much about the science of genetically improved foods will conclude there must be some potential harm in eating such food.
If genetic labeling laws are passed throughout the United States, it will severely set back the scientific and human health benefits of genetic food advances. Billions of people around the world have consumed genetically modified food since it became widespread during recent decades. Billions more will benefit from such foods in the coming decades. Nevertheless, anti-science activists are delaying the effort to improve the health and diet of malnourished people in Africa and other parts of the world through genetically improved foods.
The anti-technology activists argue it is better for people to be malnourished and starve to death than to have access to foods that scientists have improved through precise genetic modification.
Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.