If GM Crops Provide More Food, That’s a Good Thing, Right?

By Keith Kloor | April 18, 2013 12:15 pm

What drives opposition to genetically modified crops?  Well, there are a bunch of enduring myths, which Dan Charles at NPR did a nice job of debunking. But I think the reasons mostly come down to unfounded fear (frankenfoods!) and distrust/hatred of multi-national corporations (Monsanto!).

close-up photo of a wheat field

Photo by Sylvie Bouchard/Shutterstock

 

One GMO critic has just revealed a reason I hadn’t yet heard:

If we continue to bend the rules of nature so that we can provide more and more food for an open-ended expansion of humans on the planet, something eventually will have to give. Would you like to live in a world of 15 billion people? 20 billion? I would not. And while it’s possible you will label my response as New Age-ish, I feel that GE food distracts us from the real question of the carrying capacity of the planet.

This is is quite an astonishing thing to say. I have no idea if such a sentiment is widely held among anti-GMO greens, but it comes from an opponent of genetically modified salmon who has recently engaged in a fascinating debate at Yale Environment 360. The whole thing is worth a read.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: AquaBounty, biotechnology, GMOs, select
  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    It’s funny to see, because another claim you see all the time is that GMOs are made for population control and cause nothing but death.

    They are throwing anything on the wall to see what sticks.

  • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

    He makes a huge and faulty assumption re: the open ended expansion of humans. This is just “population bomb” rhetoric. Experience has shown that full stomachs lead to financial and political stability which in turn give higher educated populations (especially among women). Education levels and higher incomes are negatively associated with family size. We are not fruit flies in a bottle, destined to blindly reproduce as far as our resources will allow. We tend to alter own own fates away from deterministic biological paths.

    • lngtrm1

      He just needs a little time with Hans Roseling. The argument is a red herring. Pun intended if there is one.

  • JonFrum

    If you want to find the source of anti-GMO sentiment, read Silent Spring. Replace Rachel Carson’s anti-pesticide rants with anti-GMO and you won’t notice the difference. Greedy corporations? Check. Interfering with nature? Check. Rachel Carson’s shadow is a long one.

    • facefault

      Yeah, but pesticides *do* have bad effects on the environment. GMOs don’t.

      • http://twitter.com/grapedoc Steve Savage

        Not all pesticides have bad effects on the environment, most modern ones are quite benign. Some of the worst ones are approved for organic – old copper-based fungicides

        • http://www.facebook.com/FreedomRich Rich Wendel

          Why does California’s winter growing region smell and look (air and soil) like crap four months a year?

        • facefault

          Rotenone’s the main reason I don’t eat organic food, yeah.

      • JonFrum

        Pesticides have huge GOOD effects. Carson claimed that one of four people would have cancer as a result of pesticides – a ridiculous claim at the time that has obviously been proven wrong Carson claimed that ANY contemporary pesticide residue was poisonous, ignoring known dosage effects Carson also claimed that the older pesticides – arsenic and lead-based(!) were safer than contemporary pesticides like DDT. She was as wrong as wrong could be in every case.

        • facefault

          I’m not saying the effects of pesticides aren’t worth it; they’re totally worth it.

          Having not read Silent Spring myself, I’ll defer to you on her statements.

  • lngtrm1

    It’s hard not to feel for Mr. Greenburg’s position of fear of the unknown. It’s terribly hard to produce a credible warning about the unknown future or the unintended consequence. This debate is solidly one sided.

    Having said that, it better taste good, or it’s a Fisker fish anyway.

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    I was asked a question about this when I gave a presentation on GE crops in Chicago earlier this year: If we use genetic engineering to produce more food, won’t that mean we will have more people?

    My answer was severalfold. First, let’s not be coy about the mechanism being discussed here. If population is going to go up because we are producing more food, it will be because fewer people are starving. We should not expect that limiting food supply is a good way to curb population growth.

    Second, developing countries with adequate food are not having as many kids, indeed, education in general and careers for women play a big part in curbing population growth.

    Third, we have evidence that the opposite is true. The Food For Peace program provided free food for children at schools in developing countries. The result was that the kids were fed, and the girls were educated, and they did not get pregnant as young anymore, thus lessening population growth solely by providing food in the right place.

    We should look to social and socio-economic means of controlling the human population, not preventing the use of technology.

  • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

    Yes, it IS astonishing and I’ve heard it first mentioned on the Vegan Chicago podcast (as an audience question) and several times later. I’m having a hard time imaging how to think that way.

    http://www.podcast.veganchicago.com/

    (just saw Karl’s comment come in, I swear it’s not just Chicagoans! D:)

  • Rob Hooft

    My father (*1939) told me that his geography teacher, who had a terrible speech disorder, used to say “There is only one way to prevent overpopulation, and that is war”. Maybe this GMO critic just found the second similar way; an extreme implementation of “the end justifies the means”

  • http://geneticmaize.com/ Anastasia

    I find this argument completely disgusting. There are FAR more ethical methods of population control besides making sure that we don’t produce enough food. What about education of women, which has been proven to work?

    Elsewhere in the interview, Greenberg argues that we shouldn’t do any research to improve crop production because it puts people who don’t want to use crop improvements at a disadvantage. Surely we don’t want to go back to the yields of the past, where twice or more land was needed to produce the same amount of food!

  • Tom Scharf

    Being the evil right wing libertarian leaning devil I am, I really enjoyed this part of the debate:

    Greenberg: But what about the fact that traditional growers who may not want to farm with modified stock will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. That they may in fact be obliged to buy salmon juveniles exclusively from AquaBounty. Is that ethical? Is that good for the world?

    Entis: I am confused by your raising the question of ethics. Are you really suggesting that improving a product so that people will prefer it is unethical because people with an inferior product will be disadvantaged?

  • jh

    Keith, you haven’t heard the “crime against nature” argument before?

    Anyway, most population experts expect population growth to slow over the next few decades and peak between 9 and 10B. It’s pretty well established fact that economic development leads to lower birthrates.

    Less discussed is that economic development also leads to ecological protection, but nary a Green will accept that as fact!

  • dogctor

    I don’t have the time nor the energy to dwell on the carrying capacity of the planet as it relates to aquaculture, but I believe this fish-drug has no redeeming qualities, especially in view of the fact that breeding programs have already brought forth a rapidly growing salmon which needs 25% less feed.

    http://aquaticcommons.org/2596/1/WF_2455.pdf

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Yeah, I was told that too–that there already exists a salmon that grows as fast.

      Oddly, when I asked the same folks to demonstrate the harm unleashed by that fish–nobody could show me any. Apparently they have not unleashed havoc on the environment in any way. And they grow in the outdoor fisheries, unlike the GMO salmon.

  • RogerSweeny

    Starvation and war are historical ways of controlling population. The
    Precautionary Principle requires that we stick with them and not try any
    new-fangled stuff.

  • Bob_Phelps

    Keith: who is the “One GMO critic”? Or did you make up this red herring yourself? There is enough food to feed everyone well but 30% is wasted and food is traded for speculative profits to where it’s most profitable, not most needed. See also the peer reviewed paper: vol. 158, no. 1 the American Naturalist July 2001 Fitness Components and Ecological Risk of Transgenic Release: A Model Using Japanese Medaka (Oryzias latipes) W. M. Muir1,* and R. D. Howard2,†

  • http://geneticallyengineeredfoodnews.com Ella Baker

    Yes that is a good thing but the question is GM food safe?

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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