Tuesday, November 20, 2012

GMO: What is it good for?

So.  That's an attention-grabbing ad. 
Almost like it was meant to do that.

It's a very old ad, one designed by Alannah Currie (yes, the former Thompson Twins member) for a group she founded called MAdGE, Mothers Against Genetic Engineering, an Australian organization (I understand they're active in New Zealand as well) that opposes genetically modified food or GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms).  Not sure why they didn't go with "MAGE" unless Matt Wagner has that trademark sewn up.

The old ad campaign (you can read about it in Wired) I have posted was specifically against adding human genes to milk.  As one might imagine, the billboard ads caused a fair amount controversy.  Accusations were made that the advertisements were "denigrating to women." To that, Currie responded that the image was "punk art" and that "more degrading to women is putting human genes in milk."

Let us leave the question of good taste towards women (a viable question however) and explore the larger issue: GMO.
On campus, we have recently examined the presence of genetically modified food in our society and opinions on the matter were mixed.  One camp of students seemed to fall in along the lines of MAdGE.  The science behind genetically engineered food is not entirely understood and we cannot foresee the long-term consequences of consuming such foods.  Others argued that the use of genetic science in creating healthier, longer lasting food is of tremendous benefit to society.

That appears to be the controversy in a nutshell.  And it's not going away.
Just today, organic farmers and food safety advocates condemned a report sent to the USDA.  
This report was, in theory, a study to see how GMO and organic crops could co-exist without fear of contamination.  Contamination meaning, GMO particles getting into the organic side of things.
"Of particular concern in the report is the recommendation that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay to self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination," said a statement by the National Organic Coalition.
"This proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination while making the victims of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination," it said.

I'm of two minds on this whole debate.  On the one hand, it's beneficial to scrutinize anything you put into your body, whether it be GMO or organic.  Part of the problem, as I understand it, is that not all GMO foods are labeled as such.  I'd rather not find out years down the road that what I ate, supposedly safe at the time, was in reality quite harmful.
At the same time, I do not want to see this develop into overall backlash against genetic engineering and transhumanism.  This is all too likely to happen as people have the tendency to lump matters such as this into broad categories.

That said, there is an amazing potential for science fiction here.  Any time you start talking about genes being moved between species and the processes involved therein, it translates to good times ahead for the SF writer.

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