GENETICALLY MODIFIED crops have increased the productivity and improved the lives of farmers — and the people who depend on them — all over the world. Now, they are banned in two counties in Oregon.
Voters in two Oregon counties have chosen to outlaw the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the productive Rogue Valley. They are not the only ones going in the wrong direction. Several places in California, Hawaii, Maine and Washington state also have bans in place, though the Oregon counties are the first in which GMOs had been actively cultivated. Farmers have a year to remove the genetically modified crops from their fields. Several states also have or are considering a requirement that food containing genetically modified crops be labeled.
There is no mainstream scientific evidence showing that foods containing GMOs are any more or less harmful for people to consume than anything else in the supermarket, despite decades of development and use. If that doesn’t convince some people, they have the option of simply buying food bearing the “organic” label. There is no need for the government to stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm. Outright bans, meanwhile, are even worse than gratuitous labeling.
The issue is not just one of agribusiness profits, though some companies certainly stand to make money by creating and selling GMOs. The application of current biotechnological tools to agriculture offers a wide array of benefits , benefits that are only beginning to be seen. There is the potential to create crops that are easier to grow, better for the environment and more nutrient-rich. Smart genetic modification is one important tool available to sustain the world’s growing multitudes. Making good on that promise will require both an openness to the technology and serious investment in GMOs within wealthy countries. The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.
As with any field, there’s room for reasonable caution and study using real science. But there is nothing reasonable about anti-GMO fundamentalism. Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.