Genetically Modified Foods: A Tremendous Human Achievement

To say that genetically modified (GM) foods are controversial is an understatement. There is an entire movement that has labeled GM foods “frankenfoods” and is working hard to lobby governments to ban them and to scare consumers from eating them (and farmers from producing and retailers from selling them). Consider the case of AquaBounty Technologies that has developed a genetically improved farm salmon. By adding a gene from another fish, this salmon will reach maturity half as fast as non-GM salmon while retaining the same taste, texture, and nutritional qualities. Fox News recently reported that the FDA is about to approve this genetically modified fish, but the anti-GM food activists are busy scaring consumers and retailers about it. And they are succeeding: thousands of grocers are refusing to carry it.

The anti-GM food activists are not opposing just genetically modified salmon. They operate globally, trying to curtail human well-being and progress by attacking GM crops such as Bt cotton in India. In a recent National Post column, Bjørn Lomborg reports activists fabricating claims that the introduction of Bt cotton led to a surge of farmer suicides in India, allegedly because of the higher cost and poor crop yields of GM seeds. Research later revealed that there was no evidence to support the anti-GM food activists’ claims. The introduction of new banking practices that led to financial difficulties and social problems were shown to be a much more significant contributor to farmers’ suicides—which were not any more prevalent than suicides in other sectors in India. Moreover, studies show that the Bt cotton farmers’ crop yields increased by 25% and profits by 50%. Besides Bt cotton, the activists also oppose other GM crops, such as Golden Rice, which has the potential to offer better nutrition to millions of people in the developing world.

There is little question that the motives of the anti-GM food activists are anti-human. They do not want us to “tamper” with Nature, evading the fact that we survive and thrive by adjusting Nature to ourselves by producing the material values we need: agricultural crops, fossil fuels, housing, means of transportation, medicine, etc. The activists’ goal is a pristine environment—regardless of the negative consequences for humans (hunger, malnutrition, disease, and loss of life). The really interesting question is: why are so many people persuaded by the activists’ anti-science arguments, despite their negative implications to human well-being? I argue that the answer lies in two common flaws in people’s thinking: abandoning reason and second-handedness.

Bjørn Lomborg observed that “too often, we let emotion crowd out facts in a news story.” We read claims that eating GM foods cause cancer and other horrible diseases and have an emotional reaction: fear—and ignore the fact that not a shred of evidence is provided to support such claims. We get scared—and fail to check who is making the unsubstantiated claims (most likely an NGO with an anti-human, anti-material values agenda) or to seek scientific information from legitimate sources, such as independent research institutes and peer reviewed scientific journals. (Some people abandon reason by demanding omniscience: we should reject GM foods because our knowledge about them is not perfect. By that logic, we must reject the scientific method of experimentation—the only method open to fallible beings to acquire new knowledge). The antidote to abandoning reason is to remind ourselves, in Ayn Rand’s words: “reason is one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action.”

Abandoning reason goes hand-in-hand with second-handedness: the primary orientation to other people as opposed to reality. A second-hander follows the majority opinion without thinking for himself. This is the easy way: a second-hander follows the crowd without bothering to use reason, out of intellectual laziness or out of a desire to “belong” to a group, at the cost of giving up independent thinking—on which his survival and success otherwise depends. The antidote to second-handedness is to remind ourselves that we need knowledge to achieve our goals—and that we can only deal with our own knowledge, knowledge that we grasp first-hand, thinking for ourselves.

Once we embrace reason (and science), focus on facts, and think for ourselves, we will discover that genetically modified foods are a tremendous human achievement and value. GM foods are not scary—but the willingness of so many people to be persuaded by emotional arguments and to succumb to second-handedness is. Fortunately, we can choose: reason and independent thinking over emotionalism and unthinking following of others.

  • mkkevitt

    Sorry, but this article is a total surrender to those lunatic criminals. Their trump card is brute physical force, initiatory. That must be met by brute physical force, retaliatory, met how else than thru law & gvt. if we can find it, if there is anybody manning it. But that, brute physical force retaliatory by law & gvt., is an expression of REASON. Law & gvt., manned, must GRAB, or GRAB BACK the physical power and use it on these crooks when they actually act. These crooks must, otherwise, be ignored, except for being watched. Then, how long will everybody else keep being afraid and scared. People are only afraid of crooks allowed to act under cover of the guise of law & gvt. That’s peoples’ biggest motive for abandoning reason. Mike Kevitt

  • Gayle Parker

    Mike, what is the point in reporting to and engaging the fox to guard the henhouse? The only answer is smaller, not larger government. In fact, the only answer is to get governments out of the economy altogether and let the free market flush out the malevolence.

  • mkkevitt

    Anti-GMO people physically destroy fields of GMO crops, livestock and research projects. That is obviously crime. You need law & gvt. to correct that. Anti-GMO people want legislation, executive orders and judicial decisions against GMOs. Those would not be laws, despite whatever process is used to establish them. It’s content that counts, always, more than process or anything else. They would be criminal plans. Enforcing them would be criminal acts, even if done by those whose job it is to enforce laws. It would be what is usually called an expansion of gvt. It’s actually a displacement of law & gvt., with crime put in place of it.

    Using gvt. to enforce actual laws and to fight crime is not an expansion of gvt. That’s using gvt. for what it’s there for. The free market flushes out bad allocations of resources and inferior products, but not crime, except when resources are allocated to law & gvt. which is then used to enforce laws, actual laws.

    The gvt. protects (guards) social & economic activity, all of it, not just some of it. The ‘rooster’ guards the ‘henhouse’. (In real life, roosters have been known to kill encroaching eagles.) Mike Kevitt

  • Gayle Parker

    Mike to clarify my point.. (and maybe we agree). Government must be limited to its proper role. The only proper role of government should be the protection of individual rights and nothing more. The government should never become involved in any way (no regulation, licensing and including subsidies or soft loans, or any other influential involvement) in the following:


    The only proper role of government would be the military (to protect us from foreign invaders), the police force (to protect us from those who would try to commit force against us or our property) and the courts (for contractural, civil disputes which offend individual property rights).

    Government has no role in determining morality for individuals – as we know governments have been wrong many times on that score.

    If all of the above were to be applied, I’m certain government would remain relatively small compared to what we have now.

  • mkkevitt

    Thank you. You’ve also clarified my point. We do agree. What you say is what I mean to imply in what I’ve said. So many people, everywhere, must come to understand, properly, the fundamentals involved. Even if they all do, there’ll still be the criminal loonys on the loose who will need to be dealt with fittingly.

    Opposition against GMO’s that goes beyond mere talk, beyond ones own personal abstinence from GMOs and beyond, at the very most, boycotting, is criminal. That’s one of the very important things people must understand. Jaana Woiceshyn’s post appears to overlook that. That’s why I think her case is open to being set aside. Mike Kevitt