A few years ago, I was invited to give a talk at the English Salon, a weekly seminar series sponsored by the YWCA Language School in Nagoya, Japan. My topic was genetically modified (GM) food and my stance was distinctly supportive. (Don’t start throwing the rotten tomatoes now!) Despite my hour-and-a-half long presentation, I was unable to convince most of the audience that GM foods were safe to eat and had many environmental benefits as well. GM food seems relatively benign if it’s the result of cross-breeding two organisms of the same species, such as crossing strawberry plants with a deeper red color with those that have larger fruit. The type of genetic modification that causes the greatest ire amongst consumers and activists, however, is when genes from two totally unrelated organisms are combined. For example, “Roundup Ready” soybean crops have been genetically engineered to carry a gene from a bacteria that is resistant to Roundup, a weed killer. When Roundup is sprayed on these crops, every plant in the vicinity dies except the soybeans. Sounds frightening and unnatural, but consider the positive effects genetically modified crops would have on health, farming methods, and the environment. Current and future GM products include: •Food that can deliver vaccines – bananas that produce hepatitis B vaccine •More nutritious foods – rice with increased iron and vitamins •Faster growing fish, fruit and nut trees
•Plants producing new plastics
Jonathan Rauch wrote in The Atlantic Monthly,
Recall that world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed, disseminated, and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best hope the planet has got. The Human Genome Project summarizes the...