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Anti GMO-hysteria

The world’s population is growing by 1 billion people every 12 years, and by 2050 it is expected to reach the 9 billion mark. The increase in population drives food demand up, so that by the middle of the century food consumption is expected to double. Much of the demographic growth takes place in Asia and Africa. In Africa, one third of the population is dependent on rice. 3.5 billion people, half of mankind, depend on rice as a staple crop. Roughly 20% of all human calories come from rice. However, rice is a vulnerable crop. It requires two to three times as much water as other cereals, yet fresh water is generally scarce. If there is a shortage of water, the entire field dies. Over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific Region. The intensifying urbanization of Asia, and especially in China, triggers the problem: fertile rice-growing lands are increasingly being converted into industrial zones, buildings, and roads. Climate change poses another threat – sea-levels are rising, thereby jeopardizing rice crops with floods and salinity. Droughts, damaging storms, dry winters and very hot days in summer are taking toll on crop yields. With climate change, the weather has become less and less predictable, which only decreases chances for stable yields. In the meantime, the food production cannot keep up with rising demand.
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In this situation, science is of great help, if not the savior. Geneticists and plant breeders are now working on rice modification that will bring about flood-resistant rice, or rice that better tolerates drought, salinity and extreme heat. Mid-century demand for rice is estimated to exceed 555 million tons. Rice that is better adapted to sudden changes of climate and weather, could double yields, which would boost global output of rice by 1.2 – 1.5% per year. Growth of rice yield at such a pace should be sufficient to feed the growing population and keep prices affordable even to the middle of the century.

As progressive and dynamic as modern science is, so brutal and intense is the mass protest against it. Out of sheer dialectical nature of things, once there is a force there is always a counter-force. Science has had particularly long to deal with such dialectics. If in the Middle Ages, it was revolutionary to say that the Earth is not the center of the universe, that it is not even the center of our galaxy, so is it revolutionary today to apply modern genetics and modify species – be it food, animals, or a human DNA. In fact, the criticism of genetic engineering with regard to food has turned into a massive hysteria. Take a look at daily headlines in newspapers and magazines: “Ben and Jerry’s says goodbye to GMOs”, “Lake Champlain Chocolates nixing GMOs”, “Oregon hopes to be first state to map GMO fields”, “Every State Counts: Support GMO Labeling in Oregon and Colorado”, “GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides”, “France wins greater control over GMOs,” “World needs UN GMO watchdog – Russia”.
What is particularly worrisome is that the anti-GMO propaganda is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of some key things about the way in which the world works. It refers to the statement that “bloody” scientists take one piece of DNA, crop it and insert into another DNA. For example, they take a dandelion DNA, that produces Beta-carotene, and breed it into rice. According to the anti-GMO activists, such an alteration is toxic and will ultimately either kill or turn us into mutants. Environmental groups, food safety watchdogs, and others instill this myth into hundreds of thousands of people. Organizations such as GMO Free USA, Institute of Responsible Technology, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, etc. create outrageous myths about genetically engineered products saying that the DNA, which people consume with the food, is changing their own DNA and causes mutations.

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The existence and viability of the anti-GMO propaganda would not be so astonishing were we to live in the medieval Europe or in the Soviet Union under Lysenko’s propaganda and massive stalinist repressions against genetical scientists.

Meanwhile, “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops,” concludes a team of Italian scientists, who thoroughly studied and evaluated over 1,700 research papers published between 2002 and 2012. The researchers found little to no evidence that genetically modified crops pose a health risk to people and animals. To the opposite, their study reveals that non-GM crops tend to significantly reduce biodiversity. In reality, genetic modification of crops is just an accelerated evolution. The core meaning of evolution is when one gene gets broken, another doubled, or being altered by a natural insertion of one gene into it. What geneticists do today, to put it simply, is they insert a foreign gene derived from, say, bacteria into corn, and give the plant a trait it wouldn’t otherwise possess.

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Thus, the anti-GMO propaganda is nothing but a conscious and deliberate misinformation. Sadly, it proves to be quite viable: it has been widely supported by prominent scientists and well-reputed news magazines (such as Huffington Post), students groups and talk-show celebrities: Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz and Bill Maher – they all warn against consuming food made with genetically modified ingredients. Even more sadly, the propaganda works, it attracts thousands if people, who after such a brainwashing go out in protest marches with “”Say no to GMO!” placards, calling the GM-products “cancer food” and “cancer water.” Why does the propaganda work? Because for an average citizen it is much easier to understand a short and simple statement “GMO is bad, GMO kills”, “GMO = pesticides and chemicals” rather than read some serious scientific studies with an abundant evidence that biotechnology and genetic engineering implies no harm. Such myths are dangerous and destructive. They replace science and fundamental facts about life with a fake science through a psychological manipulation. In other words, people consciously wage campaigns against scientifically proved facts, thereby legitimizing pseudoscience.

How do these eco-concerned media and environmental activists benefit from their fear-mongering propaganda? Well, easily. They build their status and fame through telling people that they are being fooled and poisoned by “evil scientists”, whereas the anti-GMO organizations are there to save them. That is scary. The uneducated, intimidated and angry mass of people is scary. Why would the anti-GM organizations be interested in waging war against science? They seek to paralyze people’s ability to critically and logically think, to make them manipulable. The result is a massive support for some completely nonsensical yet destructive ideas. From the larger perspective, the mechanism of psychological manipulation and appealing to human emotions rather than to cognitive abilities help many politicians and religious groups to secure a massive support for their simple yet very tantalizing ideas – who is to blame in income inequality, for instance? The richest 1%, of course. Who is to blame in terror attacks? Western society for provoking peaceful Muslims. Why is Africa so poor? Because of neocolonialism.

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