Gosh, it was nearly a year ago now that I wrote a post on agriculture technology utilizing genetic modification referred to as “GMO”. The post You Say Tomahto, I Say Flavr Savr was written when I was just barely getting my feet wet in the matter. It’s about time for a quick update.
At the end of last year in December of 2010 I sponsored a Meetup featuring Dr. Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist from the University of Florida, to talk on the science of genetically modifying food. It was a talk entitled: Frankenfoods: Cornerstones of the Next Green Revolution. We partnered with the Chicago Skeptics and it turned out to be a great event. We even recorded it and posted it as a podcast which you can find on itunes under Vegan Chicago or here: Vegan Chicago Podcast. At over 2 hours long it’s a bit of a marathon and only a shadow of the experience (with no slideshow visuals) but if you’re unfamiliar it might be a good primer.
There were good message board discussions before and after with Dr. Folta chiming in to help quell the vegans having conniption fits. Some interesting vegan related issues came up during the discussions which sparked in me wonder, excitement and hope for the future. Where most see GMO as a dire doomsday scenario concocted by evil minions of multinational biotech corporations I see people meaning well, trying to do good. Yes, even the anti-GMO proponents I believe, have their heart in the right place. Dr. Folta cleverly co-opted the term “Frankenfoods” to try to connect the luddism-type sentiments with the fear of GM. While anti-GM proponents attempt to poke hole after hole in current use of GM or corporations who wield it they misplace concerns. None of that makes a case against the technology itself. As the saying goes: “it’s a bit more complicated than that”.
So around a month ago a blog of the vegan restaurant chain, Native Foods posted an article about Greenpeace activists destroying GM wheat (wearing scary looking hazmat suits, natch) and I had to respond. I made the vegan case for GMOs outlining some points why this could be a boon for vegans:
1) Animal testing – The more we insist on unfounded safety testing the more animals are harmed to do so.
2) Animal alternatives – GM technology can help create animal alternatives like it did with insulin which used to be obtained from animals. It could also be possible to do the same with animal foods like cheese which has been difficult to mock.
3) Nutrition – Developing this technology can benefit vegans by creating plants that can offer nutrients vegans lack like B12 and DHA. This would make it easier for people to go and stay vegan. Recently CSIRO scientists have been enabling canola plants to produce DHA. People who are vegan need DHA and it can help save the lives of fish who are often used as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. It could help fortified food for essential nutrients for starving populations or even as a vaccine delivery. People are animals too and there are many in dire need of help.
4) Environment – Creating plants that use less pesticides and fertilizers will help strive for sustainable agriculture that’s less detrimental for all life on this planet. Less insects are killed, less runoff that kills fish…you know the drill.
While most of that is currently so out of reach to be nearly science fiction it won’t help us get any closer to unnecessarily for no good reason to monger fear against GM. Apparently the author of the original post thought similarly enough to followup with a very amiable post entitled: Vegans Who Support GMO’s (Say What?). It felt good to finally get through to somebody at least enough where I didn’t get drenched in frothy spittle covered flaming.
Slowly I am finding allies like Skeptical Vegan who have an appreciation of science and rational thinking surrounding issues of veganism. His recent posts on GMO entitled: Frankenfood Fears and Bt Cotton, Farmer Suicides, and Fluffy Thinking do well to shed light on the matter. We intend to work more in concert focusing on this subject alone. I feel this might be a good strategy by which we can foster critical thinking in the minds of vegans.
Vegans live a lifestyle that attempts change though daily actions, here’s an opportunity to do the same. Every time they deride GMO they do the movement harm, and when others do it they should be challenged. It is in vegans’ best interest to embrace this technology and explore the benefits it can have on the future treatment of our animal cousins.