My text about why GMOs are not your enemy gets a LOT of flack. Despite the fact that Exxonmobil makes literally over 10 times more money than Monsanto (or Syngenta, or Novartis), it is unable to sway the scientific consensus that the world is warming, our oceans acidifying, and mass extinction escalating. Exxon’s money has brought them something: many paid lobbyists, some politicians, online trolls, and a few rogue scientists who are willing to misconstrew evidence for a buck, but this is (despite their huge coffers) still a tiny minority of scientists.
Despite this discrepency in financial power, our reasonably neutral discussion about GMOs gets railroaded into a flurry of accusations that this relatively small company (who we even criticize within the text about GMOs) who is supposedly funding all of the thousands of studies that say GMOs, as a whole, pose no health or environmental risk. This continues to be thrown around, despite the fact that a recent meta-analysis by Miguel Sanchez found that 58.3% of studies into GMOs had no possible conflict of interest. That said, there exist a few real risks among the many overblown and sometimes completely erroneous risks.
Now, when we discuss real risks, we should probably first discuss which supposed risks are entirely unfounded. The unfounded risks are in regard to cancer, allergies, and patents.
There is literally no way that a genetically modified organism could lead to cancer. It would take a lot of dedicated effort to even create a GMO that would cause prions, which is even still more technically possible than causing cancer. Most people who believe this don’t really understand what cancer is: it is uncontrolled cell division resulting from damage to replication controls or repair systems. Chemicals and UV light can cause cancer, but a modified or added protein is unable to achieve this, and creating one that could would be a novel project requiring billions of dollars of research that no one is interested in funding.
There is technically a risk of allergies from genetically modified food (keep in mind not all GMOs are used for food, insulin for diabetics is made from genetically modified bacteria). In real life, this risk is not ignored but directly addressed in regulatory structures that take the history of the gene and human contact with it, its potential isoforms and alternative splicing, and then analyse the protein in smaller pieces for their potential of causing an allergic reaction. So, not only is the entire protein itself tested for causing allergies, but that protein is also divided into 80 amino acid and 8 amino acid pieces. You can actually use the patented genotype and replicate this analysis yourself here.
This is the most detailed and thorough testing that literally any food crop goes through, not to mention that organic and convention also patent their seeds without having new species analysed for their potential to cause an allergy, or even to be checked for what genetic changes occurred. Yes, organic and conventional seeds and species may also be patented, but changes must not be thoroughly understood. This also means that the cost of creating and marketing a new species using radiation or hybrid breeding is far lower than when you use genetic engineering: conventional and organic seed companies have more money left over to invest in political power and influencing public discourse.
And although the petrodollars spent convincing people that there is no environmental crisis or global warming have been somewhat effective, the dollars being spent to convince people of irrational risks associated with GMOs have been very effective.
That said, we shouldn’t pretend that there are no risks just because existing regulations do their damnest to reduce them. There are potential ecological risks, most effectively demonstrated in the case of GM coho salmon.
Unlike golden rice or golden bananas, which offer no realistic model of environmental risk, coho salmon grow so fast and are so aggressive that they greatly reduce the overall survival of the population when food becomes scarce. Whereas the normal salmon in Devlin et al’s 2004 study had a survival rate of approximately 70% almost regardless of food availability, the introduction of these fast-growing salmon led to massive crashes or complete extinction in moments of scarcity. The release of such coho salmon, into wild populations, would be very likely to cause a crash in the number of individuals and lower overall fitness. In this example, unlike in the vast majority of others, the escape of such transgenic creatures could negatively impact biodiversity and ecosystem stability.
This is exactly why we demand studies into the environmental and health impacts of genetically modified organisms meant for our plates. Whereas GM pigs (dubbed enviropig) which more effectively fix phosphorous, creating richer fertilizer and reducing environmental costs with little to no risk, GM coho salmon offer a potential doomsday scenario for salmon populations if they escaped. Unfortunately, the average person is not educated enough about the issue to be able to tell the difference between what’s risky, and what’s beneficial and harmless. Therefor, they push for getting both banned and reduce the interest of companies in pursueing crops that are more environmentally sound but less profitable.
Technology is almost never good or evil, but instead demonstrates itself as either beneficial or not depending on the context and aims. If you think the regulations for genetically modified crops or animals are too low, then you have no reason not to be literally freaking out about the lack of testing for crops creating using radiation or mutagenic chemicals.