The arguments against GMOs were never very good. Some of it was a straight anti-progress campaign against “interfering with nature.” The heir to the British throne is of that school, but every time you use penicillin you are engaging in just such interference. It’s a fundamentally conservative position, appealing to the old, traditional ways of doing things, and decrying the complexity and speed of modern progress that leaves some people unsettled.
Some of the opposition was straight anti-business. Typically it takes big firms with deep pockets to undertake the development and testing of GMOs, so they make a convenient target, depicted as big, money-grubbing bullies that exploit the little guy to line their own pockets. Some of the anti-GMO movement was just plain fearful of new developments whose risk was unquantified. NGOs whipped up scare campaigns to attract more subscriptions and support, many talking scientific balderdash in the process. Since their audience was mostly unscientific, they could get away with it. The worst NGO bullies used ‘direct action’ to impose their views over those of elected governments by sabotaging experimental crops. They were dubbed ‘greenshirts’ in ominous reference to the blackshirt goon squads of earlier times.
Quietly, the battle has been turning, with more papers published on how GMOs can make agriculture greener by minimizing use of pesticides and fertilizers. Increased crop yields can mean less need for more acres to be planted, leaving more rainforest intact. As I wrote before, ‘golden’ rice has opened the door to use of GMO crops to combat blindness and death, especially among children in poorer countries. Above all, the years of experience with GMO crops has helped allay fears of potential harm. Millions have eaten such foods over many years without apparent ill-effects. It is not the sort of battle where victory is declared and everyone goes home. Rather it is one in which gradually more and more GMOs will be used to beneficial effect over the years, and in which opposition becomes less strident and less sure of itself. It will without doubt be written up as one of the more opportunistic, discreditable, and harmful campaigns that environmentalist NGOs have engaged in. And one in which a fearful and gullible public was preyed upon and hoodwinked by zealots.
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