Why I Still Oppose Genetically Modified Crops

Introduced more than a decade ago, genetically modified crops are now planted on millions of acres throughout the world. But the fundamental questions about them remain ”” both about their safety and their long-term impact on global food security...

September 17, 2009 | Source: Yale Environment 360 | by Verlyn Klinkenborg

For the past dozen years, I’ve been writing editorials opposing the introduction of genetically modified crops. When I began, genetically modified corn and soybeans were still just getting a foothold in American fields. Now, of course, hundreds of millions of acres here and abroad have been planted to these new varieties, which are usually engineered to withstand the application of pesticides — pesticides usually made by the same companies that engineer the seeds. Even wheat and rice producers, latecomers to the genetically modified table, are feeling the pressure to convert.

There has been a frenzy in the grain markets in the past couple of years — a new volatility in futures and in prices on the ground — that seems to favor genetically modified crops. It makes sense. The cost of conventionally-grown grain goes up and up because there is less and less of it. This leaves the world open to the nearly unchecked proliferation of genetically modified varieties.

After a dozen years, I still oppose genetically modified crops. This may sound like sheer truculence on my part — a Luddite reluctance to accept the future. It is certainly dispiriting. Like many people, I feel, as I did a decade ago, that genetically modified crops were introduced with bland assurances of safety based on studies from small test plots, a far different thing from the uncontrolled global experiment we now find ourselves in the midst of.

Scientists are still discovering the extent to which genetic fragments from these new crops can drift into other organisms. There is no evidence yet of catastrophic drift, where a genetic shard from a new crop cripples other organisms. But there is plenty of evidence to show that genetically modified fragments are turning up in places they’re not wanted. The worry is not just how widespread the altered versions of familiar crops, like corn and soybeans, are becoming. It’s also that many more conventional crops are being modified and that many more landscapes and ecosystems, yet untouched, will be planted with genetically modified varieties.