We've been modifying crops since we learned to till soil. We encourage the plants we like and pull up the ones we don't. We splice trees and cross-breed vegetables and do whatever else we can think of to get a more desirable end product. When we do it as individuals or as ethical farmers, taking the leap to genetic modification is the natural next step of mankind trying to master nature (something we'll never succeed at, I hope).
When changing the gene make-up of our food supply on the large corporate level, the motivation for "better" turns into motivation for profit. That's where things get dicey. Most genetically modified seeds are patented, and that leads to a monopoly of the market. The motivation is bad, even if the modification is good.
Everybody loves to slam Monsanto. So do I. Creating an herbicide to control weeds, advertising and wielding political influence to make it massively profitable, and then modifying plant seeds to be immune to it? That's over the top. That's messing with nature to a degree that we may never recover from. Never mind what chemicals are all over these immune crops from the RoundUp, not just on the surface but inside the food we eat. Never mind the ethics of creating a problem in order to sell a "solution." The problem is that we create change that we can't manage.
When crops are immune to herbicides, how long before the weed germs in the soil develop immunity and start growing again? What if we realize that the currently marketed strain of annual wheat is actually bad for us and for the soil, and we'd do better to grow a perennial wheat? How do we keep the old wheat at bay, if it's immune to herbicides? I don't have to go on -- we all know the dangers of allowing corporations, motivated by profits, to influence our agricultural needs.
But what about the GMOs that are genuinely designed for the common good? What if a GMO does nothing other than make an ornamental plant absorb more CO2 and emit more oxygen? What if a GMO causes a shallow-rooted vegetable to root more deeply, increasing the trace mineral content of our food? We don't give apple farmers a hard time about cross-breeding to create new apple varieties -- what if that process is easier and cheaper and more effective on a genetic level?
One truth about GMOs that we tend to ignore is that we mostly eat them in processed foods. A very small percentage of our fresh produce has any gene modification, but soybean oil, cottonseed oil, and corn, as additives in processed foods, are likely to have modifications. Eating less processed food is good for us, so let's do that. That said, we also have to remember that GMO means a scientific process by which one or very few genes are added, removed, or replaced in order to solve a problem. They are not chemical additives or poisons or mini sci-fi monsters.
We are quick to judge. We resist deeper research, since we're already overloaded with information. But we do have a responsibility to our planet and to one another to make wise choices. Yes, we need political activists to fight Monsanto, as they make progress toward getting GMO corn back into Mexico in order to make the country dependent upon the corporate seed supply. That's just evil. But let's be careful where and how we judge, and make sure we're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Science is discovering and developing amazing things. Just like most developments for good, GMOs can also be used for bad. That doesn't make them inherently bad. If you'd like to take a next step in learning about GMOs, try these articles: GMO Facts and Fiction and GMO Answers. It's good for us to question, learn, and make choices. Let's try to remember to do the questioning and learning parts so the choices are wise.