• Genetic Modification

last modified June 5, 2018 by strypey

Uncontested Facts about Genetic Modification

  • "Selective breeding" refers to human techniques for altering the genome of living things using sexual reproduction (or whatever is their "natural" breeding activity). This is sometimes referred to as "artificial selection", in contrast with the "natural selection" described by Charles Darwin in his book 'On The Origin of Species...' which launched evolutionary biology. 
  • Genetic Modification (GM) or Genetic Engineering (GE) refers a set of techniques by which humans alter the genome of living things without using selective breeding or other naturally occurring mechanisms of reproduction.
  • Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a term applied to living things that are a product of GM.
  • A "transgenic" organism is a GMO that has genes from other, unrelated species, inserted into its genome.

Claims and Counterclaims about Genetic Modification

 1. Opposition to GM food plants and animals is based on an anti-science moral panic

 1a. There are no sound scientific reasons to oppose GM food and plants.

 1. Use of the term "anti-science" to conflate public scepticism about proprietary technologies like GMOs or pharmaceuticals with disbelief in the mood landings or climate change is a corporate PR strategy designed to shut down debate.

 1a. There are sound scientific reasons to be sceptical about GM food plants and animals

2. GM is promoted because of the many benefits it can bring to people and the environment

2. "we are concerned about the impact of an expanding non-GMO market share" - Senior Scientist in Product Development at a California biotech company

3. GMOs brought to market so far have realised many of the potential benefits of GM
3. GMOs brought to market so far have failed to realise any of the claimed benefits of GM
4. Golden Rice(TM) is an ideal solution to the problem of vitamin A deficiency in poor countries

4. Vitamin A is found in a range of common foods, including most green, leafy vegetables, which can all be grown more easily by poor farmers than a proprietary variety of rice

5. "DNA from GMOs behave no differently than DNA from organic or conventional foods" - Layla Katiraee, Senior Scientist in Product Development at a California biotech company

5a. So called "superweeds" are the result of natural selection of plants with inherent herbicide resistance, nothing to do with GMOs.

5. The viruses used to insert foreign DNA into a genome to make GMOs can result in "horizontal gene transfer" to other plants, animals, and perhaps even humans.

5a. Horizontal gene transfer from the herbicide resistant RoundUp-Ready Soy GMO has lead to the increased emergence of "superweeds" resistent to herbicides.

6. GM is promoted heavily by corporations involved in agribusiness mainly because there is good reason to believe it is the best way to increase the global food supply, solve world hunger, and reduce the amount of agricultural poisons sprayed on food crops.

6a. seed patent are not limited to GMOs and organic farmers grow them too.

6. GM is promoted heavily by corporations involved in "agribusiness" (poisons, tractors, hybrid seeds etc) mainly because it allows living things like food crops to be treated as inventions, and patented, increasing corporate control of the world food supply

6a. Only GMO crops can be patented, because only inventions can patented, and life forms normally don't quality unless, but because GMOs are "engineered" patents have been allowed.

7. GMO crops are substantially equivalent to non-GMO crops

7. GMO crops are far from "substantially equivalent" to non-GMO crops.

2016 Mésnage R et al, 'An integrated multi-omics analysis of the NK603 Roundup-tolerant GM maize reveals metabolism disturbances caused by the transformation process' published in 'Scientific Reports', an open access journal published by Nature.


 Points of Interest

  • In 1999, Dick Taverne had a pro-GMO article published in Prospect Magazine called 'Against Anti-Science', an early example of the application of the "anti-science" trope to the GM issue. Taverne is a British Baron, who was a UK MP from 1962-1974. He is a consistently pro-business and anti-environmentalist writer, who has also written cheerleading articles on the nuclear power industry, and attack articles on the organic food movement. A rebuttal by Stephen Tindale was published in Prospect in 2000 under the title 'Who is anti-science?'. 

Primary Sources

News Coverage

Improvement Notes

2018-06-02: need to read the Vox CRISPR article, and the Lewin article on Zambia, and insert claim/ counterclaim pair(s) based on it