Why Our Fear of GMOs Is Actively Harmful to Society

Why our fear of genetically modified organisms is actively harmful to our society.

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The term “genetically modified organisms (GMO)” seems to inspire a lot of paranoia. People often call them Frankenfoods and claim that they’re unsafe or even accuse their creators of playing god.  In reality, GMO foods have roughly the same nutritional impacts as their non-GMO counterparts. All the fear in the world can’t change the fundamental truth that our environment is changing and that failure to update our farming methods with the technology available could cause real devastation. Furthermore, even without accounting for the substantial environmental changes anticipated by the majority of the world’s scientists, GMOs are an absolute necessity to support an ever-growing population. As such, any illogical moral panic about GMOs should be mostly brushed aside so society can continue to sustain itself. 

GMO crops provide a wide variety of benefits, including better resistance to herbicides, built-in immunity to insects, and increased growth rates. They’re also often healthier than their non-GMO counterparts, have substantially lower production costs, and can even be used to create medicines. 

The public fear of the proliferation of this important crop type is mostly due to the work of one man: Jeremy Rifkin. This single individual founded a think tank that utilized a combination of pseudoscience mostly revolving around imagined health risks supposedly associated with GMOs and a huge amount of religious messaging about preserving the sanctity of nature. He and his think tank continue to be directly responsible for the religious aspect of that movement and for the many actions of anti-GMO protests. This campaign was largely successful even though the scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs is even stronger than that surrounding climate change

While this anti-GMO crusade began in the 1970s and 1980s, in the past decade, the power of anti-GMO fervor hit new heights, especially in the U.S. However, a labeling law managed to quiet the majority of the anti-GMO movement, at least at the legislative level. This movement has done far more damage to the European Union, where GMOs have been almost entirely banned. This has caused a spike in food prices and made them utterly uncompetitive in this vital new market. 

So what can we do as both a nation and individuals to destroy this stigma and help advance this valuable resource? The U.S. should include GMO foods under the label of organic, thereby effectively publicly stating to consumers and other nations that these foods are completely safe and of high quality. It would only require a simple definition change and would not even be untrue since there is no real scientific definition of organic foods, only what the Food and Drug Administration states. Beyond this, the U.S. government could also outright subsidize GMO research and encourage other nations to relax their policies on this important variety of crops. Obviously, the U.S. can’t change the entire policy of the European Union, but just officially encouraging a change in international forums could provide at least a bit of pressure on these nations and perhaps eventually drive some relaxation of the rules.

As individuals, we can simply stop fearing perfectly innocuous foods in our grocery stores labeled GMO. Accepting that they’re not harmful to you in any way and spreading that message whenever the conversation comes up can do wonders for widespread cultural acceptance. In the end, while the government chooses whether to regulate GMOs, we choose if we allow them into our lives. By redirecting our vision of GMO products as simply food, the same as any non-GMO product, we would do more for their development than could be done with any legislation.