Imagine we have our own village. Yes, you and I, we have a village filled with houses and sheep, little scurrying pets and so forth. We spend all day working in the field, and we grow crops.
Pretty fun analogy so far, huh? How simple life would be without complications. Maybe we’ll add a few, then.
Imagine that we have a hard time feeding everybody. You might ask who gets to eat, but it’s pretty obvious. Some people are more important. Some people work harder. So there’s always a few, mostly the weaker, those who can’t work, those who won’t work. Those who live way out on the outskirts or are too humble to ask for enough.
So, you (yes I’m talking to you, it’s called second-person) are a genius, right? You are the engine that moves humanity. You invent fertilizer. Well, everyone gets to eat. Yay you!
But there’s a problem. Some of the more important people are worried about their fertilizer. They find a “better” fertilizer, one that they’re more morally comfortable with. But the yields are lower. We’re back to the same problem — we can’t feed everybody. We’re pitted again between the good of the community and the desire of a few, wealthier people. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
I’ve tricked you. Do you know that? This analogy is very similar to our present situation. Pretty unfair, right?
People are healthier than we’ve ever been. At least in the first world. Because we have access to a wide variety of cheap food. It all happened when we discovered chemical fertilizer. Science, remember the geniuses like you? Science taught us how to get better crop yields, how to keep bugs off our food, how to feed everybody. We can even modify our crops in safe ways to make them even more bug resistant, drought resistant, to give us better, healthier food. We’ve been running tests too, for a very long time, and we have a really good idea of what is safe and what isn’t.
Organic farming. Doesn’t the word sound good? Like you’re helping yourself, helping the environment? This means you’re using natural substances (sometimes), things that are less effective. But you have the right, don’t you? You may be reducing the crop yield, making it so we can’t feed part of our village, but you’re getting healthier food. Because natural means healthier, right?
Well … no … actually. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Hemlock is natural, but you won’t catch me eating it. But we do have a lot of science. From a statistical perspective, modern chemical fertilizers, GMO plants, insectides, these things are all safe if used correctly. It’s sound science. What about natural fertilizer (poop)? People get sick EVERY DAY, people die, from E. Coli poisoning. Frankly we don’t know how safe organic is. People are so busy looking for alternatives that are “natural”, they’re putting all sorts of bio-poisons on your food. Organic foodstuffs are chalk full of animal feces, poisonous herbal compounds, bug infestations, genetic crop mutation. And since there is so much variety, we have no way to test safety.
Statistically speaking, modern (scientific) agriculture is better. We know what the risks are, we’ve done a ton of experimentation to make them as low as possible. In instances where civilization is winning, we’re feeding the starving. In instances where science is losing in favor of “natural” superstition, people in third world countries are loosing their staple crops. They’re dying of malnutrition.
That’s right, a large part of our village is dying. Because we have a misguided belief that being “natural” is the morally superior position. We want the special low-yield food, with no proven benefits, even if it kills our neighbors.
There’s no easy answer at this point. God, that it were so easy. But fighting GMOs isn’t the answer. Filling the grocery store with organic food and denying people a choice isn’t either. But maybe if we provided a legal standard for organic, truly separating the food supplies, we could create a separate demand for the “natural stuff” and allow our REAL food supply to grow. And hopefully, someday, a few bio-tourists will travel to Africa or South America and recognize the impact of their decisions. Maybe they’re write a book about it, start a website. And nobody will listen, because they support “big business”.
Sure. It’s a choice. But as for me and my family, I choose science. Let the bioengineering begin!