I have been contacted by numerous people over the past week about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s rant on genetically-modified food, asking me what I thought of it.
Because this famed scientist raises his voice and appears completely annoyed by the question – most likely because he is asked it all of the time – don’t be fooled or intimidated into thinking that GMOs are safe to eat. They’re not.
What Neil deGrasse Tyson says is that is that the food we eat does not have the same genetic structure that it did 10,000 years ago. True.
He also says that it has been modified to meet our needs. True.
The distinction that he doesn’t make is the method in which the food has been modified, or engineered, to meet our needs. And this is absolute most critical part of the argument.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is essentially telling us that that there is no difference between genetically-engineered food and hybridized food. Therefore, our fears about GMOs are completely unfounded.
But there is a huge difference between the two.
As ratified by over 160 countries around the world, the Cartagena Protocol of Biosafety has made it clear that GMOs are different than hybridized food.
The Cartagena Protocol says that:
The term `biotechnology’ refers to any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for a specific use.
Biotechnology, in the form of traditional fermentation techniques, has been used for decades to make bread, cheese or beer. It has also been the basis of traditional animal and plant breeding techniques, such as hybridization and the selection of plants and animals with specific characteristics to create, for example, crops which produce higher yields of grain.
The difference with modern biotechnology is that researchers can now take a single gene from a plant or animal cell and insert it in another plant or animal cell to give it a desired characteristic, such as a plant that is resistant to a specific pest or disease.
In the Biosafety Protocol, modern biotechnology means the application of:
1. In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or
2. Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family,
that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection. (see Article 3)
It goes on to say that….
A Living Modified Organism (LMO) is defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. The Protocol also defines the terms ‘living organism’ and ‘modern biotechnology’ (see Article 3). In everyday usage LMOs are usually considered to be the same as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), but definitions and interpretations of the term GMO vary widely.
Common LMOs include agricultural crops that have been genetically modified for greater productivity or for resistance to pests or diseases. Examples of modified crops include tomatoes, cassava, corn, cotton and soybeans.
Over time, food has changed because farmers, for whatever reason, wanted to have different varieties or species and needed these hybridized varieties to fight off pests or to achieve higher yields. So, they bred different types of wheat, corn, or other plants. As a result, the food that we eat today is often not the same food that existed hundreds of years ago. This is one reason why many hardcore raw foodists won’t eat bananas – because they say this fruit has been too hybridized.
Needless to say, creating hybridized food has been going on for centuries and is allowed in organics.
The bottom line is that no long-term studies of GMOs have ever been conducted on humans, and the studies conducted on animals in laboratories have produced horrifying results.
There are serious health risks associated with GMOs, and people have a very, very valid reason to fear them, despite what Neil deGrasse Tyson would like us to believe.