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Pundit’s Mailbag –
GMOS And Bio-Diversity
Is It A Tool Toward Progress?
Or A Dream Of Monopoly Profits?

Our piece — The Wall Street Journal Highlights The GMO Dilemma: Will the ‘Innate’ Potato Change Minds When The Case Is So Clear? Don’t Bet The Farm On It! — brought feedback from a thoughtful industry member who has communicated with us before. Among the pieces he has participated in include these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure

Insights On The Alfalfa Sprout Advisory

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma

More ‘Summing Up’ Of Sprout Situation

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Prices And Free Markets

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation Risks

Testing Sprout Seeds

Pundit Mailbag — Honor ‘Green’ Attempts

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pesticides And Cancer

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation, Pasteurization And Labeling

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance of Risk

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Look At Organic Versus Conventional Yields

Recommendation For An ‘Appropriate’ Seed-screening Program Shows FDA Unwilling To Take Responsibility For Its Recommendations

Now, he speaks out on GMOSs:

The November 12 Pundit article on GMO’s bemoans the categorical rejection of GMO’s as being irrational and counter-productive. For example, take the ‘Innate’ potato!

Citing a specific benefit as a way of discrediting a generalized opposition is no different from citing a specific problem as a way of discrediting a generalized benefit.  I have never heard the pro-GMO argument expressed in any way other than ‘GMO’s are safe’.  

The discussion of the Irish ‘potato famine’ rarely mentions the following:

‘While the effects of these (crop) failures were largely ameliorated in many countries thanks to their cultivation of a wide variety of potatoes, Ireland was left vulnerable to these blights due to its dependence on just one type, the Irish Lumper.’  (

One doesn’t hear GMO proponents suggesting that the best way to prevent massive crop failures might be to cultivate many varieties, rather than a single monoculture. To what extent is the money behind GMOs also invested in the dream of monopolizing a single seed type?

Someday perhaps we can start to discuss these issues.

— Bob Sanderson
Jonathan’s Sprouts
Rochester, Massachusetts

Well, fortunately, we are not bound by how others argue for or against things, so we will express our own view this way: Genetic modification is a tool, and that tool can be used wisely or foolishly; its use can have good consequences or bad consequences. 

It is perfectly coherent to argue that we should use genetic modification to transfer genes between two potatoes to accelerate the breeding process and NOT believe we should genetically modify human children to prevent them from being born redheads.

It is also quite obviously true that even in areas where genetic modification could solve a problem, it is not automatically true that genetic modification is the BEST way to solve a problem. Thus, there is no contradiction between allowing for genetic modification and also being in favor of biodiversity.

Having given dozens of speeches on the subject, we can also say that most of those opposed to GMOs have no idea about what goes into conventional plant breeding. We find the decision to exclude GMOs from organic food bizarre, when they say nothing about varieties produced through mutagenesis. The Genetic Modification Project ran a piece titled, Delicious Mutant Foods: Mutagenesis and the Genetic Modification Controversy, that explained the issue this way:

To the foodie, what could be better than “natural” ripe Ruby Red grapefruit? Free from the alleged dangers of pesticides or genetic modification, organic Ruby Reds should represent one of the last havens of natural food, completely unaltered by man.

Think again. Ruby Red grapefruits, along with 3,000 other crop varieties consumed by millions every day, were actually created through mutation breeding, also known as mutagenesis. Plants were exposed to atomic radiation, thousands of genes scrambled in laboratory experiments that took years.

In the last 60 years, mutation breeding has produced a sizeable fraction of the world’s crops. Varieties of wheat, including almost all of the most popular varieties used to make top-grade Italian pasta, vegetables, fruit, rice, herbs and cotton have been altered or enhanced with gamma rays, and often separately or additionally soaked in toxic chemicals, in the hopes of producing new desirable, traits. Now these varieties are marketed as conventional and organic foods, and are unlabeled.

Because the most prominent early use of commercial GMO technology happened to be Monsanto, with Roundup Ready crops, many people who don’t like Monsanto or who feel that the nature of this usage encourages monocultures or has other negative effects, are opposed to GMOs.

But genetic modification can also be used to produce Golden Rice and save people from blindness. Mission 2017, an MIT student initiative that focuses on global water security, argues against “the current genetic modified crop and agricultural business culture” but supports “agricultural biotechnology in the form of crops genetically modified for drought resistance and water efficiency.” You can see its argument here.

Radioactive materials can be used to make bombs, but they can also be used for medical uses to save lives. And even bombs can be used for good or ill. Life requires us to confront hard decisions, but simply abandoning valuable tools — radiation or genetic modification — won’t help us advance.

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