Why is it that countries in the West are so anti-GM crops? This is particularly evident in the European Union, but also in the Nordics and pockets of the USA. GM crops have been sold in the USA since 1996 and in many other countries for a considerable number of years. Since then, there hasn’t been a single proven case of ill health due to their consumption, either by humans or by animals.
This comes as no surprise to scientists. Every major regulatory body in the world (including the Royal Society of London, French Academy of Medicine and Academy of Science of the United States) has concluded that GM crops are as safe for human and animal consumption as conventional crops – organic or not. So, why didn’t this evidence put a stop to the GMO controversy long ago?
One factor could be the power of social media. We just have to look at the effect that anti-vaccination messaging has had on the incidence of measles worldwide. Let’s hope this is not repeated with the COVID-19 vaccines.
However, over the years I have learnt that genetic engineering used for the production of pharmaceuticals that can save a life is considered acceptable, even welcomed. But when the same technology is used to feed people, it is anathema to many, especially the wealthy who can afford to choose. So hopefully the fact that genetic engineering has been used to produce many of the COVID-19 vaccines will not deter even the anti-GMO lobby from speaking out against them.
The difference between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’
A recent article asked the question: “Why are the wealthy more likely to fall for food pseudoscience?”. One proposal was that affluent Americans appeared more likely to encounter ‘pseudoscientific facts’ – in other words unsubstantiated information. This may be online, from family and friends, at farmers’ markets or at upscale grocery stores. They concluded that “higher income does not consistently correlate with better understanding”.
The bottom line is that if many organizations in ‘developed countries’ express anti-GMO sentiment, many countries in the ‘developing world’ will take note. We only have to look at the status of GM crops in Africa to see the effect this has had. Only South Africa and Sudan have a history of growing these, and in Sudan it is only the largely inedible crop, cotton.
It seems so self-centred of anti-GMO lobbyists to try to prevent farmers in developing countries from even testing GM crops themselves. If they aren’t satisfactory, let the farmers decide not to plant them.
Perhaps one way to sum up these effects is that the anti-GM stance of the wealthier ‘haves’ are preventing the ‘have nots’ in developing countries from improving their own food security. In other words, the opinions of those who have enough food already, are negatively influencing those who would benefit from the greater yields provided by GM crops. . Let us be aware that decisions made in the West can have a huge impact on the actions taken by the Rest.
GM Crops and the Global Divide is available now on the CABI Bookshop