In recent days, Facebook pages, news sites and other web outlets have buzzed with concerns from the organotroids about the "behemoth" Wal-Mart agreeing to sell "GE sweet corn," grown from seeds engineered by the "megacorp" Monsanto. If you want to read the alarmist rantings of the food activists, just Google "GE sweet corn Monsanto." You'll find plenty of doomsday predictions -- and precious little proof of harm.
Take a step back, however, and you may notice that the Wal-Mart-Monsanto corn flap is just the latest skirmish in a long-running war against modern agricultural science. The cycle goes like this:
Begin with hand-wringing about the threat of an overpopulated Earth exhausting our food and water supplies. We're doomed! But wait, increased farm yields change the equation and we're not so doomed. So then the activists raise alarms about the dangerous pesticides and fertilizers that contributed to the vastly increase crop yields. We're doomed again!
And now, activists are even more paranoid about lab-based seed engineering that helps reduce the need for those chemical sprays, sometimes by as much as 85 percent. We're doomed some more! Really?
To the organotroids, "natural" unmodified crops are the only safe foods to eat. Nevermind that such foods cost vastly more than standard food precisely because the alternative crops are perpetually in limited supply. Nevermind that bumper crops produced in the high-tech heartland of America and other advanced nations have prevented starvation for billions of people living in places where the farm land was destroyed by outmoded "natural" farming practices. Big Agra is bad!
Nevermind the historic famines caused by insects, crop blights and other calamities that plagued the serfs of centuries past. Chemistry is bad.
Nevermind the fact that genetic manipulation has been happening in farming since the very first row was scratched in the soil. Farmers constantly selected the seeds from the strongest crops, constantly picked the fattest cattle and plumpest chickens to expand their herds. But now, genetic selection is bad.
Today's grains and livestock breeds are quite different from those of decades and centuries ago. Unless you are planting heritage seeds from thousands of years ago, nothing about today's farm produce is "natural." Virtually everything we eat today is the man-made product of agriscience of the past. The organotroids understand this, right? Farmers were applying the basics of cross-breeding and cross-pollinization long before Mendel made a science of the subject back in the late 1800s.
From the stone age to now, farmers have always adopted new technology as it came along. The environmental evils of mining and metalworking produced the first metal plows. The steam engines of the Industrial Revolution and then the internal combustion engines of today replaced horses and oxen with tractors and trucks.
To people with common sense, this is called progress. But to "progressive" organotroids, this is a vast conspiracy. To them, the vast improvements in genetic understanding since Mendel's days should be distrusted, ignored and banned. To them, the very words "genetically engineered" have become synonymous with "poison." Nevermind that we will need gene engineering more than ever if we really are facing human-accelerated climate change. Well, unless you think humans should just starve to death by continuing to grow the same old stuff the same old ways while the climate shifts.
So I'm amused -- and impressed to a certain degree -- by the tiny numbers of natural foodists who really do try to make a go as subsistence farmers. They're kind of like those history re-enactors who try to live for a while as colonists (but get modern medical help as soon as they get hurt). Today's modern throwbacks may live in air-conditioned, electrified homes equipped with computers to tap into the many how-to-farm websites on the Internet, but at least they kill their own free-range chickens. They actually do some hard, real farming work.
I'm less amused by the holier-than-thou urbanistas who don't bother with farming or gardening, yet claim they support the organic food movement because they "buy local" at farmer's markets, Whole Foods or Trader Joes. These are the folks who complain about pollution while driving their modern cars along modern roads to stores that utterly depend upon electric lights, refrigeration and air-conditioning. These folks would be first to pop a gasket if the stores' computerized cash registers couldn't swipe their debit cards -- and they'd complain to the world about it on their smartphones.
These are dangerous people -- the ones who sign online petitions to push for natural living.
I understand and accept that my life depends on an industrialized, high-tech food chain. This is a simple fact for the vast, vast majority of Americans, especially city dwellers. In fact, I'm counting on the latest, smartest science to be applied to making better food. You say science can produce tomatoes with longer shelf lives? Cool! You say the engineers have already given us seedless grapes and oranges and now the techies are working on seedless watermelons and cherries? I'd buy a seedless cherry in a heartbeat. Go science!
But these other people absurdly try to use their high-tech consumer power to rail against the high-tech world of consumerism. They try to make scientific arguments to stop science.
These aren't the counter-culture fringe folk trying to drop off the grid so that they can do their own thing. No, these people are activists trying to tell everybody else what they should and shouldn't eat -- especially poor people.
They are literally biting the hands that feed them.
To those people, I say spend all you want on your over-priced organic foods, which often aren't as organic as you may think. Trade in modern fertilizer for less effective manure. Don't worry about that e.coli. It's natural!
But please, spare me the online petition drives. I don't agree with your food politics.
By attacking science, by attacking Wal-Mart for selling Monsanto sweet corn, all you are really doing is making it harder for people of modest means to obtain affordable food just so you can feel "safe" from highly speculative and unproven predictions of risk.
Me? I'm trying to act locally and think globally. That's why I support gene-modified crops wherever they make sense. If not for agriscience, more people in many countries would starve. And that's too high a price to pay for the warm fuzzies of feeling organic.