Monsanto, GMOs & the Pulpit: Humans “Messing With Nature” Can Turn Out Just Fine

Lyndsey SmithThere are a couple things, as someone who writes in the public domain, I don’t ever really want to meddle in. Religion is likely at the top of that list, and I want to make it very clear that this column is not about religion at all. It’s about misinformation that just so happens this time to be spread by a pastor; this could easily be a discussion about a celebrity (or columnist for that matter). Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what I want to talk about, OK?

Today I was sent a link to a church sermon (filmed, incidentally, in my hometown) that strayed into the GMO debate, that made me cringe more than a little. Why? Because while it’s a pastor’s business to extol whatever virtue he (or she, for the precious few religions that allow it) deems appropriate, I feel it’s then my job to refute overtly false claims about agriculture and, in this case, genetic modification. Theology may be built around faith, but science is built around facts. So let’s explore them, shall we?

To sum it up, the video is a sermon given by Mark Hughes, pastor at Winnipeg-based Church of the Rock, where he states that we are “messing with nature,” when it comes to genetically modified crops (he vilifies all the margarine eaters in the audience for good measure). Fair enough, but his point goes one step further to say that every time we humans try to improve on “what God has created” we screw it up.

I’m guessing this darling pastor shops at a grocery store in mid-winter and can buy meat and produce and has indoor plumbing and heating. Though, shocking as it may seem, those are human-made improvements on what was “created”

Which brings me to my first point: man has been improving on what “God created” since, well, the beginning of man. The first “genetic modification” of crops happened thousands of years ago, as man (well, actually women mostly) moved from being at the whim of nature (meaning, not starve to death) and began selectively choosing and propagating crops. It’s a little thing called domestication, and, full-stop it’s the reason we, as humans, have evolved into societies, made technological advancements and now have giant churches with video cameras and the Internet. I’m guessing this darling pastor shops at a grocery store in mid-winter and can buy meat and produce and has indoor plumbing and heating. Though, shocking as it may seem, those are human-made improvements on what was “created”. I’m happy to no longer live in a naturally-occurring cave and die by the age of 40, thank you very much. So, dear pastor, we can and do improve on nature and have been for more than 10,000 years. You, pastor-on-my-computer, benefit greatly from these improvements. But let’s move on.

(For those of you who’d like to see the video, click here. The discussion on genetically modified canola starts around the six minute mark. I would have awarded bonus points to him if he could have named another biotech company beyond Monsanto, but no gold star, sorry.)

On to the two points Hughes makes on genetically modified organisms and transgenic plant breeding. First, he states that we have no idea what GMOs are doing to our bodies. The myth that GMOs are untested is decidedly false. You can read more about that here. If that’s not enough, you can click on this link, which takes you to a step-by-step breakdown of the peer reviewed science that answers 65 (yes, 65) common myths and concerns about genetic modification.

His second point on GMOs, where he states that if we “do not know what it will do to our human DNA”, has two counter points. Let’s stick with canola, because that’s his chosen crop type. Canola oil is fat. It does not contain protein. If you’re looking for the genes that have been genetically modified, they are in the protein, not the oil, so your margarine does not, in fact, contain genetically modified material. Point two to this, even if you were ingesting genetically modified material, see the paragraph above — consuming genetically modified food is safe.

There are, of course, several arguments for and against the use of genetically modified technology in food production, that go beyond transgenic technology. As such, I encourage you to re-visit Camille Ryan’s post here, entitled “10 Reasoned Responses to Why we Don’t Need GMOs.”

So, dear farmers, according to this pastor you should know that not only are genetically modified crops an abomination that should be shunned, so are any and all improvements on nature. Therefore, we should shun any and all traditionally bred crops as well (domesticated EVERYTHING comes to mind), stop selecting and pairing livestock breedings for improvement and go back to huddling in caves.

Sorry, Mr. Hughes, but I think we humans have done more than a few things right by “messing with nature.”

 

Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.


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17 Comments

Frank Schlichting

If the church decides it wants to jump on the bandwagon along with the radical environmental groups opposing everything under the sun it will be to their detriment. But we really shouldn’t be surprised both the churches and the environmental groups are in the same business they spread half truths and lies to scare people in to giving them money.

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Lyndsey Smith

Good idea, Derek. I never think to pass columns along to the Freep, but maybe I should. Thanks for reading!

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Kent

Great piece! Unfortunately, several of the arguments require a belief in science, including the belief that man and crops evolved. Many fundamentalist belief our world appeared a few thousand years ago, supposedly with crops already as they are today.

Unfortunately, one of Canada’s largest churches, the United Church of Canada, has a long-standing formal policy and campaign opposing GMOs. The debate on this was incredibly flawed, but it passed and I could no longer rationalize attending church and putting money in the plate each Sunday so the church could use that money to damage agriculture and take food off my plate!
http://www.united-church.ca/files/economic/food/gmfoodreport.pdf

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CeePen

While I disagree with most of Hughes’ points on science and on faith, don’t assume (like I did) that he is uninformed or doesn’t have knowledge about this topic. It turns out he’s a U of M Aggie grad and farmed for 10 years. He’s actually quite well-informed about the science as well.

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Lyndsey Smith

I’ve heard back from Hughes, where he did explain his agriculture background. His response is two fold: one, he believes the food supply is a “moral and spiritual issue” and therefore within his cope to preach about, and, two, that the research is all tainted due to heavy support from Monsanto (his words, not mine and not accurate, but it’s his opinion). Again, the GMO debate has essentially become faith-based vs. fact-based. As an industry, I’m not sure how we move the conversation forward if one side has turned it into a belief system, free of the constraints of factual arguments

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Pastor Mark

I have once again been quoted incorrectly. I emailed you not to try to convince you (we are not likely to ever see eye to eye) but so that you would more accurately communicate my position, as no one likes to be misquoted. I never said a ALL the research was tainted. I said money can buy any research that it wants, and that there was research on both sides of the argument and cited some of it in my email. In regards to the biotech industry which Monsanto is one of the players, I wrote and I quote; That GM foods are not
required to be labeled also tells me that the biotech lobby has way too much
influence. I would love to think that the motivation behind this is the
altruistic desire to feed the world, but in reality I know it is the billions
of dollars the biotech industry makes by manipulating nature. This kind
of money can buy any research it wants… and any government for that matter.
Monsanto says right on their website that they oppose the labeling of GMO
foods. They are also on record of spending multiple millions of dollars
to oppose it. If anyone is guilty of misleading the public, it is them
not me. If they are proud of their accomplishments then why do they go to
so much trouble to hide them?

Lyndsey Smith

You’ll note that I edited the post to directly quote you, as it’s never my intention to misquote. I did not post your entire reply here, as I didn’t want to overstep and post the entire thing, though, with your permission, I would if you’d prefer.

Pastor Mark

I think I said what I wanted to. Thanks for the opportunity to clear it up. Although I am curious what you think about studies like: “Determination of DNA Traces in Rapeseed Oil” by Hellebrand,
Nagy and Mörsel. They concluded that “DNA fragments were
successfully identified in samples of cold press oil, as well as in the samples
of the refined oil.” Seems to fly in the face of oft-quoted convention that no GM traits exist in refined GM oil. It was the basis for the canola comments in my sermon.
I think the debate is a good one and my real goal was to get people talking about it. I am glad you are doing the same. Cheers.

SgtCrunch

You could have stuck to the facts and exposed the fallacy of his thinking, since the facts are overwhelmingly on your side. So why did you choose to go personal/negative? Sprinkling this article with snarky (and pointless) nuggets about churches with Internet and the “precious few” religions who allow women to pastor just cheapens you and lowers the debate.

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Lyndsey Smith

I don’t think that I have “gone negative”, though, if ever we meet you’ll likely notice I write quite like I speak, which, admittedly can come off as a wee bit snarky. If my commentary on women as leaders in churches is remiss, please, enlighten me.

To me, this being presented in church isn’t really the point…I’d take the same issue with anyone in a position of power (females included) who choose to spread falsehoods about agriculture and agriculture technology. You’ll note in the very first paragraph, I recognize that even media sit in this position at times (no different than a celebrity as a spokesperson, etc). It has nothing to do with church or theology, which is not being discussed here.

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SgtCrunch

Thanks Lyndsey; so are you saying that if the article was about columnists or celebrities you’d toss in some random shots about those people?

I could point out how your comment about women in ministry is amiss; about how Canada’s largest Protestant denomination (United) and largest Evangelical denomination (Pentecostal) both ordain women. But if I pointed that out we’d be talking about religion, not food safety. See my point?

Lyndsey Smith

I didn’t take a shot at Mr. Hughes at all. Keep watch, as I can essentially guarantee that if ever I write about celebrity there will likely be a comment or two on the condition.

To your second point: And I quote, I said the “precious few” that ordain women. You’ve named two…which means my statement is not only accurate, it allows for even one more group than you’ve named. I stand by it. It’s an accurate statement of fact, not a theological point up for debate.

If I’m to provide commentary, an editorial, clearly marked as such, it also must contain context, which it does. Added discussion about said context is going to happen (which you took up, not me), and that’s up to each individual to choose to debate or not.

Now, would you like to discuss how we move the GMO discussion forward? How, if you agree with my column’s points on the safety of genetically modified foods, would you approach the pastor and his beliefs on the topic?

P_B

While I agree with your point about crop domestication, one of the mistruths of the biotech industry has been that this process of selection is “the same” as inserting new genetic material into a plant that would never have happened in nature — transgenics. That is true whether you are a creationist or evolutionist. Some are now saying mutated plant genes are equivalent to transgenics, but again, the gene is still from that plant, not from a bacteria! I agree with the pastor that this is wrapped up in the nobleness of “feeding the world” but in actuality is driven by the desire for cold, hard cash by all involved, including farmers.

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Roy

Interesting discussion. I think, though,the pulpit should be used to explain the Word of God and not to discuss Monsanto’s doings.

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Biff Pantera

I don’t really care what this guy thinks. But without getting into the debate of the health risks and possible benefits (not just health benefits, but any possible benefits) of GMO’s, my point is about Monsanto’s motives. One, if they think their GMO’s are all that, why do they want to hide the fact that they are in common products? Two, let’s get real and admit that they want to control access to seeds as well. That is wrong on so many levels and frankly it’s anti-American and monopolistic. Their motives are profits at ALL COSTS to everyone but them. I’m sorry, defend them all you want, but this world would be a better place without them and ALL companies (Cargill, etc.) that behave as they do were gone for good. But, alas these “bastions of integrity” game the system by polluting politics with their money, which again is anti-competitive. Corporations that do that, do it because they KNOW they will fail in a competitive market where the truth is available. I hope you sleep well at night cashing their checks.

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