There 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.”