The real Frankenfoods [and they’re not GMOs]


Sweet potato harvest (image from Wikipedia under license)

Gene transfer between different organisms is nothing new. The sweet potato, for example, arose naturally through incorporation of genetic material from Agrobacterium, an organism widely used, as it happens, in commercial gene transfer. Artificial mixing of genes from different organisms happens whenever we breed hybrids, from mules to zorses to hybrid garden flowers. The problems of seed ownership and licensing, monoculture, and crossbreeding are not specific to GMOs, but arise with every proprietary brand. An extreme example of genetic manipulation is the transfer of the gene for human insulin into yeast, a development of enormous benefit to Type 1 diabetics who, previously, had to rely on insulin extracted from pigs’ pancreas.

Ironically, as the article below points out, “conventional” breeding methods, whose products are accepted even by the most scrupulous “organic” farmers, involve far more uncertainty, and far more unnatural violence to the genetic material itself, than does controlled gene transfer.

Much genetic manipulation involves transferring specific genes between one variety and another of the same species. This achieves in a controlled manner goals previously sought by the more uncertain procedures of cross-breeding. Other examples, such as transferring the gene for vitamin A production into rice, or transferring genes enhancing drought tolerance into peanuts, are obvious value, especially in developing countries. One proposed application involves transferring the genes for omega-3 production into the feedstock used in salmon farming, without which farmed salmon lack a valuable nutrient found in the wild. This makes the Scottish Government’s blanket ban on GMOs all the more deplorable.

The Logic of Science

franken foodAnti-GMO activists are excellent at stirring up emotions and creating fear.  They are better at frightening gullible people than just about any group that I can think of (though anti-vaccers give them a run for their money). Their posts are full of images of grotesque mutations, giant needles sticking out of vegetables, and bizarre genetically hybridized organisms. The real question, however, is whether or not those fears are justified (spoiler alert: they aren’t). You see, it’s fine to present a fact that also evokes an emotion, but when you are exaggerating or ignoring the truth in order to scare someone, then you are committing a logical fallacy known as an appeal to emotion, and that is exactly what anti-GMO activists are doing.

The term “Frankenfood” is perhaps the greatest embodiment of this fallacious line of emotional manipulation, and honestly, it’s brilliant propaganda. It is simultaneously evocative and memorable. It’s…

View original post 1,776 more words

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on November 17, 2015, in Politics, Science, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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