The Ecology of Humans (59-6) Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Foods

GMO is the commonly used acronym for “genetically modified organisms.” While the term organism applies to anything alive, GMO most often refers to food crops that have been manipulated by inserting or removing 1 or 2 DNA strands from the genome.

None of these genetic modifications are to improve the nutritiousness of food. They are instead aimed at toughening up a plant: typically to withstand copious application of toxins, or for the plant to make its own. For this reason, GMO practically translates to poison.

The first target for genetic modification was corn. The corn was modified to internally produce its own pesticide (Bt corn, it is called): a most unnatural act. Potatoes were later modified to perform the same trick.

 Snubbed By Cows

In 1998 an Iowa farmer tried an experiment. He filled one side of a large trough with Bt corn he had grown. The other side of the trough had natural corn. Then he let his cows in.

Cows normally eat as much corn as they can. The 25 cows in the pen all congregated on the side with the natural corn. When that was gone, they nibbled a taste of the Bt corn, then walked away. Many other farmers have had the same experience with their cattle and Bt corn.


Soybeans became politically controversial when they became genetically modified by the American agricultural corporation Monsanto to withstand application of its glyphosate herbicide (trade name: Roundup®).

 Not Good Enough for Geese

An Illinois farmer had been planting soybeans for many years. He had the misfortune of being host to a flock of soybean-eating geese who landed in a nearby pond. Being creatures of habit, every year the geese returned.

The farmer planted Roundup Ready® soybeans in part of his field one year. The geese came but would have nothing to do with those beans. They ate only the natural soybeans.


The safety of eating Roundup Ready® crops is questionable, to put it mildly. Monsanto refuses to research the issue of safety beyond convincing governments of GMO being an acceptable political risk.

Monsanto also refuses to allow anyone else to do so. Monsanto has stymied independent research by vigorously enforcing its patents. That gives the appearance of something to hide.

The erosive damage to the environment and soil quality of Roundup Ready crops is also problematic. One known fact is that weeds are becoming increasingly resistant.

Generally, herbicides and pesticides that are not immediately devastating create detrimental cascade effects on the ecosystem, as they are repeatedly broadly applied in massive doses. There are no known exceptions to this blanket observation.

Genetics is still in its infancy. Only in the 21st century have geneticists come to appreciate the intricate interplay involved in epigenetics: the pervasive processes outside the genetic code.

We simply do not know enough to assess the knock-on effects that come with artificial insertion of genetic material. We do know that organisms naturally adapt or take up genetic material on an intelligent basis.

Organisms do not self-modify in a way that fundamentally threatens their existence – which is exactly what GMO experiments have done.

A miniscule fraction of genetic modification efforts are commercialized. The vast majority suffer from unanticipated side effects; many lethal.

How much testing is done on GM foods – to what degree and duration, especially health and environmental effects – is not publicly available. That is one consistency with GM food: GM food is an experiment that risks consumer health and ecosystem viability for corporate profit.

Suspicion of GM food is eminently rational, especially considering that they have been sprayed with toxins that ordinary plants could not withstand; or, alternately, food from a plant which created its own synthetic pesticides which you are eating.

Scientists have only a rudimentary understanding of environmental ecology. Because it is contrary to commercial interests, there has historically been surprisingly little research in this area. Only in the past few decades has the subject garnered much attention.

Because so many variables are in play, environmental ecology is inherently a difficult research area. Sussing the dynamic subtleties of Nature is beyond the reach of empirical science, which is inherently microscopic rather than holistic.

Any patch of Nature offers an entangled web with innumerable factors at every scale. While it easy to identify gross effects, the significance of more nuanced influences is exceedingly difficult to pin down over a duration of years; and few have the patience or means to try.