GMCs—Part 2—Are They “Frankenfoods”?


The benefits are numerous but even so, there is considerable opposition to Genetically Modified Crops (GMC).  Is this opposition science based or is based upon intuition/emotion?  My previous posting “Genetically Modified Crops–Part 1—Are They Beneficial?  enumerates the substantial economic and environmental benefits and the scientific studies that have concluded that GMCs are as safe as unmodified crops.

Corn grows near a barn . MADATORY CREDIT Ken Kashian

Corn grows near a barn . MADATORY CREDIT Ken Kashian

The Scientific American posting by Stefaan Blancke titled “Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe” gives us some answers .    

The author says:

Psychological essentialism, for instance, makes us think of DNA as an organism’s “essence” – an unobservable and immutable core that causes the organism’s behaviour and development and determines its identity. As such, when a gene is transferred between two distantly related species, people are likely to believe that this process will cause characteristics typical of the source organism to emerge in the recipient. For example, in an opinion survey in the United States, more than half of respondents said that a tomato modified with fish DNA would taste like fish (of course, it would not).

Essentialism clearly plays a role in public attitudes towards GMOs. People are typically more opposed to GM applications that involve the transfer of DNA between two different species (“transgenic”) than within the same species (“cisgenic”). Anti-GMO organizations, such as NGOs, exploit these intuitions by publishing images of tomatoes with fish tails or by telling the public that companies modify corn with scorpion DNA to make crispier cereals.”

The author says that intuitions about purposes and intentions also have an impact on people’s thinking about GMO.  

“In the context of opposition to GMOs, genetic modification is deemed “unnatural” and biotechnologists are accused of “playing God”. The popular term “Frankenfood” captures what is at stake: by going against the will of nature in an act of hubris, we are bound to bring enormous disaster upon ourselves.”

“GMOs probably trigger disgust because people view genetic modification as a contamination. The effect is enforced when the introduced DNA comes from a species that is generally deemed disgusting, such as rats or cockroaches. However, DNA is DNA, whatever its source. The impact of disgust explains why people feel more averse towards GM food than other GM applications, such as GM medicine. Once disgust is elicited, the argument that GMOs cause cancer or sterility, or that they will contaminate the environment, becomes very convincing and is often used. Disgust also affects moral judgments, leading people to condemn everyone who is involved with the development and commercialization of GM products. Because people have no conscious access to the emotional source of their judgments, they consequently look for arguments to rationalize them.”


The author concludes his thoughts on intuitions and emotions with this:

“The impact of intuitions and emotions on people’s understanding of, and attitudes towards, GMOs has important implications for science education and communication. Because the mind is prone to distorting or rejecting scientific information in favour of more intuitive beliefs, simply transmitting the facts will not necessarily persuade people of the safety, or benefits, of GMOs, especially if people have been subjected to emotive, anti-GMO propaganda”.

In researching this topic, I find that the anti-GMC folks have an issue with Glyphosate.  Glyphosate is a herbicide.  Many of us have used Monsanto’s ROUNDUP to control weeds in our lawns and gardens.  Its big application is in controlling weeds in crop farming.  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.  Roundup is a very popular herbicide and is used on crops of all kinds to kill weeds.  It must be applied on the foliage and is not useable as a pre-emergence herbicide.  This limited the use of glyphosate until companies developed  genetically engineered crops that were tolerant to glyphosate.  It can now be sprayed on the crop plant and the chemical acts as a pre-emergence herbicide as well.  Major food safety bodies have concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.




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