What We Need More Than GMOs is a Paradigm Shift

This morning I watched a brave 14-year-old go up against Kevin O’Leary, and I was inspired to say the least. It would be wonderful if more young people were informed enough to have opinions about controversial issues like Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Rachel Parent, a passionate teenager, had to write a speech for her school for which she researched GMOs. In her speech, she slams O’Leary for calling anti-GMO activists “stupid” and challenged him to bring her on his show to duke it out. He did. Here’s the episode:

Parent is primarily an advocate for GMO labelling, but is also against messing with mother nature without adequate, independent, long-term testing. Makes sense to me. We shouldn’t be the “lab rats” as Kevin’s co-host Amanda Lang puts it, but as it stands now, that’s exactly what we are. Parent recognizes the dangers of inadequate testing and is warning us against blindly looking to GMOs to save us.

O’Leary’s take-away from this is that she “[doesn’t] want to see any attempts to stop food from being destroyed by insects. . .?” as if GMOs are the only way to do that. He postulates that GMOs are the only way to increase yield and nutrient density, and insists that starvation and malnutrition can be prevented by GMOs. He presses her with the question “What do you say to a child your age that’s going to die [of starvation]?”

This is not such a black and white issue. There are more options than
A) not non-GMO conventionally grown crops that will be attacked by pests and have low yields
B) GMO crops that will fix world hunger

What we need more than GMOs is a paradigm shift.

If we are comparing apples to apples and our only option is a vast conventional monoculture, then GMOs don’t look so bad. Acres and acres of fields growing only one crop are very vulnerable to diseases and pests, so GMOs came about to help those vulnerable crops. If we had no alternative, I would have no choice but to be pro-GMO. Fortunately, there are other farming methods. Instead of trying to improve a fundamentally flawed system of agriculture by adding GMOs, we should be using farming methods that don’t need fixing in the first place. I’m talking about polyculture, urban gardening, square foot gardening… I’m talking about individuals and municipalities contributing to a perennial food system. There are lots of ways in which we could move away from industrialized monoculture and toward sustainable polyculture. This guy is doing it.

Does this mean everyone has to quit their job and start growing food? Well, I’d like that, but no.

Municipalities that already spend money on gardeners to plant pretty road dividers could plant edibles instead. Cedar hedges and other ornamentals could be replaced by indigenous berry bushes. Homeowners could have a little square-foot garden, and apartment dwellers could grow micro-greens on their kitchen counters. Public parks could have fruit trees in permaculture guilds and abandoned lots could be made available to landless renters. Any of these solutions alone is not enough to release us from the grip of industrial agriculture, but if we implement many small strategies, we’ll be headed for big changes.

Nearing the end of the interview, O’Leary accuses Parent of being “anti-science.” He says,”I’m trying to explore whether you have any flexibility in your thinking about the merits of science and food. It doesn’t sound like you do, and I find that not good.” To me, he’s obviously the inflexible one, because he is equating GMOs with science. Monsanto is not synonymous with science just because they do science. Genetic modification is just one of many area of science – the area that Monsanto has chosen that is making big bucks by exploiting farmers. Lang and O’Leary don’t seem to understand that it is possible to be anti-GMO and be pro-science. O’Leary is working on the assumption that genetic modification is the only way to increase yield and nutrient density. According to him, if you’re anti-GMO, you’re anti-science. That’s plain ridiculous.”Science” can also be used to support more benign and beneficial growing methods, and is not owned by Monsanto.

My final bone to pick with O’Leary is that he accuses Parent of jumping to a conclusion without researching both sides. Just because she didn’t reach the same conclusion he does, doesn’t mean she’s ignorant. I can’t imagine that an ambitious youngster like her would just wing a speech in front of her whole school without doing any research. In fact, one of the first things she says in the interview is that she researched. Admittedly, Parent does repeat herself and some of her responses sound a little too well rehearsed, but for someone so young, she remained impressively calm and collected.

If I disagree with you, concluding that I’m ignorant just because I didn’t reach the same conclusion as you doesn’t further your argument. Maybe I reached a different conclusion because I found different articles, or I think my sources are more credible than yours. Maybe I have the same facts, I just have a different opinions or values. That doesn’t make me ignorant.

So what would I say to “a child your age that’s going to die [of starvation]?”

I’d say I’m sorry that a multi-national corporation has pushed your country’s farmers off their land and started growing crops for export. I’m sorry that my country’s greed supersedes your immediate needs. I’m sorry that we didn’t implement more sustainable growing methods a long time ago to prevent the current situation.

Rachel’s website

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