I am sitting in my office eating cotton candy flavored grapes, and I think to myself, "Wow these are awesome!". Then, I notice the label on the bag, which designates the grapes to be "organic". To satisfy my curiosity I visit the Grapery webpage and learn that the flavor of the grapes were produced using natural breeding techniques to incorporate a vanilla-like flavor that makes us reminisce of the circus treat. I wonder to myself, "how long did it take to breed this Willy-Wonka flavored fruit", and whether it could have been produced using modern genetic engineering. I again ponder what impact genetic modification has on our society and if the whistle-blowers are right...maybe we should be more conscious of the genetically modified foods we put into ourselves and our children. Then like every other classically-trained molecular biologist, I shake it off and come to grips with reality.
Yes, non-GMO foods do not contain the genetic elements that allow them to be sprayed with pesticides. Yes, they may taste better and may make you feel better about yourself. And yes, I am a sucker for the gimmicky marvels of modern-day breeding (I actually have a lemon-lime tree in my yard).
But let's face it, we're approaching critical mass as a planet. It is estimated that this world will be home to ~9 billion people in the year 2050. Living in the US for most of my life has shrouded me from extreme poverty and social inequality. However, I have visited various parts of the third-world, and have been exposed to real poverty and real hunger. I highly doubt any malnourished child would turn away a GMO tomato because it was sprayed with pesticides or may contain a genetic element that has an astronomically small chance of incorporating into our genome or the genome of our microbiome.
In all honesty, there is no way of knowing what ramifications might be in our future if we continue to develop GMO's. To anyone that can claim that this generation is already witnessing the fallout of GMO production, is a farce. It will take generations to identify if these small genetic changes cause long-term problems. In the meantime we have solutions to feeding this world's population, if we are willing to listen to the science and make calculated risks.
In addition, the masses of the anti-GMO movement fail to recognize that much of medical world is driven by genetic modification. All of the large biologics that we rely on as life-saving medications are derived from genetically modified production cell lines. Many of the antibiotics and vaccines that shield us from the natural world are derived from genetically modified systems. And even someday, the shirt you wear might come from materials made from yeast. Can you imagine a world without these things.
As a scientist, it is clear that there needs to be strict regulations regarding the production of GMO-derived products. Each individual has the right to chose what to put into their bodies. But as a society we need to understand that this world needs these critters, now more than ever.