I love food. Anyone who has witnessed my waistline grow over the past year or more can attest to the fact that I probably love food a wee bit more than I should.
Vegetables, meats, pastas, junk food, and a plethora of other categories all find their way into my digestive system on a regular basis. Recently, a couple friends and myself were, ironically, on our way to lunch one Saturday when the conversation turned to the topic of genetically modified organisms/foods (or GMO’s as they’ve come to be known). We debated whether we were pro- or anti- GMO.
One friend was totally against it and abhorred the very thought of eating food that is genetically-modified. My other friend, however, was totally on the other end of the spectrum and advocated eating GMO’s on a regular basis.
Since I hadn’t given the topic much thought at the time, I remained silent on the issue and listened to my friends' arguments supporting their points of view. One supported eating GMO’s because that type of food would supposedly be more nutritious, having been grown for the purpose of adding more nutrients into the food than would otherwise have been in its original, organic form. The other friend rejected eating GMO’s due to what he saw as tampering with the food he eats and not knowing exactly what is being put into it. The conversation went on in more depth, but I think you get the idea.
As I listened to both sides of their argument, I starting thinking back to the Christian principles of feeding the hungry and what implications this new idea of genetically modified food would mean to actually carrying out that mission. As I looked further into the subject, I became aware of just how divisive this topic can be among Christians. Some view it as a great way to get food and nutrients to those who have none, thereby helping save lives from hunger. Others view it as eating food that is impure, thereby defiling their bodies, and possibly introducing unforeseen health problems in the future.
Those who view GMO’s positively have some very good points in their arguments. The first of these, obviously, is the fact that nutritious foods would be more plentiful and more readily available to those who have to live without such foods. They can be grown more quickly and, therefore, be harvested quicker in order to distribute to those in need. GMO’s could possibly have the ability to prevent many food-borne allergies, such as peanuts, by modifying the DNA in these foods that cause such allergies. It is also claimed that such foods would also be better for the environment by being insect and weed resistant, thereby allowing farmers to use far fewer chemical insecticides and herbicides. GMO crops are also under development to produce and deliver vaccines. This would be vitally important to protecting the health of people in developing nations and preventing epidemic outbreaks of disease.
While these would be wonderful goals to be able to achieve with our food supplies all over the world, there is also another side to the argument.
Anti-GMO believers state that such tampering with food would be unethical. Some feel introducing foreign genes into a plant – especially animal genes – is offensive to many religious and cultural groups and would upset the balance of nature.
They also point to the fact that GMO’s would be created and controlled by corporations, and corporate greed would actually increase the problem of hunger rather than alleviate it due to the world becoming reliant on the corporate production of GMO’s. Those opposed to modification also state that what transpires during the GMO process is fundamentally different from selective breeding because it transfers genes between species in ways that could never happen naturally.
Should we make as much food as possible to distribute to a hungry world, even though it isn’t what one would label as “natural?” Or, should we try to distribute as much as we can of food we know to be nutritious enough to sustain life and promote foods that are natural, even though there may not be enough to go around? There are probably no easy answers to these questions. Personally, I would love to see a middle ground between the two sides. Could it be possible to promote natural foods, while at the same time use GMO’s in emergency situations where people had no food? Could we use GMO’s to supply people with food in underdeveloped nations while teaching them to cultivate natural foods and switching to those when ready?
In our culture, where food is abundant and readily available, we have the luxury of choosing one or the other. Labeling food that is genetically-altered would be a great thing to do, giving the consumer a choice in their food consumption. We would be able to make a personal decision as to whether to eat that food or not.
The Christian faith urges us to feed the hungry, but at what cost? Should we do it with GMO’s, or should we only use foods naturally grown?
While we may sit back comfortably and contemplate the appropriateness of GMO’s from the comfort of our homes, where our pantries are mostly stocked with everything we need, others in the world are not so lucky. Some would be hungry enough to eat anything, genetically-modified or not.
As Velasio De Paolis, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University states in this “Ag BioWorld” article, it is “easy to say no to genetically modified food if your stomach is full.”