Though my last post was focused around genetically engineered seeds, I recently saw something that disturbed me to the point of wanting to refute and discuss this same topic again. The famous magicians Penn & Teller have a TV show called "Bullshit!". On the show they assert their opinion on different controversial matters. Often the show is informative and entertaining. However, their episode on genetically engineered (GE) foods was far below par.
The magicians support the use of GE seeds for one sole reason: it will end world hunger. They use starvation statistics from Africa to back up their point that many people in the world do not get enough to eat. Therefore, they (and many others) believe that if we can increase food production, there will be enough food to feed many, if not all, the hungry mouths around the world. That's where GE seeds come in. GE seeds are made to be able to grow in harsh conditions where soil normally couldn't support growth. GE seeds are also often made to withstand herbicides allowing them to grow freely without weeds and insects hindering them. Ideally, GE seeds have the potential to produce large amounts food.
The first flaw in this episode of "Bullshit!" is when the magicians imply that GE food is a new, up and coming technology. They juxtapose, what they call, "Green Peace assholes" protesting GE companies, with dying kids in Africa; implying that groups like Green Peace are hampering a new technology that could end starvation. Here is what's wrong with that picture: GE seeds are not new, they have been in use for the past two decades. Today, 80% of corn and corn products are from GE seeds as well as over 90% of soy, over 60% of tomatoes, and 70% of general processed foods from soda to soup. Therefore, if GE seed use can end world hunger and a overwhelming majority of our produce is already made GE... shouldn't there have been a dent in world hunger by now, at least a little? The truth is quite the contray. Starvation rates dropped dramtically BEFORE the use of GE seeds from 1970 to 1990. But now that food production has turned to GE seed use, starvation rates have stagnated .
Since we have just reviewed reasons why GE food is not the answer to ending world hunger, the question becomes, why bother using GE at all? There are documented negative effects of GE seeds including health risks to humans and degradation of soil for future crops. So, again, if it is not helping world hunger and is in fact harmful, what really is "bullshit" here?