Dr. Frankenfood, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Tolerate GMOs

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Taking “apples to oranges” to its logical conclusion

Whole Foods is being hailed for their recent decision to start labeling all genetically-modified foods. We’ve been eating GMOs (the “O” stands for “organisms”) for a long time already, mostly without being aware of it, as they’re in most of our soybeans and corn supply. But with “labeling,” at least now if an Alien-like creature bursts out of our ribcage on account of some far-out tomato, no one can say that we weren’t warned.

Some GMO-labeling opponents, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, argue that there’s a substantial downside to it, because, despite our sci-fi “Frankenfood” fantasies, most GMOs entail modest manipulations, perhaps adding a single gene to prevent animal infections or to protect crops from herbicides. But sticking a GMO label on a vegetable will likely scare off many consumers. As Louis Finkel, the GMA (as opposed to GMO) executive director of government affairs said in a statement, “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk.” And as much as I hate agreeing with the side that coincides with the views of evil giants like Monsanto, in this regard the naysayers have a valid point.

Because if it’s one thing that we should be worried about, it’s that Americans tend to worry about all the wrong things.

Like sharks. Every year or so there’s a report of someone being attacked by a shark somewhere in the globe, and it instantly makes world-wide news, instigates world-wide panic and beach attendance thousands of miles away plummets, along with, doubtless, a rise in the sale of “anti-shark repellant.” Never mind, of course,  that the odds of being killed by a shark are 264 million to 1, and that you’re more than 3,000 times more likely to drown, which somehow doesn’t deter bathers from running into the ocean when there are no sharks.

Or take terrorism attacks. Or “home invasions” which lead to people keeping firearms in the home that are much more likely to cause injury from “friendly fire” than warding off an intruder. They’re sensational but they’re impossibly rare. On the other hand, we’re really good NOT being concerned about things we clearly should, like climate change.  When it comes to “odds,” the odds are that we get worked up into a froth about the least likely scenarios.

And then there’s food. Folks in Europe have been eating genetically-altered food for decades, and there’s yet to be any reports of human/pig hybrids being found. (Which didn’t prevent Republican Mississippi state representative William Tracy Arnold last month from proposing a ban on human-animal hybrids.)

Meanwhile, Americans happily devour food that may or may not be genetically altered, but is loaded with sugars, hormones, fats, trans-fats, preservatives, modifiers, insecticides, flavorings and occasionally, horse-meat, the cumulative effect of which includes an alarming rise in diabetes, and morbid obesity in our populace.  Agree or disagree with New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s now-thwarted attempt to ban the sale of large sugary drinks, he at least was talking about a demonstrable health risk, not one plucked from dystopian sci-fi novels.

Speaking of the morbidly obese, I was in Louisiana last year for a spell and encountered folks almost every day who might not technically be genetically modified, but who bore only passing resemblance to a normal human being.  We can get paranoid about GMO’s, but we don’t need science to alter us: we’re only too happy to do it to ourselves.

About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is www.stansinberg.com and you can email him at stan@stansinberg.com or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
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