Who's to Blame?

Genetically modified organisms, which we passively, lovingly or disdainfully refer to as GMO, elicit all kinds of responses. A polarizing topic if ever there was one. Widely associated with Monsanto - among the public's most hated corporations the world over - we don't know if we should hate or be scared of GMO.
The fields planted with GMO crops expanded rapidly over the past 20 years. While technology was virtually absent from the agricultural landscape in 1995, there were more than 160 million hectares of genetically modified crops in 2012. However, almost all GMO1 are grown on the American continent (see graph). Their presence is much more discreet on other continents where they are either vilified or perceived as a miracle solution. Largely missing from the European continent, GMO have made a cautious breakthrough in India and China, but big enough to stir anti-GMO lobbyists, who are also active in this corner of the world. To such a point that we can legitimately ask ourselves how successful they will be in establishing roots.

Although crop yields need to critically increase in several territories, such as Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, GMO are far from being a sure thing in these areas. In fact, many people see a paradox, a disappointing victory of ideology over science. Such is the opinion expressed by The Economist, the highly respected weekly publication, which fervently declared "GMO opponents are the climate skeptics of the left." A rather condescending approach wouldn't you agree? At least their position is clear.

Meanwhile, the actual use of GMO is the topic of debate in many countries, but in the U.S., it's how these products are labelled that is reason for concern. In fact, several states adopted regulations that require mandatory identification of GMO. These laws are often conditional to neighbouring states adopting similar regulations. Vermont, however, is the exception: A lone horseman, for better or worse. A long legal battle with eventually decide the legislative fate of this issue.

Mandatory labelling of GMO may seem appealing, at first. Figures show that 93% of Americans are for GMO labelling. No kidding! Who could be against such a proposal? However, its systematic implementation would be detrimental. Without this kind of regulation, gaps in the competition will undoubtedly become apparent because products circulated freely from one state to the other. Furthermore, the costs involved would undeniably reflect on the price of these products unless such products are identified by a bland and inconclusive "May contain GMO" label.

For thousands of agricultural producers, GMO are intimately connected to the growth of their business. For the scientific community, who widely concur, they are an essential tool in the fight against world hunger, as well as encouraging a more judicious use of pesticides. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the GMO opponents who often justify their position through the use of ethical arguments related to patenting the living, and totally disregard the innumerable studies that demonstrate the lack of danger to human health. Maybe through a more open discussion on the subject we can eradicate a few myths. In the end, maybe GMO promoters are to blame, Mea culpa.

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