I’m a vegan, which means I don’t eat meat, eggs, or dairy. It’s a philosophical stance, since I believe it’s wrong to butcher sentient beings for food. I’m also a scientist. I studied genetics in college, and now I help build and fund biotech start-ups. I work in downtown San Francisco and live in Oakland (which I love).
Living here in the Bay Area, I see a lot of confusion about genetically modified foods. For instance, some people think that if you eat non-GMO produce, it means you’re eating natural, but that’s wrong (fancy scientists would call this thinking the “naturalistic fallacy”).
Almost nothing you or I eat is actually natural. Our ancestors have been selectively breeding plants for at least 20,000 years, and in that time, they’ve developed most of the foods we know, love, and eat today. I hate to be the one to say it, but our food is almost all artificial—the corn you eat, the bananas you enjoy, even your broccoli and cauliflower. None of those foods is natural; they were altered by our ancestors.
And no, eating a Paleo diet does not get you closer to how we evolved to eat. The cows you eat today aren’t bison, and those pigs aren’t boars. Look again (and watch your cholesterol). Primates don’t eat that much meat!
Even more importantly, the practice of agriculture is also unnatural. Those organic apples you love are made from clones, grown artificially in fields that are artificially irrigated and artificially treated with biopesticides to prevent the destruction of crops by insects. In fact, the same genes that are inserted into GMO corn, an insecticide called Bt, is sprayed on your organic apples. It’s the exact same biopesticide. Think about that for a second, and then do a double take the next time you hear or read organic marketing materials. I repeat: it’s the same thing. Look it up!
Remember those biblical plagues of locusts and the famines that followed? Where did they go? That’s right—science and modern agriculture eradicated them (for now). If we were to grow food naturally, the organic produce wouldn’t even last one growing cycle—the plants would just be sticks in a field.
So why are so many people anti-GMO? Is it because the food is toxic? No, there’s no substantive data to support this perception, and no, you should not believe any of those sketchy blog sources with conspiracy theories. The reality of it is, if you believe climate change is real because of the overwhelming data, then why wouldn’t you believe GMOs are safe due to the overwhelming data in support of them? I’d encourage you to dive deeper into the science, specifically a scientific paper published in 2013 that reviewed 10 years of scientific data and peer-reviewed published papers about the safety of GMO crops and found that “scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE [genetically engineered] crops.” That is, GMO crops are safe!
“Ahh,” you’re thinking, “but the EU has banned GMOs. Gotcha!”
The EU’s GMO ban is nothing but a political smoke screen. In reality, the EU eats a ton of GMO products. Take cheese, for instance. Do you love your British Cheddar? If so, you’re eating a GMO—microbially derived rennet, an enzyme needed for cheese production in the vast majority of cheeses. If we were to get this enzyme naturally, it would come from the stomachs of dead calves (no joke). As a result of the GMO rennet, cheese is now vegetarian and a lot less gross (once you know how it’s made). So the anti-GMO posture of the EU is mostly just political theater.
So why, specifically, am I a pro-GMO vegan? Because I believe that mindfulness, knowledge, and science are more important than political games. I am against the use of sentient beings in the production of our food, and I think we can use science to give everyone what they want—milk, cheese, eggs, and even real meat—without harming animals.
My hope and aim through my work and the work of others is that one day (in a few years), you’ll all be pro-GMO vegans. Even if you keep eating steak, one day it will be lab grown, rather than sourced from suffering animals in cages—and that will be just fine by me. I might even have a few bites. Yep, real vegan steak. Ponder that for a while!