Proponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are attempting to hijack the marketplace of ideas for agriculture by casting anyone who questions their safety to the lunatic fringe. Interestingly, the same arguments in favor of GMOs bear a striking resemblance to the arguments in favor of the financial system before it collapsed in 2007. Unlike the financial system, however, GMOs carry the risk of harming the entire ecosystem.
Experts invoke what is known as the Precautionary Principle whenever a new product or process has unknown and potentially dangerous consequences. The maxim behind the Precautionary Principle is that any action with potentially adverse consequences should be avoided, except under a circumstance in which there is near scientific consensus that it is safe.
Violating the Precautionary Principle is the reason the financial system crashed in 2007, and will be the same reason GMOs decimate agriculture. Prior to the 2007 financial collapse, there was near ubiquitous agreement among analysts that the market was and would continue to be stable. They argued that the financial system resembled the restaurant market, where accidents stay localized and cannot bring down the entire system.
The risks of GMOs are greater than the risks of the financial market
As the financial system became more complex, the risk for consequences that could lead to global catastrophe increased. With enough time, the improbable will and did happen. The same reasoning holds true with respect to GMOs.
GMOs pose both a global and unknown threat. Whenever a product or process has a monopoly on the market, the failure of the former collapses the latter.
For example, the Earth is pelted with tiny asteroids every day, none of which pose much of a threat to Earth individually. On the other hand, if the Earth collided with a large enough asteroid, it could have rippling effects that devastate the entire planet.
By the same token, if GMOs lead to monoculture, it could collapse the entire industry as new and unforeseen consequences develop – that is why the financial system collapsed. Unlike a crack in the financial system, however, a crack in the GMO industry could develop into a spider web that shatters the earth.
The quest for truth
Prior to the 2007 collapse, those wary of the financial system were scoffed at as “anti-science”, since it went contrary to what the “consensus” believed. There are many problems with this reasoning. First, the scientific “consensus” that claims GMOs are safe is found nowhere but in the imagination of GMO lobbyists. Despite their widespread use, GMOs have a bad image in certain countries, like those in Europe, due to the environmental and health risks posed by these biotechnologies.
Second, 20th century science kindled a beautiful paradox about the nature of knowledge: A quest for a theory of everything cast doubts about whether we can know anything for certain. Scientific consensus never declares truth; science marches towards truth by recognizing what is false. It is only by questioning the consensus that real scientific progress is made.
Perhaps the silliest argument against GMO opponents is that the processes used to make GMOs are the same processes used IN agriculture for decades. Unlike traditional agriculture and an open free market, which are chiseled naturally from the ground up, GMOs are sculpted from the top down. The genes of one organism are mixed with another organism that could never naturally interbreed. It in no way resembles selecting or reactivating an existing trait in an organism’s genetic makeup.
The arguments in favor of GMOs and the financial system prior to its collapse are parallel in substance. If there is any wisdom GMO proponents can take from the 2007 financial collapse, it’s that history repeats itself.