No soup for you

posted in: Commentary | 129

Close your eyes for a minute (after this paragraph) and think about the technology you have around your house. Maybe your TV, DVD player, your smartphone, your tablet. Maybe you like the way it works. But could it be better? Could it be safer? Could it be more environmentally friendly? Would a new OS provide new features?

What if researchers and engineers worked for years and years on a way to improve your favorite products, but other people tried to keep it away from you? Blocked your upgrade to the new OS. What if the researchers added benefits for you–the consumer–that delivered better features for many things you cared about: saving resources and energy which would be better for the environment. Maybe they reduced one of the chemicals in this product, to reduce the potential to cause cancer. Perhaps it was a feature that would reduce waste. Maybe it’s a product you enjoy now, but would disappear due to forces beyond your control unless engineering is done. Of course, I’m talking about food technology – not your smartphone. But the concept is the same.

No GMO for you!Some people think you shouldn’t be allowed to even try this new stuff. They work really hard to keep it out of the stores so it won’t be available to you. They make sure you don’t even have the option to try it. And unfortunately, in some cases they are succeeding.

That’s right. There no salmon soup for you* from many retailers. No potato soup for you (or, in this case, fries, at McDonalds). No apple soup for you. No orange soup for you. Oh, and if you are a shopper at Whole Foods, no Chobani for you either.

Activists are celebrating their victory in keeping these foods away from you. Yes, I know you understand the environmental and health benefits. I know you would like to see food waste reduced. But they don’t want you to have the products to use. (While, simultaneously, they tell us they must have labels to have – wait for it – choice. But no choice for you?)

They are keeping the faster growing salmon from you – salmon grown in inland tanks that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch classifies as a “Best Choice” for the environmental benefits of that type of system, is this their idea of victory? I don’t eat seafood myself, but this product is of great interest to my cat. And as much as I like my cat, I really don’t think we need to harvest the wild stocks in the ocean for her dining pleasure.

Why are they trying to prevent you from having foods with less acrylamide such as is produced in fried potatoes? What, do they want you to have acrylamide in your fries?

Frank photobombs an anti-GMO protest in Chicago, 2013. Credit: KJHvM

How about an apple that doesn’t brown when cut – not because it has any new genes, but because one gene was turned down – no, you can’t have it. Sure, your kids might like apple slices better and eat more fruit because of that. It may have improved nutrition value. It might mean fewer apples are wasted because of discoloration. But others, including  Friends of the Earth, petition writers at, and OCA know better than you, and they want to make sure your access is prevented.

I’ve also been watching as activists work to try to ensure that the city of Los Angeles bans the sale of GMOs. What if one day soon people would like to put some GMO citrus in their backyard? Do they realize that the first case of the citrus greening identified in California came from a SoCal backyard gardener?

A graft of pomelo — a symbol of good fortune and prosperity in many Asian cultures — was the likely source of the state’s first documented case of huanglongbing, a citrus disease with no known cure, say researchers involved in the investigation. The suspected plant shoot, or budwood, was passed freely among San Gabriel Valley church friends who loved to garden and experiment with hybridization, according to residents.

So soon all their home-grown citrus could be destroyed–but the potentially resistant trees would be prevented from being sold. It may happen in Florida too:

But home growers, where all of the current identified cases in Santa Rosa County were discovered, may be less aware of the risks.

No citrus soup for you, either. Your kids want to have a lemonade stand from your backyard tree, and you will have to explain why it is dying and can’t be replaced.

Some people in Hawai’i today are actually trying to take away the GMO papaya that the farmers depend upon. Credit: KJHvM

It seems to me that the activists are running the tables at this point. It’s a pretty shrewd strategy to do it before people know about these products, or understand the benefits. And they have the advantage of looking like they are battling the big scary corporations, but what they aren’t telling you is that you are really the target of these messages now. Because if you liked and wanted these products, it would be much harder to control. If consumers demanded even one genetically engineered food, the game would be lost.

Already we know that other great projects have never made it to the public in part because of the regulatory barriers that they’ve erected based on fearmongering. A tomato that could reduce chemical spraying is not available. Onions that don’t make you cry. Plants that could use phosphorus more efficiently. Of course, there’s the wheat that was physically destroyed by Greenpeace too: one that offered potential health benefits and one that used nitrogen more efficiently.

There are other products we haven’t seen yet. I continue to yearn for the GMO peanut that will knock out the allergens. Now, just because I’m allergic to peanuts doesn’t make me want to keep anyone else from eating them. But the philosophical opposition to genetic engineering could mean they keep this valuable product from me. And worse – this is a product that could save lives. Think of the children in daycare centers who can’t bring peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch because the allergenic peanut is banned from them. We could change that.

I’m sure everyone knows already that they are trying really hard to keep vitamin-enriched Golden Rice away from kids who seriously need this nutrition. Are we gonna let them keep this away from kids? Really?

I’ve had just about enough of these activists pushing these products away from me. But I also think you deserve the option to try them too. And, more importantly, I’m quite certain kids at risk of blindness should have access to Golden Rice. In fact, one Nobel Prize winner recently said:

Describing the protest by “green” parties in Europe against GM crops as a “crime against humanity,” he [Richard Roberts] particularly drew attention to the project to produce a GM rice variety for tackling the problem of Vitamin A deficiency in India and other countries.

“The green parties are playing politics. About one-and-a-half [million] to two million children are affected by Vitamin A deficiency. It’s a crime against humanity … If I can get support from a philanthropist, I will file a case in the international court of justice.’’

Frank wants to break the filibuster at the U.S. Capitol, Credit: KJHvM

Ok, preventing access to my allergen-free peanut might not rise to the level of a crime against humanity. But how long are we gonna let these shouty and misinformed people keep us from having access to products with health, nutrition, and environmental benefits without telling them it’s not OK?

We need to work harder on spreading the word about the benefits. In times of increasing population combined with  additional risks to food sources from climate change effects, we can’t let them filibuster this, we can’t let them decide what tools we’ll be allowed to have or not have. It’s time to break the filibuster they are running – it can be done. The alternative is that someday there will be no soup for you.

* Editor’s note: Just in case any of our reader’s aren’t sure what Mary’s talking about with the soup references, she is referring to a TV show called Seinfeld. In one episode of the show, a vendor of delicious soup refused to sell to certain people if he thought they weren’t worthy.

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Mary Mangan PhD is a genomics scientist, with credentials in microbiology, immunology, plant cell biology, and mammalian cell, developmental, and molecular biology. All comments here are my own, and do not represent my company or any other company.