GMO food

The New York Times has a great article on the fight over banning GMO crops on the big island in Hawaii. It covers the science, the pseudoscience and the hysteria over what GMO food supplies might do to people and the environment.

This prompted me to revisit a blog post I wrote in 2007 on cloned cattle: FDA says cloned livestock is safe to eat. I had written:

    What happens when 10%, 20% or maybe even 50% of our beef comes from the same DNA “mother cow”, or possibly a small genetically similar group of cows? It seems like then it would just be a matter of time until a virus or bacteria strain crops up that has adapted to exploit some weakness of that cow, and then it spreads like wildfire throughout our cattle. But what if that virus was undetectable some how, and turned out to be the next Mad Cow Disease?

Reading that again I sound a little hysterical. To clarify, by “just a matter of time” I was thinking a span of decades or centuries. But I do still have the same concern and I haven’t heard anyone address it yet (at least not in any media sources I follow). If we dramatically decrease the genetic diversity of a crop (animal or plant) could that introduce a single point-of-failure on our food supply?

I’m not convinced there is a health risk with GMO food to a single consumer or group of consumers… but is there a risk to the industry producing that crop?

To illustrate, I will actually get a little hysterical: Imagine 50 years from now Golden Rice is a huge success and its being grown everywhere. It now makes up 99% of the world’s rice production. (The other 1% is non-GMO organic sold only at Whole Foods and other stores that only 1%’ers can afford to shop at ;). So basically all of the world’s rice is now genetically very similar. Now imagine there is a random mutation in a pathogen that effects rice (like RGSV — Rice Grassy Stunt Virus), and this mutation effects Golden Rice particularly bad. Because there is so little genetic diversity the virus could probably rip through the world’s rice fields faster than we could control it. This would be an economic and human disaster.

This is probably a far-fetched scenario, but it is my one concern with GMO crop production.

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