Earlier this year, Bill Nye made a surprising move from anti-GMO (which stands for genetically modified organisms) to pro-GMO.
Around the same time, a political rally he attended only helped to convince him of his decision to switch stances. The rally was in New York City with an anti-GMO theme.
Nye recounts the memorable experience in his latest book “Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World,” which explores the many pitfalls of climate change and the numerous available technologies that could turn things around:
“When one speaker insisted that the US president Barack Obama was part of a conspiracy sponsored by large agriculture companies to control minds — and received a great many cheers — somehow that passionate man at the microphone crossed a line for me,” Nye writes.
For years, Nye had voiced his concerns against GMOs, saying that scientists could not possibly know how these novel organisms were going to impact the environment, food, and our bodies.
But he changed his tune after a fateful visit to Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri — one of the world’s leading GM seed manufacturers — and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University.
At both locations, Nye watched as scientists scanned and sequenced the genetic make-up of crops that they planned to modify. He also saw how that modification is performed.
“This is what changed my mind,” Nye told famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on his podcast series StarTalk Radio last July, “Being able to [sequence genes] 10 million times faster than they used to be able to do it … and being able to eliminate the ones not suitable for farming and susceptible to diseases and so on.”
The era of GM foods
Whether impassioned political rally speakers like it or not, the era of GM food is coming.
Farmers in developing countries like Bangladesh are growing pest-resistant crops to increase yield and keep many from the starvation they struggle with daily.
Moreover, a certain type of salmon engineered to grow larger, faster just became the first GM animal certified for US markets by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Eventually, Nye envisions GM foods that can be grown with less water, less land, and less fossil fuels for cultivation.
Such modifications are especially important in the face of a warming climate where “farms produce greater volume of more greenhouse gases than all of our cars, trucks, trains, ships, and aeroplanes, combined,” Nye writes in “Unstoppable.”
And if you’re anti-GMO like the people at the rally, Nye has some advice:
“I’m all for raising legitimate questions, but these people seem dot be woefully uninformed and obsessed with finding a scapegoat for what they perceive as society’s ills. I’m absolutely certain we cannot succeed by turning our back on technology.”
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