As a champion for evolution and climate change, Bill Nye the Science Guy’s opinion about genetically modified (GM) food has been a point of contention with the scientific community for a long time.
Nye has never been aggressively anti-GMO, and when asked about their safety, his arguments carry more of a cautionary note than outright condemnation, but they aren’t as pro-GMO as many would expect. While most scientists think that approved GMO foods are safe, Nye is definitely the outlier.
In his book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation,” published in November, 2014, he has a pretty straight forward opinion about GMOs.
“If you’re asking me, we should stop introducing genes from one species into another,” Nye writes, because “we just can’t know what will happen to other species in that modified species’ ecosystem.”
During a Reddit AMA last year, Nye reiterated the point that he makes in his book and questioned if GMOs are really necessary at all:
I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem. Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better. So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.
Nye has taken a lot of flack from the science community about this opinion, and now he’s announced that he’s changed his tune.
In February, Nye spoke with Real Time’s Miles Leicher about his book “Undeniable,” and dropped the news that he is planning to revise the chapter on GMOs.
“I went to Monsanto and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there and I have revised my outlook and I am very excited about telling the world,” Nye said during the interview. “When you’re in love you want to tell the world.”
The problem with GMOs
Part of the problem with GMOs is that there’s a lot of confusion about what they actually are — because a lot of them are made in different ways.
Genetically modifying food can mean taking a gene from a fish and putting it in a tomato to keep it from freezing during the winter, or it can mean adding an extra gene that is dangerous to pests to be expressed in the leaves or roots of a crop, not the part that we actually eat. Or it could mean breeding apples to be bigger and redder or more resistant to pests.
But what’s important in the public discussion is that any GMO in the store has been fully safety tested and approved by, say, the USDA, EPA, and FDA in the US.
While there are some concerns about environmental impacts of some GMOs — like those that make them immune to pesticides — they have been proven to be safe to eat.
Even though the World Health Organisation has stated that all GM food on the market have been tested and approved, many Americans still question how safe they are.
A Pew Research Center poll in January showed that only a little over one-third of Americans think GM foods are safe to eat, while the majority of scientists think they are safe.
The problem with Monsanto
Robb Fraley, CEO of Monsanto — one of the world’s leading producers of GM seed — was pretty excited to tweet about Nye’s visit to the company:
Monsanto as an agriculture company has been vilified for decades, dating all the way back to its role in DDT pesticide and Agent Orange.
It’s been producing GM seed for years and in that time its become nothing short of the face of corporate evil to environmentalists and anti-GMO activists, for snapping up GM patents and supposedly suing farmers for reusing seeds.
Countless global protests have been launched against the company. Nye’s sudden 180 on his GMO policy after visiting the company has left many suspicious that this is just Monsanto up to no good again. Nye hasn’t elaborated on what made him change his mind or revealed exactly what his new opinion on GMOs is. He said the revised chapter will come out sometime this fall.
What’s really fascinating is that even Monsanto itself has been shying away from GM food and instead its been focusing on creating new technology to advance more natural breeding programs.
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