In the late 1980s, I had a friend who was a PhD student at UC Davis experimenting in genetically modified strawberries. I remember telling him it sounded like science fiction. He said he was doing it to help farmers.
Now, every time I bite into an unusually large, glowing strawberry, I wonder if my friend created it.
When it comes to modern food production, the question of what is real or not real is a tricky one. More to the point, if a product is altered, does that mean it’s always bad for you?
According to a group of protesters on Saturday at Main Beach in Laguna, the answer is emphatically yes. As part of a global March Against Monsanto, they were protesting the large American company for manufacturing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
With signs, slogans and chants, they carried their messages to a honking public.
But are all the pithy one-liners true? If you believed everything you saw Saturday, Monsanto’s “seeds of destruction” are killing our children, causing ecological disaster and probably contributing to global warming.
Seriously, the conspiracy theorists come out of the woodwork for protests like these. There was everyone from anti-war protestors to one woman who has a convoluted belief that Monsanto takes its orders from the United Nations.
Make no mistake: Monsanto has questionable business practices and is not easy to like. Its heavy-handed treatment of small farmers over seed patent lawsuits has been mind-boggling.
The $13.5-billion company, founded in 1901, is no stranger to controversy. It has created some very nasty chemicals over the years, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Agent Orange.
But the company is also credited as being the first to mass produce light emitting diodes (LEDs) along with making some amazing breakthroughs in biotechnology.
I am not a scientist, a doctor or a farmer. I barely know the difference between a GMO and an HMO. I try to eat healthy. That’s it.
So when I hear about “fake food,” I respond probably like most people do if given a choice: I’d rather eat real food over fake.
But the science is not so clear cut. In fact, experts say that 70% of items in grocery stores already contain GMOs, which is part of the reason it would be nearly impossible to label everything or turn everyone into macrobiotic farmers.
It reminds me of what happened several years ago when there was a “buy American” craze. No one could really tell what was made here — even so-called American cars.
Somewhere along the way in our desire to protest something, we’ve simplified and polarized issues into catchy, Facebook-ready pages that do little to educate or change minds.
We think that by generating a million likes or views we will somehow change the world.
Sure, we have the luxury of protesting freely. That’s great. Not all countries do.
But do you think people are truly swayed by a 6-year-old girl reading from a script about the hazards of Monsanto?
Clearly, protest movements have made remarkable changes in how we live, do business and improve the earth.
But I can’t help but also think back to my friend some 25 years ago when he told me that what he was doing would help revolutionize food production.
He was a conscientious scientist who was trying to figure out how to help farmers. I remember him saying, “It’s better than pesticides.”
We embrace many types of technology. Biotechnology is just one of them. So why should it be either-or with this one? It never is.
If we set aside the emotions for a minute, my guess is the truth is not perfectly in the middle, but it’s an assorted collection of uncomfortable, tested ideas.
It’s not feel-good quotes and all-natural politics.
It’s also not corporate jargon and sponsored science.
Unfortunately, most of the public is left to wonder what’s real and important, which is why I’m still eating butter instead of margarine.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.