Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Test Tube Tomatoes

Those of you who read science journals on a regular basis have probably seen this study, which demonstrates that microRNAs from your food can end up in your bloodstream, and that miRNAs from your food can affect the way you process fats (and presumably other things, but LDLs were what the paper looked at). It's a long, highly technical paper (even for me) and like any good science paper, it raises more questions than it answers: can miRNAs from animals do the same thing? How much plant material does one have to ingest before miRNAs show up in your blood? I don't work with miRNA, so I don't have the expertise to say whether their conclusions were justified. But it is, literally, food for thought.

One thing the paper did not mention was genetically modified organisms. Yet, somehow, a writer decided the two must be linked, and consequently wrote up this non sequitur. Now, obviously, GMOs have miRNAs that can affect your body. SO DOES EVERY OTHER KIND OF FOOD. But apparently the threat of GMOs is so great that this bit of science, as new as it is, should be considered as proof that GMOs are dangerous.

Now, I maintain that GMOs are no different from your average, run-of-the-mill end result of selective breeding, and that given all of the weird things we do with food, a couple of new proteins is the least of our worries. It's strange, isn't it, that foodies worship Ferrian Adria and the things he does with food--vaporizing a tomato, things like that. Yet the moment someone says they modified something--genetically or otherwise (as if nature gives a sh*t where the gene comes from)--everybody freaks out about how dangerous it is and that this is "unknown territory".

But anyway, that's just me. The fact is that it doesn't really matter what I think--the EU forbids the sale of GMOs to consumers, and the use of such products in our consumer goods. And while I'm not entirely pro-GMO (I think the technology could use a lot more oversight in how it's implemented), I'm not rabidly against it. Like I said, we do weird things to food, and treat it as a gourmet item. Foie gras is the end result of a disease we induce in geese--and yet it's only available at the most upscale restaurants.

There is one thing worse than not enough funding for the sciences, and that is scaremongering by uneducated journalists with respect to the conclusions that can be drawn by the research they are writing about. It would have been fair to say that the findings of the paper mean that we will have to evaluate our relationship with food more carefully. It would even have been fair to speculate that Monsanto and other Big Agriculture corporations might have to re-evaluate their claims of total safety for GMOs. But to conclude that the research means that miRNAs in GMOs are different from that of regular food (which would not be the case--if they are different it is because they are introduced, and as far as I know nobody has done this with plants) and are therefore somehow more dangerous is extrapolating a step too far. Scaring people with the idea that Big Agriculture is somehow going to kill you with their mutant tomatoes is just plain irresponsible.

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