Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains Why The Term “GMO” Is Misleading
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a man of many interests. Besides his fascination with how the universe operates, he’s actually quite interested in both food and wine. When it comes to food, though, there is one topic that Tyson is constantly addressing: GMOs. Most recently, he discussed genetically modified organisms with Dr. Pamela Ronald, a plant pathologist, geneticist, and professor at UC Davis, on his StarTalk podcast.
While the entire episode is certainly worth a listen, the video segment published by Mashable provides a concise look at GMOs from a food science perspective and why both Tyson and Ronald don’t necessarily agree with the arguments surrounding GMOs.
“We’ve been modifying organisms ever since the dawn of agriculture,” says Tyson in the clip. “There are no herds of wild milk cows wandering the countryside. We cultivated, or genetically changed, corn from whatever cavemen ate to these big ol’ sticks of corn that we now munch on. This is essentially true for every food in the grocery store.”
The big issue that the two scientists agree on is that the blanket term "GMO" has been politicized over the years and is too often associated with “genetically engineered” food, which has only been present for the past 40 years or so. Specifically, from Ronald’s perspective, “It’s not that we need so-called 'GMOs,' but we need to advance sustainable agriculture. Within those, we need ecologically-based farming practices, but we also need seed.”
According to Tyson and Ronald, all seed at this point has been modified through either selective breeding or crossing strains and the bigger problem facing American consumers might actually be ingesting pesticides (sprayed onto crops or sometimes even engineered into seeds) rather than genetically modified foods.
However, the safety of GMO's, regardless of their technical definition, remains hotly debated. More than half of the E.U. banned them outright (though that stance is softening on a case-by-case basis) and domestically, a GMO labeling law signed in 2016 requires companies to let consumers know when they're buying genetically modified goods (however, the new adminstration's policies may or may not allow it to come into fruition). We're guessing if Tyson had anything to say about it, those labels should be on nearly everything at the grocery store.