Should We Be Worried About GMOs?

07 December 2017
by Simon Beard, Rachel Polfer

"After shaping life on earth for billions of years, evolution via natural selection is in decline and being replaced by intelligent design. For the last 12,000 years, the survival of species has been primarily determined by their usefulness, and vulnerability, to human beings. Now, finally, we have found a way to do away with even this vestige of our biological past and to design species from the top down, working out what traits are desirable and undesirable to us and genetically engineering organisms accordingly. How much should this worry us?

For many, the answer is “a lot.” For instance, Nassim Taleb has made dire warnings about the application of GMOs, arguing that they “represent a public risk of global harm” given their potential to produce unrecoverable losses or “ruin.” According to him this justifies a highly precautionary response of “avoid at all costs,” unless and until GMOs have been proven to be safe beyond doubt.

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Taking a precautionary approach to GMOs, therefore, risks going too far while simultaneously not going far enough. Not only does it overlook the potentially important benefits that GMOs can bring and the many ways that the risks they pose can be mitigated, but it also fails to acknowledge the real source of the systemic risks that we should be most concerned to avoid. A regulatory regime that emphasized the potential role that a GMO, or any novel organism, could come to play in wider systems, and reviewed the practices that would be involved in its cultivation, would be far more appropriate. This would allow for the development of safe and beneficial technologies while remaining alive to the risks they pose."

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