Are GMOs really that bad? A prominent environmental journalist takes a fresh look at what they actually mean for our food system and for us.
In the past two decades, GMOs have come to dominate the American diet. Advocates hail them as the future of food, an enhanced method of crop breeding that can help feed an ever-increasing global population and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Critics, meanwhile, call for their banishment, insisting GMOs were designed by overeager scientists and greedy corporations to bolster an industrial food system that forces us to rely on cheap, unhealthy, processed food so they can turn an easy profit. In response, health-conscious brands such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have started boasting that they are “GMO-free,” and companies like Monsanto have become villains in the eyes of average consumers.
Where can we turn for the truth? Are GMOs an astounding scientific breakthrough destined to end world hunger? Or are they simply a way for giant companies to control a problematic food system?
Environmental writer McKay Jenkins traveled across the country to answer these questions and discovered that the GMO controversy is more complicated than meets the eye. He interviewed dozens of people on all sides of the debate—scientists hoping to engineer new crops that could provide nutrients to people in the developing world, Hawaiian papaya farmers who credit GMOs with saving their livelihoods, and local farmers in Maryland who are redefining what it means to be “sustainable.” The result is a comprehensive, nuanced examination of the state of our food system and a much-needed guide for consumers to help them make more informed choices about what to eat for their next meal.
Jenkins (ContamiNation), a professor of English, journalism, and environmental humanities at the University of Delaware, outlines many of the arguments for and against genetically modified organisms in this accessible volume on global food supplies and everyday diets. He interviews "some of the world's great agricultural visionaries, some of whom take radically different approaches to the question of GMOs." He speaks with farmers "who think GMOs will help move the world closer to sustainability" and others who believe they will "accelerate our ecological demise." Jenkins divides his balanced discussion into three main sections. The first looks at the general safety of GMOs, how they are tested, and how they are labeled. The second section pinpoints instances where GMOs have affected specific communities either positively or negatively. Hawaii, for example, has seen its commercial papaya crops saved by genetic modifications to counter ringspot virus, yet many Hawaiians have battled multinational agrochemical companies to get full disclosure about the safety of chemicals sprayed on GM crops there. In the book's final section, Jenkins examines what the future might hold for various farming practices and systems, both domestically and abroad. Highlighting the pros and cons of this contentious topic, Jenkins gives conscientious readers plenty to chew on.