14 Year Old GMO Activist or Pawn?
A video is going viral around social media right now. People are treating it as if it happened last week, but in fact it happened nearly a year ago. The topic? A fourteen year old anti-GMO activist (Rachel Parent) takes on Kevin O’Leary of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange on the great GMO debate.
Before I get into the video, I want to talk about what exactly the GMO debate is about. People are hearing the controversy, but not really understanding what it is. My own husband (when I was talking to him about my thoughts on the video) said that he has heard of GMOs, knows it’s a hot-button issue, and yet has no idea what exactly it’s all about.
We don’t take the news broadcasts as seriously as we use to. They are bombarding us with “huge issues” and we can’t very well research them all to see how we feel about them. Instead, we just tune them out.
What are GMOs?
GMOs are genetically modified organisms. Often you will hear the description that they are modified with bacteria, viruses, animal DNA, and plant DNA. While that is a true description, that covers any genetically modified organism. What about just genetically modified food? Foods are typically modified using the DNA of other plants. A little less scary than thinking of foods being modified with bacteria and viruses, right? These modifications are made to create food for insect resistance, fungal resistance, viral resistance, herbicide resistance, improved nutritional content and improved storage abilities.
How is this different from hybrid plants? Hybrid plants are crossed to create a plant with certain desired traits. This practice is somewhat limiting in the ability to truly alter the plant.
When did scientists start playing with food?
Science playing a part in the foods we eat is nothing new. Thousands of years ago people discovered that yeasts could create fermented beverages (ironically, this discovery was not made by the Irish or the Scottish). Later, in 1871, scientist Louis Pasteur discovered that heating fluids to a certain temperature would kill of bad bacteria. Recognize the name? We call his methods pasteurization. The modifying of plant DNA started in 1946 with the first ever modified plant being in 1983. The FDA quickly approved sale of this tomato plant to the United States. Since that time, many new plants have been created from DNA modification. As of 2013, approximately 91% of soybeans, 88% of cotton and 85% of corn in the U.S. is modified.
What about other countries?
More than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the E.U. (European Union) are putting restrictions on GMOs or in some cases, outright bans. Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg have gone so far as to adopt a Safeguard Clause meaning they can restrict or prohibit the use and sale of GMO foods in their territories.
The Viral Video
In June of 2013, anti-GMO activist Rachel Parent called out Kevin O’Leary during a protest. Her drive was a comment made by O’Leary during an episode of Lang & O’Leary’s Exchange where he was singing the praises of GM foods because of the increase of crops in struggling countries. When asked questioned about his concern for health effects from these foods he had
an answer for those people [who worry about negative health effects]. Stop eating. That’s the solution. Then we can get rid of them.
O’Leary is known for poking sleeping bears. Tact is not his strong suit. Honestly, if he was not as crass as he is, he wouldn’t be where he is today. His job is to flare tempers. Well, Rachel was sufficiently flared. He invited her onto the show. Here’s how it went:
People are singing her praises with post and video headings saying she beats him, educates him, and even publicly embarrasses him. I’m just not seeing it.
This is only my opinion: She is a bright and articulate girl. She pushes for mandatory labeling, intensive long-term testing and educating youth on GMOs. That is awesome. She does not, however, answer his question regarding modifying foods. When she eludes to an answer, it’s not consistent. She states:
I know it sounds radical, but yes, I am against genetically modifying our food.
Not even two minutes later she says:
Actually, I’m totally fine and that’s completely somebody’s decision whether they want to eat GMOs or not… They can keep growing it. That’s totally fine.
Her constant referring back to labeling and testing makes me wonder, is she truly an activist for the cause or has she become a pawn for a movement that she maybe doesn’t fully understand?
Food for Thought
I think Amanda Lang asked some great questions of Parent. I’d like to direct those same questions to you. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but it gave me some great food for thought. I’d love to hear your take.
Is there a place for science in the food industry?
What would ideal testing look like?
Do you think full transparency and labeling would make us immune to the label of “Contains GMOs”?
Do you feel “forced” to eat GM foods because of lack of alternatives here in the U.S.?
If you are interested in seeing the documentary created by O’Leary’s daughter, it can be seen here.