Recap and Response: GMOs: A Moral Imperative

by: Rensi Pua ’20

If you could multiply your income sixfold, how would your life change? This was the question Dr. Sarah Davidson Evanega, Director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, used to argue the case for GMOs. For those of us lucky enough, a sixfold increase means elevating our lives from comfort to excess. For a small farmer in Bangladesh, it means assured survival.

The Cornell Alliance for Science is an initiative based at Cornell University that seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life globally. Central to Dr. Evanega’s presentation is the controversial GMO narrative. The story starts with Mansur Sarkar, one of 20 farmers who pioneered Bt Brinjal, a genetically-engineered pest-resistant eggplant. Sarkar talks about how pest-resistance not only decreased his use of pesticides by 65-70% but also returned a crop yield larger than the traditional eggplant variety. These environmental and monetary gains from GMO technology benefit farmers like Sarkar and give them the opportunity to increase their income sixfold. However, not long after Sarkar’s story was published did anti-GMO group GMWatch publish an allegedly false story about Bangladeshi farmers abandoning the Bt Brinjal project. The Cornell Alliance for Science went on site to straighten out facts and found that about 27,000 farmers are actually benefiting from the project (see video here). Dr. Evanega further mentions that much of what’s on the internet has no scientific basis and is simply driven by fear-mongering.

Prof. Evanega discussing the significance of the use of GMOs in food security

So, what are the facts? Fact 1: Agriculture is under siege from factors such as climate change and fast-evolving pests and diseases. In fact, food production is falling behind and needs to increase by 70% to feed the world’s population by 2050. GMOs can increase production efficiency to ensure food security. Fact 2: GMOs can uplift farmers’ lives by ensuring their investments are protected from said detrimental factors. Fact 3: GMOs can decrease agriculture’s impact on the environment by reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, tilling and use of land space.

The controversy surrounding GMOs is not just a bourgeoisie issue but a matter of social justice when resistance comes from developed, well-fed countries far-removed from the ground. Anti-GMO advocates are hindering progress and preventing farmers from gaining access to scientific advancements that would change lives for the better, and ensure food security for all. The controversy becomes an issue of morality when viewed from these power dynamics.

So, the next time you go to the grocery and see a “GMO-free” stamp on a product, think about what it really means before purchasing – there’s more at stake than you think.