Editor's note: After we ran What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Nathanael Johnson's essay concluding his "Panic-Free GMOs" series, we heard from a lot of people who think that GMOs really do matter. We're publishing
three two responses: one from Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet; and -- to kick things off today -- one from Tom Philpott, whose work long graced these pages and who is now at Mother Jones. (We'd planned to run another response from Denise Caruso, author of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet but that piece did not materialize.)
Before I respond to Nathanael Johnson's assertion that the "stakes are so low" in the debate over GMOs, I want to address a smaller point. "The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms -- if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole," Johnson writes.
That's a good place to start: actually existing GMOs. What traits are on the market today, in use by farmers? First, I'll note that there's no shortage of land devoted to GMOs. Since the novel seeds hit the market in 1996, global GM crop acreage has expanded dramatically, reaching 420 million acres by 2012, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. That's a combined landmass more than four times larger than California. The pro-GMO ISAAA hails this expansion as "fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture."