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Don't be afraid, it's just genetically modified food

Is advanced agricultural cultivation a risky bet or a safe way to achieve food security? Dr. Shay Fleishon explains why genetic engineering is the best choice among the other bad alternatives

Graffiti in New York against genetically modified food. Photo: hikinghillman / flickr.
Graffiti in New York against genetically modified food. photograph: hikinghillman / flickr.

By Maya Falah, Angle - news agency for science and the environment

The world's population is growing at a rapid rate. More and more people are moving from rural areas where they are engaged in agriculture to cities and other occupations. This combination makes it increasingly difficult to provide enough food for 7.4 billion people worldwide. This challenge will only intensify over the years, because these two trends are on a constant rise that is not expected to stop.

"The need to produce agricultural crops in quantities sufficient to feed humanity causes agricultural researchers in many countries around the world to focus on different methods of agricultural cultivation: external intervention and manipulation of seeds aimed at ensuring more crops, which will also be more durable and even have a more attractive appearance," explains Dr. Shai Fleishon, agronomist on behalf of the Faculty of Agriculture at the Weizmann Institute andinterface associate In the Ministry of Economy in the Environment and Sustainable Development Administration.

One of these methods is genetic engineering (GMO), which is presented as a serious environmental and health problem by various organizations - the Greenpeace organization, for example, has previously launched a campaign demanding the labeling of products that have undergone genetic engineering, similar to the practice in other countries such as the USA and some European countries. In Israel, by the way, genetic engineering is currently prohibited for use in agricultural crops.

Although genetic engineering is not without certain environmental problems, from a health point of view it has not been proven to date that there is a danger in it. American Health Organization וEuropean Academy of Sciences They even state that the method is safe to use and that there is no special risk in consuming genetically modified products compared to other food products. So why has genetic engineering in plants received such bad public relations?

The field is not nature

"Today we have no choice but to use methods of agricultural cultivation to provide food for the entire world's population - this is an axiom on which there is almost no dispute today, both among scientists and among many farmers," Fleishon explains. "Global warming causes soil salinization in Africa, the spread of diseases and the proliferation of various pests, and makes it even more difficult to supply food to create food security in different parts of the world."

Genetically modified crops, for example, helped in the years 1996-2012 to reduce the spraying of agricultural crops in the US with pesticides by 583 million kg of spraying (which is 18.5 percent of the use of pesticides in the US); They also yielded Profits of 150 billion dollarsin direct income to farmers around the world in these years.

"You have to understand that a field is not nature - it is a product of man, which can even be said to be contrary to nature: to grow only one variety of plants on a piece of land and try to prevent the entry of insects is not the existence of an ecosystem - but rather a loss of habitats," says Fleishon . "The field may be seen as romantic - as a beautiful and pastoral thing - but you have to remember that it is about as natural as concrete. "We have to remember that the vegetables and fruits we eat today are also not the product of nature in their current form, but of thousands of years of cultivation and genetic improvement by man," he says. Thousands of years of artificial hybridization by man between fruits and vegetables produced the varieties we know today; In fact, if you were to meet the tomato, cucumber, banana and eggplant in their original form, You probably wouldn't recognize them".

A farmer works in a corn field in the US. "The field may be seen as a beautiful and pastoral thing, but you have to remember that it is about as natural as concrete," says Dr. Fleishon. Source: US Department of Agriculture.
A farmer works in a corn field in the USA. "The field may be seen as a beautiful and pastoral thing, but you have to remember that it is about as natural as concrete," says Dr. Fleishon. source: US Department of Agriculture.

"Environmentally, our goal is for as few natural areas as possible to become agricultural land - so that we don't have to cut down forests, for example, and occupy additional areas that could be designated for development as well as nature conservation," he adds. "Therefore, we need to utilize the existing agricultural areas as much as possible. The fields should be full and produce as many crops as possible, therefore we must continue cultivating and improving the crops themselves.'

The trend that Fleishon talks about becomes even more fundamental when you understand that the trend of animal protein consumption in the world - especially in Third World countries, such as China and India - is increasing, and is even expected to increase by tens of percent over the next few years: "In order to produce a calorie from meat, it is necessary to first produce a much more significant amount of calories of grain, to feed the animals. That is, if you ate 1,000 calories of meat - you eliminated a field of vegetables that you would not eat for a long time. Eating meat is an environmental disaster in this respect: the more meat we eat, the more we will have to increase the amount of agricultural crops we grow to feed the animals for the animal food industry. It is simply impossible to provide such consumption without the use of agricultural cultivation methods. If we leave the system completely dependent on nature, its output will be low - and it simply will not be able to satisfy the needs of the population."


According to Fleishon, the main advantage of genetic engineering over other cultivation methods - such as mutagenesis and the use of radioactive radiation, which for some reason are seldom mentioned in the media - is that with this method the cultivator knows exactly what change he is making in the fruit or vegetable, and exactly where this change is located. "The DNA is like a recipe book - each gene is a recipe, and there are systems in the cell that turn this gene into a feature that is expressed in the organism," Fleishon explains. "The cell also has a system that knows how to identify foreign DNA, a sort of 'elimination list'. For example, there is a disease that affects the cassava plant in Africa in recent years and causes severe damage. What they did in the engineering of the cassava is to add to its 'elimination list' the virus of the new disease that affects it, so that the cell sees it as a foreign body that must be destroyed. In this way, the plant becomes resistant to the disease."

"Genetic engineering is the safest method to do this without harming other properties of the plant," Fleishon adds, the "recipe book" of the cassava consisted of a billion letters and after adding the change it contained one billion and five thousand letters. All in all, they added a recipe in an exact location - between recipe number 25 and number 26. They did not cancel any feature, the only change is that they created a distance between the recipes, and now it will take longer to get from 25 to 26. True, it is a change, but this change is negligible compared to what happens in other agricultural methods."

"In other cultivation methods that are used today, the DNA is literally broken into pieces," says Fleishon. " One such method that is used today is the use of radioactive radiation: a radioactive reactor is placed in the middle of the field and the DNA of the fruit or vegetable is changed using radiation. Of course, with this method, you don't know what exactly is going to happen - the change is random, and out of 1,000 peppers, you choose the one pepper that happens to be good. Another method that is common today is a method called mutagenesis, where a chemical is taken and injected into the DNA, where it disrupts a million different letters - like spelling errors in a book. When you put the gene in the right place, you know how to control that the mutation will be positive and not random - this is genetic engineering. With the other methods, we look for where a good spelling error came out at random, out of a lot of bad errors."

genetically modified rice. Source: BASF / flickr.
genetically modified rice. source: BASF/flickr.

Engineering and a thorn in it

Of course, not everything is positive and optimistic. Fleishon also admits that genetic engineering has its flaws, which are actually related to the effects on the environment. One of the claims against genetic engineering is that it causes overuse of herbicides: the herbicide-resistant gene causes the use of more pesticides, because as soon as the plant is not at risk from the herbicide, the farmer is less careful and sprays more, and the fear is the creation of weed varieties that are resistant to the herbicide. "The solution to this could be the use of a different herbicide every year," says Fleishon, "this is a problem that exists not only in genetic engineering - when a farmer sprays with the same spraying agent over and over again, even regardless of the engineering, there are plants that may develop resistance."

Another concern that exists in the use of genetic engineering is the spillover of treated genes from the field into nature. This is a concern that exists in all cultivation methods, but in genetic engineering it is slightly higher. Flyshion has an answer for this as well: "Precisely in genetic engineering, mechanisms have been developed that know how to deal with this: an American corporation has developed a gene that guarantees that seeds in which the gene was implanted will indeed be able to reproduce, but their 'offspring' will be sterile." In this way - even if the seeds find their way into nature, there is no danger that the garden could spread outside the field. This garden was banned for use, as the farmers objected to buying seeds that cannot produce continuity. Seemingly, since a farmer who buys seeds from the corporation signs a contract that allows him to use the seeds for only one sowing cycle, this is a meaningless step, the only result of which is that nature is now not protected from the introduction of foreign genes into it. When used correctly, the logical thing to do would be to oblige every company that uses cultivation methods to use this mechanism, thus solving one of the significant environmental problems that accompany agricultural cultivation.'

"We don't have many choices, but to use methods of agricultural cultivation and 'interfere with nature,'" Fleishon concludes. "We have to nurture plants, because we don't want to cut down the rainforests to feed the world. We don't want to pollute the soils and groundwater with more and more chemicals. We want to be able to fight diseases and pests genetically - for the plant to be resistant to them, so that we can spray less. All this requires intervention. The trick is to do it in a way that causes the least damage.'

18 תגובות

  1. Hey, I've never seen a smile like that before (Lala) Someone like you must hear it a lot hahahahaha and there's no way I'm going out here alone (Lala) almost

  2. Nitzan, if the world acted according to the morals I described at least there would be some morality, right now the world works mainly according to the interests of those in power, where the line will be drawn is a problem that is currently too hypothetical to worry about.
    The reason for engineering more resistant crops is necessarily only for the benefit of those in power, which are the corporations that engineer them and the governments that stand behind them, after all, if it weren't for the population growth in the developing countries, there would not be an urgent need for this, the western world would not really lack food. Governments are constantly interfering in the affairs of other countries with such and such methods and with the help of financial incentives (and bribes) and if they wanted to and invested resources they could have an impact in such a way that would reduce the birth rate in the poor countries, but this is not happening because they are not interested in it. On the other hand, if a state forces its citizens to reduce the number of births, they will intervene under the pretext of infringing on individual freedom.
    The hypothetical example with Trump also already exists, but in relation to Jews in general and not from Trump's side. In the past on the part of the Nazis but also today on the part of the Palestinians and the power figures from the Arab world who manage to easily convince the convinced in Europe and tilt the supposedly neutral body called the UN in their favor in an open and demonstrable way.

  3. my father
    And again - defamation that stems from lack of knowledge...
    Genetic engineering in agriculture is mainly developed to improve crops of "cheap" agriculture. One of the main goals is to reduce the use of pesticides.
    The "rich" actually invest in human improvement and "organic" agriculture.
    And you - as usual - slander...

  4. Everything in theory is fine and dandy, but the facts show that modern agriculture and genetic engineering is not at all concerned with providing food for all the inhabitants of the world, but is concerned with the development of luxury products for the residents of the rich countries and financial profits for the farmers of the rich countries.
    Companies that engage in agriculture are getting rich, the farmers are getting richer, the residents of the rich countries are getting exotic fruits and beautiful and perfect produce, while in third world countries they continue to starve.
    The expected damage from genetic engineering is a very long-term damage, so in the short term we will continue to celebrate.

  5. For Danny, the question is who decides and where the line is drawn.
    In a world that operates according to the moral principles that you and Doron describe, then whoever has the power decides according to their narrow interest. That is, if Trump suddenly decides that without the Jewish state there will be fewer wars in the world, then it is fine to destroy it because in the long run it will be a more peaceful world. Just like your example with the city of Daesh.

    Or, that Doron who has a good excuse why he can keep giving birth without a break but the rest of the world must stop the rampage; Talk to the average Trump supporter and they'll give you a hundred equally good excuses why Doron should be sterilized at best or turned into fish food at worst. Suppose you are objective, which one is right?

    I say that the biggest chance for us and our child to live in a better world is if there is uniform morality and law everywhere. From the leaders, through the foreign workers to those who are neither from here nor from here.
    You threw a stone at a policeman - your law is the same if you wear a kippah and if you are an Arab. You threaten, harass, murder - you will pay for it according to the law.
    In the same way, your city has been taken over by an illegal organization - we will do everything to harm only the people of the organization and not you.

    Finally, take a good look at the issue of the concentration camps that you brought up and you will see that it is a different moral problem, and even those who had the power to decide, decided not to destroy them.

  6. Nitzan, you are right that we would not have moved to Russia, but you also fell into the pit of generalization... The fact that Putin did some good things that are worth learning from does not mean that he is righteous or that an example should be taken from him in every field.
    If we take to the extreme a case where someone like Putin would have stood up from scratch and completely wiped out the first city Daesh captured, it would have stopped there. Although it is brutal, it would have resulted in far fewer deaths and injuries than there actually were after a few years of allowing them to exist and spread to large areas as a result of the sleight of hand of the West.
    In my opinion, it is more moral to destroy one city than millions of victims later as a result of not doing anything. Attaching the "enlightened" tag to those who think the opposite and prefer the option of doing nothing or only helping refugees (which is a mockery of Resh) is a kind of self-delusion that may be more convenient but certainly not more moral.
    This is similar to the argument that it would have been better not to bomb the concentration camps in order not to harm the Jews who are there or not to remove a limb with necrosis even though it is known that the whole body will be harmed.

  7. Why am I tired?
    What you define as fair is in fact to determine the demographic reality in its current form but ignores that it arose from an unequal reality of occupation (I mean the Arab occupation of Southwest Asia and North Africa) that violated the demographic balance between the peoples of the region. It amazes me that there are people who support affirmative action in Israel of Arabs over Jews based on narrow historical evidence of the past decades and when if we look at the history of the past hundreds of years it is clear as day that affirmative action should be done in the opposite direction. So yes, I support birth control and yes, I support that you do it to other peoples but not to my people and yes, it is not egalitarian between different population groups - just like history differentiated between the demography of different population groups.

  8. Sometimes the dangers are not visible at first glance. For example, Moon's genetically modified corn... and the huge lawsuits against farmers for patent theft because they grew some such stalks in their field. The destruction of a large part of the corn crop in the USA because all the plants were the same and the same pest therefore affected them all. Why feed animals plants? Immediately produce recombinant genes for cow's proteins in potatoes and you will get a steak with potatoes in one fell swoop, after all there have been plants with animal genes in laboratories for decades. The plants with firefly genes that glow in the dark are one example. In the end there will be someone who will produce without supervision in North Korea or China. This progress cannot be stopped. The future will be interesting.

  9. Refined rough…
    My father said this and you don't listen because of a lack of understanding: "Wherever the standard of living has increased, the birth rate has also decreased, without any forced planning."

    Do you think birth planning in China worked? Please tell the 13 million (!) people who were born "outside the law" - they are not citizens and do not have any fundamental rights. For example - they don't get an education (they aren't allowed to go to school) and they don't get medical treatment, and of course no one hires them. And add to that - their children are also not considered citizens and so on...

    The most dangerous is an ignorant racist

  10. My father said this and you don't listen because of stupidity: "Wherever the standard of living has increased, the birth rate has also decreased, without any forced planning."

    Do you think birth planning in China worked? Please tell the 13 million (!) people who were born "outside the law" - they are not citizens and do not have any fundamental rights. For example - they don't get an education (they aren't allowed to go to school) and they don't get medical treatment, and of course no one hires them. And add to that - their children are also not considered citizens and so on...

    The most dangerous is a totem racist 🙂 🙂

  11. For Doron, it's enough to be bored.

    Danny, I don't have a problem with birth control either, I have a problem with those who support birth control but not them.

    And in the matter of Putin - all (sorry, a significant part of - we the enlightened do not generalize) the immoral who glorify the corrupt murderer and on the way despise the "enlightened" would move without a second thought to live in Australia, for example, but to Russia? I'll leave the answer to you (assuming you don't lie to yourself)

  12. All the "enlightened" Westerners who would cluck their tongues against birth control as a "racist" idea or a violation of human rights would not be willing to give up their comfortable position at the top of the pyramid if one day all the cheap workers suddenly disappeared and every product or service they receive cheaply today would become significantly more expensive so that they themselves would become poor. So even though they "contribute" to the poor, supposedly take care of their rights and try to produce cheap food and medicine for them, God forbid they don't die of AIDS, it's all so that there won't be a shortage of slaves, God forbid...
    The West has degenerated from an excess of morality and has reached a state of inability/willingness to act.
    It is no wonder that only Putin was able to deal with Daesh and China, which was able to successfully implement birth control, is actually developing and becoming an economic power.

  13. To Doron, I agree with every word. I also think that childbirth should be limited for everyone except me (and maybe a few others that I approve of).

    Racism is great - as long as you're on the strong side

  14. The same excuse over and over again - genetic engineering so that the world's population can be fed.
    As much as this is true (and it is not so true at least today that genetic engineering is used not to increase productivity but to fight pests) it does not solve the real problem which is overpopulation in the world, let's say if genetic engineering could double the productivity, we would think that the danger of world hunger has passed and we continue as usual until the population is doubled and then we will return to the starting point with all the consequences of genetic engineering and the doubling of the population.
    The solution is to limit the birth rate, but the solution must be done with sensitivity towards ethnic groups that have experienced "birth discrimination" in the past, i.e. nations that have undergone genocide, such as the Samaritan Jews and indigenous peoples in the Southwest Asian region, will not have a birth rate limit applied, while nations that have multiplied due to this discrimination, such as the Arabs, number about 400 million today There will be population control. Likewise, for example, the natives of the American continent must not undergo population control, and the Germanic peoples must undergo population control. And for those who jump to call "racism", please remember that today's reality is the product of much worse racism in the past - to ignore it is the real racism.

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