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The Mystery Of GMO

wwu2's picture

Marjorie Wu

Paper #11

November 21st, 2014


The Mystery Of GMO

 If choosing a word to describe our environment, what will you use? Athropocene, of course. Nowadays humans have dominated the world. And what effect do they bring to the earth? In The Sixth Extinction, Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry, illustrates that “fertilizer plants produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by all terrestrial ecosystems” (Kolbert 108). Elizabeth Kolbert says people have made “several negative geologic-scale changes”. Some people are constantly criticizing their influence. But how is human’s influence related to the environmental changes? And in what degree? The question seems to be broad, so today I would like to narrow down our attention to plants specifically.

Genetically modified organisms. When we mention this noun, people may have different reactions. The book All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki is developed around NuLife potatoes in Idaho. Majority of characters in this group object the use of GMO plants except for the farmer, Will. Yet does genetic engineering as bad as people think? The book raises my curiosity to discover more about GMOs. Since it is a novel, how credible are those resources about potatoes? Other than increasing production, do those potatoes have more benefits?

The Nulife potatoes in Ozeki’s novel are in concentration of Bt, a soil bacterium that “manufactures its own insecticide” and is used “to control the worst of the infestation”(Ozeki 271). Ozeki didn’t just make up the Nulife potatoes. In reality, the prototype of those is the New Life potatoes, which first come from Monsanto, that also “incorporate a Bt gene conferring resistance to the Colorado Potato Beetle” and “was first approved by the US regulatory agencies in early 1995” (The History and Future of GM Potatoes). Both of them contain the same composition and serve for the same purpose, and Ozeki may just switched the locations, from Monsanto to Idaho. As far as Ozeki’s concern on people buying more genetically modified potatoes due to its cheaper price, actually it does not exist in the real life. Since McDonald’s, Wendy’s, those main potato consumer companies refused to use New Life potatoes “primarily due to consumer skepticism regarding the unknown environmental and health consequences of GM foods”. Therefore, in the long run, the genetically modified potatoes did not hold up since this species was lack of interest in the market.

In addition, All Over Creation also emphasizes an intension that “monarch butterflies die eating by corn pollens” (Ozeki 271). Meanwhile, millions of poor people are starving because the food isn’t being distributed fairly to those in need. This may sounds a little anthropocentric. But between petite insects and human lives, which one comes first? “Somethings had to die so that others could live”, and the main idea of genetic engineering was to try to maximize humans’ “chances of staying on the living side for as long as [they] could” (270). The other benefit of genetic engineering is that it can cut back the chemical applications. According to the Centers for Disease Control,

“10,000 to 20,000 cases of pesticide poisoning are diagnosed in agricultural workers every year” (NIOSH Pesticide Poisoning Monitoring Program Protects Farmworkers). If the pesticides do harm in this degree, the contamination of rivers must be impleasant as well.

Moverover, there’s no evidence online that proves the assumption made in All Over Creation, which consuming GMO has the risk of people having no child. We can’t completely deny the credibility of Ozeki’s novel; she tries to emphasize the potential problems and raise readers’ attention on GMOs. As far as genetic engineering to today’s and environment technology, we can’t really identify it either good or bad. GMOs show its value but also its downside. This is still a mystery waiting for scientist to explore and improve.

Work Cited

Eijck, Paul. The History and Future of GM Potatoes N.p., 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

NIOSH Pesticide Poisoning Monitoring Program Protects Farmworkers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 06 June 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014

Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

I’m glad that you decided to do some more research, to figure out how accurate Ozeki’s fictional portrayal of the GMO controversy is; it was interesting for me to learn that her “NuLifes” were based on an actual potato, the New Life, developed by the chemical company Monsanto (which is headquartered in Missouri), and that the main consumers—companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s-- refused to buy it because their consumers were skeptical about the environmental and health consequences.

The larger question that your essay raises for me has to do with the relationship between fiction and science. When you quote a line from Ozeki’s novel, that “Somethings had to die so that others could live”, to try and maximize humans’ “chances of staying on the living side for as long as we could,” what authority does that have? Is a character speaking, or the author, or…? When you conclude by saying that genetic engineering is “still a mystery waiting for scientists to explore and improve,” who are you giving the authority @ that point? Do scientists have “the final word”? Wherefrom do they get that role?