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GMO stands for God Move Over?

Scanning the web for slogans and catchphrases that slur biotech crops rouses the usual suspects: “frankenfoods,” “our kids are not lab rats” and “GMOs are not food.” Sometimes slogans can be revealing of how anti-GMO activists really boil down an issue. Usually, the slogans are misleading or simply intended to scare. But this week, I uncovered an anti-GMO slogan that was unintentionally spot-on:

GMO stands for “God Move Over.”

The intention of the slogan is to push the idea that genetic engineers working in the lab to solve problems or improve foods are really just “playing God,” claiming powers beyond their proper station. We are supposed to believe, when hearing it, that mankind is arrogating itself to the role of creator, and this tampering with the natural order of things will most certainly end in disaster. More than just a slogan, it is an attack, aimed at your mind. It says not only should we leave nature alone, but that we should kneel low in fear of it.

But here’s the sense in which the slogan has a ring of truth: It is the exercise of reason, not blind cowering in the face of obstacles that enables us to advance. Mankind survives and prospers by reshaping nature for his own benefit, as evidenced by the vast improvements already made to the foods we eat today.

I stumbled upon the slogan on a Hawaiian organic food store website. The company’s logo is typical of advertisements for organic foods or non-GMO foods — it’s a drawing of an idyllic farm, with vegetables growing in perfect green rows and plump tomatoes and pears bursting from crates. Perhaps the company didn’t realize it, but everything about the logo positively screams “God Move Over!”

Consider Hawaii, where this organic food store is located. Over a thousand years ago, the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii. What they found was not the Garden of Eden shown on the logo but jungles, thick with trees and bugs, that had to be “moved over” to make room to plant crops. There were no pears or tomatoes or clean rows of crops just waiting to be picked. Those had to be bred, imported, planted and tended. Farmers had to figure out ways to mitigate threats to their crops from insects and weeds. Pesticides had to be invented and new farming methods conceived and perfected, if the people were to thrive.

Hawaii is also the place where a papaya virus struck in the 1990s, decimating papaya trees. Hawaiian scientists used the technology of genetic engineering to make a small but important change to the papaya’s genome. By adding a gene from the very virus that afflicts the fruit, they were able to “vaccinate” papayas against the disease. It was scientists’ answer to the fate nature had dealt the papaya tree.

What should we do when nature messes with our crops? Using science to make a virus “move over” sounds like a pretty good idea to me. In general, altering nature is exactly what is needed if we are to continue improving the foods we eat.

It’s no surprise that the anti-GMO movement wants to paint GMOs as mankind’s attempt to arrogantly “play God.” But this is a slogan we should throw back in their face. Those who venture into the unknown in pursuit of life-serving advancements are pushing aside and leaving behind the religious attitude of blind obedience and passive resignation. We should celebrate their active, searching minds, not sacrifice human health and happiness on the altar of pristine nature.

“God Move Over,” indeed.