A team of philosophers and plant biotechnologists in Belgium has struck on some interesting new information about the debate over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The term GMO is generally used to describe plants that have been genetically modified in order to grow larger or be more resistant to pests or pesticides. They are essential to most current sustainable agriculture schemes, but they have received a great deal of popular backlash and mistrust.

Many people feel, often without much evidence, or even despite contradictory evidence, that GMOs are bad for people and bad for nature. Scientists have been arguing the opposite for years, but with little success, and with little press, and that’s part of the problem.


Stefaan Blancke and Geert de Jaeger, co-authors of a study published in Plant Science, argue that the popularity of the anti-GMO stance is based on two things: the ability of environmentalist groups and others to appeal to some of the strongest human emotions, and the difficulty of communicating how the process of modifying such plants actually works.

Anti-GMO arguments appeal to our sense of disgust, by claiming that GMOs cause disease or harm the environment. They also appeal to the idea that scientists shouldn’t “play God,” or that nature is some kind of animate force that has a certain plan for how organisms should work. These are strong emotions, and once appealed to, it can be very hard to challenge them.

The other problem is that scientists are often removed from the debate, either too busy to be involved or simply not invited. Add to that the fact that few people outside of the scientific community actually have all that much science education, much less an understanding of the advanced science involved in genetic manipulation, and it’s very difficult to dispel misunderstandings about GMOs.

The authors of the study argue in favor of greater science education, and for an increased involvement of scientists in that. They argue that GMOs must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, instead of dismissing them all as bad.