GMO’s & CRISPR – The Power Science<br>Wields Over Our Genes

GMO’s & CRISPR – The Power Science<br>Wields Over Our Genes

It was exciting to hear that for the first time two women scientists were recently awarded the chemistry Nobel Prize in recognition of their discovery of a method to edit genes called CRISPR. Described as “genetic scissors”. CRISPR allows scientists to make precise changes in DNA, whether human, plant or other life form. Their discovery is being heralded for its potential to transform agriculture and cure inherited genetic diseases.

October is Non-Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) Month. Those of us in the organic, regenerative agricultural movement have opposed GMOs as a potentially dangerous means of introducing foreign DNA from other species into a plant or animal, which creates transgenic modifications to their DNA. It’s the unknown consequences of genetic manipulation over long periods of time that cause the public outcry for caution. So is CRISPR safer or just as dangerous as GMOs?

GMOs versus CRISPR

Despite widespread consumer objection, the FDA has permitted GMOs in our food supply based only on studies done by the companies that stand to financially gain from them. For instance, GMO salmon grows to market size in half the time as wild salmon. Fears that this transgenic gene might pollute the DNA of wild salmon are well founded. How do we protect native DNA from pollution caused by transgenic genes that could potentially endanger a species?

With CRISPR, the scientific community recognizes its potential danger but also touts its benefits. Ethical considerations such as using CRISPR on human embryos for genetic enhancement are under deep discussion in international scientific symposiums. We are coming closer to our sci-fi imagination of mutant super humans.

On the other hand, eradicating genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia sounds wonderful to parents who carry those genes. Scientists are asking for a moratorium on what is called “germ-line” gene editing which starts with embryos, eggs and/or sperm until international agreements are reached about the ethical values and dangers versus benefits involved.

The potential effects of CRISPR on nature

It’s the arguments used for the application of CRISPR to agriculture that have me as concerned as I am about human gene editing. The problem is always presented as GMO crops and now CRISPR crops are needed to create higher yields that will feed the world’s growing population.

For example, industrial agri-business has created genetically modified, glyphosate-resistant corn to supposedly reduce the amount of glyphosate (aka Round-up) required as an herbicide. This argument is now being used for CRISPR gene editing to achieve the same purpose. Just genetically edit food crops to tolerate more of this herbicide, thus increasing crop yields, and our problem is solved.


Yet this has proven to be false as ever increasing levels of glyphosate have to be applied to crops. Its application has caused weeds to genetically modify themselves to become “super weeds” with stalks so tough that they can’t be removed from the fields by machinery. Instead of using less glyphosate as Monsanto would have us believe, farmers are having to use more and more to combat the super weeds.

Glyphosate is a carcinogen. The last thing we need is more of it in our food. Glyphosate levels in our foods have increased exponentially over the last 25 years. No safety studies have been conducted to set thresholds. Instead, the EPA has simply kept increasing the permissible levels to match the increasing application of this chemical.

On the other hand, there could be potential beneficial uses of CRISPR to combat diseases and pests that are wiping out whole species of plants. For instance pine trees throughout the West are being attacked by beetles causing massive die-offs in forests. Over 147 million pine trees have died since 2010 in Californian forests alone. Could CRISPR help pine trees resist the beetle perhaps by editing one of their genes to produce a natural pesticide?

The jury is out on CRISPR but not on organic agriculture

Without a doubt, the benefits and consequences of using GMOs and CRISPR will continue to be debated for years to come. I’d like to reassure you on one thing. There is one very powerful action you can take to make a difference.

Protect your health and the health of your family by buying and consuming organic food.

We humans have polluted our world to the degree that even organic foods may have chemicals on them including glyphosate. Whether from drifting sprays on nearby conventional fields or contamination in processing facilities that also handle conventional crops, these pervasive chemicals are found everywhere, even in mother’s breast milk.

However, organic crops have far lower levels. Organic food has been shown to have higher amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Organic methods of agriculture can also produce yields just as bountiful as conventional crops. Studies show that when people switch to eating organic food, they have much lower levels of agri-chemicals in their bodies.

By supporting organic agriculture with our consumer buying power, we not only improve our health, but by paying higher prices for organic foods, we encourage farmers and ranchers to move away from the industrial agricultural practices that are harming life on our planet. You and I, along with the world’s organic community, have the power together to push agriculture towards regenerative, sustainable practices that can feed the world’s growing population while keeping us all healthy!

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