To GMO or not to GMO? That is the question.

Yesterday, I came across this image in my Facebook feed.

My 12th grade IB students recently completed their unit on biotechnology, including genetically modified organisms.  So I decided to post this image on our Facebook group with the question, "Thoughts? This is clearly a con, what about the pros? Good time to review your GMO for biotech. Can someone tell me why the bees are dying in response to GM crops?"  23 comments later (on a Saturday night of a four day weekend mind you) two key articles jumped out at me.  The first, a letter to the USDA asking them not to deregulate GMO alfalfa due to its potential harm to the environment, and the second, an article in the Wall Street Journal that touts the benefits of GM crops and insists on the proliferation of GMO particularly in developing countries like India. 

I digress but as a faculty we have been discussing ways to infuse information fluency across grade levels and disciplines as part of our 21st century skills initiative.  This is a perfect example of why it is crucial for our students to develop this skill.  First, consider the source.  The first article comes from the GMO Journal, a liberal journal clearly against genetically modified anything.   The second article comes from the Wall Street Journal, one that refers to the monetary benefits of GMO first and foremost.  These two articles contradict each other on many fronts.  When you do a Google search for GMO + honey bees, the first page of links are all anti-GMO.  Ironically, if you do a Google search of the benefits of GMO, you will come up with a page with headings like, "Harmful or helpful?", "Risks and Benefits of...",  and "Weighing the GMO argument". 

Though clearly a cautionary tale, the problem is that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to PROVE that GMO crops are a SIGNIFICANT health risk to the honey bees or humans for that matter (the direct link has not been shown as there are too many other variables at play).  This lack of evidence could be attributed to insufficient funding for research, the lack of available data on long term impact of GMO (time sensitive), or to the big pockets of pro GMO lobbyists such as Monsanto (who by the way funded the research study quoted in the Wall Street Journal), which divert spending away from this issue among other things.  Regardless, we have to wonder if the use of genetically modified organisms warrants the invoking of the precautionary principle (also an IB topic...SCORE!). 

The article from the Yucatan Times that accompanied the image on Facebook posed this as a possibility: 

In this regard, Rosset said that since Mexico is a country that consumes more  corn than any other country, and because of the risks that have been observed in several studies for years, recommended that Mexico does not expose the public to GM Maize. He said the risk is greater for children who will be most affected. He considers it urgent to apply the precautionary principle, and cancel the transgenic, for future generations.

This brings us back to our original question, "To GMO or not to GMO?".  I am going to let my students answer this question as this provides me with great fodder for an authentic exploration in information fluency, not to mention a lively discussion in class! Whenever there are grey areas in science and there is money to be made, politics will come through for us science teachers without fail!  Just remember to consider your source.  Sometimes it is not as easy as you might think! 

The assignment that I created based on these articles can be found under the IB Biology Lessons tab at this link.