McKay Jenkins has traveled across the country interviewing people about where our food comes from and the impact modern agricultural practices have on the quality of the food we eat as well as the impact these practices have on our health and quality of life. The people he interviews tell stories that provide important information about what is being done to feed a nation and a world with a growing population. He writes of ecofriendly innovations and technologies that we can easily support, but some of the stories expose the innovations and technologies that are less understood and sometimes scary for the public when people become aware of these practices.
While the book uses GMO's as a focal point in the title and as a reoccurring theme in the book, the author focuses the majority of his writing on modern industrial farming practices. These include the questionable use of chemicals to grow our food and the shift in the American diet from eating whole foods to processed foods. The author provides a thoughtful and important look at where our food comes from and the impact of our diet choices. He provides compelling reasons why the overuse of chemicals in food production and industrial agricultural practices are harming our health and our environment.
Unfortunately, the topic of GMO's is not covered in an unbiased manner as Jenkins promises in his introductory remarks. For example, early in the book the author quotes a scientist by writing “There are over a thousand journal articles that collectively say that the risks (from GMO's) are exceedingly low from the standpoint of comparison to all alternatives.” Jenkins then points out that this is the majority view by all scientist who work with GMO's. As a counter to the “thousands” of journal articles Jenkins then presents a single 31-day study “that showed that eating GM corn causes abnormalities in the digestive tract of pigs.” This is the only scientific study he seems to have found that show a potential negative affect. He uses this one study to suggest that symptoms like “headaches, stomachaches, allergic reactions, changes in the way our immune system functions, microscope changes in the structure and function of our cells – may be cause by GMO's.” Jenkins uses this list of vague ailments to scare readers with unsubstantiated speculation that GMO's could be the cause of these ailment.
As the book continues the author never provides a compelling example of proven harm from ingesting GMO's even though GMO foods have been part of our diet for over 25 years. The book does however provide examples of how GM technology is used to solve agricultural problems. Among the examples is the story of how ring-spot virus was eliminated in papaya thus saving the Hawaiian papaya industry. He writes about how a cassava mosaic virus was stopped by creating virus resistant GM plants thereby saving an essential African food staple. Therefore, after providing weak scientific evidence about the dangers of GMO's and writing about many examples of how GMO's can be used to improve food production, it is perplexing that an underlying theme of the book is that GMO technology is harmful.
A justifiable objection the author makes against the use of GM technology is how it is used to make herbicide resistant crops and how this has led to the alarming overuse of toxic chemicals. In his discussion of these chemicals the author makes important points that readers should consider. Could these toxic chemicals be having an impact on our health and on the environment? Unfortunately, the author believes that GMO's are a major reason for the growing use of these chemicals, when in fact these chemical, or others similar chemical, were being used before GMO's were introduced and would still be used without GMO's. The author even provides examples of how GMO's can reduce the need for chemical use. But his suggestion that GMO technology is the leading reason for using chemicals on crops is a false assumption. It is like saying that since some trucks are used to transport illegal cargo then no trucks should be manufactured. GM technology has a much wider use then enabling the use of harmful chemicals on our foods. Why condemn a powerful technology that has the potential to improve what we eat and to solve problems in our food production just because there are ways that the technology can be misused? It would have been a better book had the author provided an unbiased discussion of GM technologies.