Objectivity is boring. The determined even-handedness of “GMOs: The Seeds of Discord” at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris is stultifiying after a few placards for anyone familiar with the issues surrounding genetically modified organisms. The interest of the exhibit, then, lies in unearthing the careful concession France is making on the topic.
The exhibit portrays the controversy over GMOs as a dispute between two camps led by the modification-happy United States, on one hand, pitted against “a line of resistance in France and a few other European countries, brandishing the precautionary principles.” So why would principle-brandishing France allow any GMOs within its borders?
France has hope in “second-generation” GMOs, which could increase the protein or omega-3 content of crops, allow crops to grow in arid regions or saline soil, and increase the storage time for grains. Unlike current GMOs, which are portrayed as profiting seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto, second-generation GMOs hold promise for the greater good. North America dominates current second-generation research, according to the exhibit, but France set aside 45 million Euros for research in 2009-2011.
It’s a contradictory move for France when it claims to be in the anti-GMO vanguard. After all, the nation recently outlawed the cultivation of Bt maize, a Monsanto seed that produces its own insecticide. Rather than categorically dismissing GMOs, then, the French seem to be cautiously awaiting GMOs that can combat serious food shortages rather than just individual pests and weeds.
Read a review of a book critiquing scientific support for GMOs in the May/June issue of Utne Reader.