Can a Christian Legitimately Be Anti-GMO?

Shortly before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples a lesson in true social justice. Putting the impetus on the individual to take responsibility for the care of the less fortunate, hurting, and oppressed in society, Matthew 25 records how Jesus equated care for the less fortunate with care for himself. Referencing feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and comforting the oppressed, he explained, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

No actual Christian debates that our King has called us to demonstrate his love through acts of mercy to the least fortunate. Where it becomes tricky is defining the how, where, and even, at times, who is legitimately defined as the least fortunate. One thing that many agree on is that those who are starving to death in Third World countries fall under Jesus’ category of the “least of these.” How to enact appropriate acts of mercy is where it can become tricky. In the discussions, however, it would seem that a technology that allows mass quantities of food to be grown even in previously hostile environments would be welcomed by all sides. Sadly, and shamefully, due to the politicization of the issue by liberals, many professing Christians have swallowed the lie that GMOs are harmful.

The science behind GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is complicated and dense. Because of that, those who are anti-GMO are able to hide behind scary sounding platitudes and self-righteous fear-mongering. Except, once you delve into the actual science, it doesn’t take long to reveal that GMOs are a safe and sustainable food source for billions of people who would starve to death otherwise. In fact, “Every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has reviewed the research about GMOs and openly declared crop biotechnology and the foods currently available for sale to be safe.”

With the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the safety and viability of GMO crops, one would think that Christians, of all people, would wholeheartedly embrace this technology that has saved billions of people from starving to death. However, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center, the majority of Christians believe that GMOs are unsafe. The thing is, I don’t believe that many of those Christians really understand the toll on human lives and welfare that their misguided position takes. One such toll is found in the tragic story of Golden Rice.

The fact that every year a quarter of a million children suffer from blindness and many die due to a vitamin A deficiency should cause all of us to weep and pray for a solution. Weep, yes, but praying for a solution is redundant at this point because a solution has already been discovered. A few decades ago, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology scientist Ingo Potrykus led a group of scientists in the quest to develop a rice that contained beta-carotene. And you know what? Potrykus and his team succeeded. It was estimated that the new Golden Rice developed by Potrykus and his team would save up to forty-thousand lives a day. Praise God! right? Well, not so fast.

Since the success of Potrykus’ team in the late ’90s and their subsequent and continued improvements on Golden Rice, organizations like Green Peace and the anti-GMO lobby group Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) have sued and laid obstacle after obstacle in the way of Golden Rice, effectively ensuring that millions of children suffer from blindness, with a large percentage of those children dying as a result.

To sum up, children in developing countries who are at a high risk of blindness due to a vitamin A deficiency (the “least of these” Jesus spoke about) do not have to suffer because of the efforts of science and GMOs. But, ensuring that those children (the “least of these”) will continue to suffer, anti-GMO efforts have stymied attempts to exhibit mercy and care for suffering children.

Much of the vitriol directed at GMOs is fueled by a hatred for big business and capitalism. Fine. On one level, whatever. Economics is complex and can be a somewhat moving target, and Christians should be willing to agree to disagree on some economic issues. However, when those disagreements cost the lives of children (the “least of these”), the argument has crossed the line from possibly legitimate to open rebellion against Jesus.

Christians are commanded to feed the poor and care for the orphans. In our broken world, the best ways in which to do that are often less clear than we’d prefer. When solutions are presented that have the backing of science across the board and demonstrably thwart the spread of disease and even death, Christians should raise their voices in unison in support. The suspicion, if not flat-out rejection, of GMOs by many Christians reveals that many of Jesus’ confessed followers are more beholden to liberal ideologies than they are to obeying the command to care for the least of these. We should praise God for GMOs and seek to utilize the wonderful technology in order to care for the least of these. As Jesus said, doing so is tantamount to caring for him, too.