Genetically Modified Crops and a Christian Worldview

Genetic Modification. Just speaking those words in a room creates a polarizing effect charged with passion, emotion, and stigma. In our first-world culture, we have a strong emotional attachment to our food and where it comes from. The idea of putting something altered or modified into our bodies invokes fear. As a Christian with some biblical training and the daughter of a fifth generation farmer I have spent years investigating what it looks like to ethically provide food to the world within the confines of a fallen creation. The conclusion I have reached is that Genetically Modified (GM) crops are a tool we can use to wrestle with the consequences of a fallen world in order to show love to others and bring glory to God.

As humans we have already altered food production in the most negative and dramatic way possible: by allowing sin in the world. Before the fall, even the vegetation was perfect according to God’s plan as recorded in Genesis 1:

“God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”      – Genesis 1:11-12

In this God-designed condition, modifying our food source would be ludicrous, a blatant deviation from the perfect design and God’s intended purpose for the human race. The Garden of Eden was impossible to improve upon. But this is not the world we find ourselves in today. When Eve and Adam sinned, the perfect system designed for our existence became flawed and broken. The effect this had on food production is specifically documented in Genesis 3:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19

When sin entered the world, not only was our perfect relationship with God broken, but the consequences affected our whole food system: the way we eat, the work required to eat, and the way food would affect our bodies. Before the fall we were able to easily gather the food required for our sustenance, and with immortal bodies, the negative health effects of our diets were not a concern.

From the time Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden, farmers have dealt with imperfections in food production. Imperfect plants are affected by weeds, drought, floods, disease, weather, and insects. These factors have led to widespread famine and hunger throughout history and still do today. Over the thousands of years since the fall, the human race has worked to minimize the impact of these flaws in the system. Cultivation methods have been developed to minimize weeds, and irrigation and drainage canals have been implemented to deal with drought and floods.  Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been selectively breeding plants to minimize the effect of disease and weather. Modification of our food supply to minimize the consequences of the fall has been happening for hundreds of years, but ultimately we still suffer as a result of sin.

The fall not only affected food production, but also the way food affects our bodies. In God’s original, perfect world there was no such thing as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, food allergies, or any other diet-induced health risk. When we became mortal through the introduction of sin, our bodies were no longer perfect and began to decay. Organs started to wear out, allergies or intolerances were developed, and our bodies became susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. These effects have also been minimized by learning and understanding nutrition as well as modifying and diversifying our diets. However, we again ultimately suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world in fallen bodies.

Modern food production has come a long way since the times recorded in Genesis, but the issues farmers face today are the same. Sub-Saharan Africa deals with systemic drought failure and loss of bioculture every year. Regions from Indonesia to the South Pacific battle wet climates that breed fungal and insect infestations. Millions of people around the world lack access to an affordable, nutrient-dense food supply. Genetically Modified (GM) crops are one of the newest methods society has developed to improve our ability to supply food in a broken system.

From the beginning of time, humanity has been called to rule over creation and to use it to their benefit.

Then God said, “Let us make Humankind in our image, after our likeness,   so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:26 & 28

This mandate includes an invitation to explore the laws of nature and to utilize our understanding of the physical world to bring glory to God. Yet science and technology themselves are not inherently good or evil. A brief look at history shows that technology can be used for atrocious things. Our standard for evaluating the ethical use of technology is simple: does it help us love God or love people?

In the case of GM crops, there are many examples of how this technology can help us love our fellow man. Access to adequate food and nutrition is one of our most fundamental needs and as Christians we should concern ourselves with the needs of others. GM crops help maintain a more affordable world grain supply, allowing more people in developing nations access to food. One of the best specific examples of the good GM crops can provide is the development of golden rice. Many poverty-stricken areas of Southeast Asia suffer childhood blindness and even death from vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice uses a genetically modified trait to produce its own vitamin A. This has the potential to give millions of people access to this nutrient, thus preventing childhood blindness so prevalent in these regions. There are many more examples of how GM crops can benefit humanity, from drought-resistant wheat that can be grown in the desert to allergen-free peanuts. The development of GM crops can be a tool used to love people and bring glory to God.

We still live in a fallen world, so GM Crops will not be the perfect answer. Crops will continue to be wiped out. People, companies, and governments will use the power new technology brings to exploit others. Our bodies are still going to deteriorate. People are still going to die. Until the day comes when we no longer need technology, we must continue to improve our methods of production. GM crops are easier to grow for farmers and can help generate higher food production for poverty-ravished communities. However, I wait eagerly for the day in which we no longer need to fight against imperfection. Behold, He is coming to make all things new!

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” –Romans 8:18-23

 

Megan Stevens is a 4th generation farm girl from Montevideo, MN. She works with her father and brother on the family farm raising corn, soybeans, peas, and sugar beets. Megan is also currently a student at the University of Minnesota pursing degrees in Chemistry and Agricultural Economics.

 

Genetically Modified Crops and a Christian WorldviewImage by Natalie Shell – The Dartmouth Apologia, Spring 2015.

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