Waiter, there is a gene in my soup! | Jimmy Botella | TEDxUQ


Translator: Vivian Polikar
Reviewer: Son Huynh If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m going to talk about genes
and I’m going to talk about soup. I’m going to talk about the biotech food
that is coming to your table or, well… The biotech food
that is already on your table. There’s a big debate about it. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad… What I find is that
when I go to public forums, and I do a lot of that, and I talk about GM food and biotech food, it’s surprising to know
the amount of people who don’t know anything. not only about GM food, but about the food that they buy every day
in the supermarket. You see, they come to me and they say: “Jimmy, why are you complicating my life
with all this GM food if what we have now is perfectly OK?” And the truth is that
this is not a proper question because in this question, you are assuming what you have
today is perfectly OK. What am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about the fact that
what you have today, your normal food
in the supermarket is natural, is old, is traditional and is safe. And above all, there’s plenty of food
for everyone. All you need to do is
go to the supermarket and buy more food. That’s it. Simple as that. (Laughter) I’m going to tell you a little bit, perhaps, that is going to come
as news to you. What about your normal food? What about how natural it is? Let’s talk about bananas. The banana is a very natural fruit. You giveit to your kids. There is nothing more natural
than a banana, all right? I’ll tell you what. The banana that you buy today is this one,
your current variety, all right? If you want the natural banana,
here you have it. That’s the natural banana. Anything weird about it? Anything you notice? Oh, it’s got seeds! Why would a plant want to have seeds? (Laughter) Aha. So, what is happening here? What is happening is that you don’t want to have a bite
of a banana and start spitting seeds. So, as humans, what have we done? Well, we’ve done the most
unnatural thing you can think of. We’ve given it 3 copies of the genome. Now, anyone who knows about biology knows that you normally have
2 copies of the genome, one from your mom and one from your dad. Some plants have 4 copies
or six or eight or twenty-two. But you never have
an odd number of copies. That is so unnatural
that nature is telling you: “You are not reproducing. You are not having seeds,
I’m not letting you.” Very convenient for us,
but not for the bananas. (Laughter) You can go to tomatoes, and you can see the tomato you buy
every day in the market, all right? But, you know what? You should meet the natural tomato. The natural tomato, that you still find
in South America, in the mountains, because it comes from there. That is the natural tomato. Or you can have a look at this thing. This thing that doesn’t look
very familiar, does it? But what about this? Does it look familiar? Well, this is the natural maize. This is the maize that the cultures
in Central America were eating. They were so important to them that
there was a god for it, called Centeotl. And that is the maize
that they were eating. This one, not this. But let’s put it together. This is the one I’m talking about. This is the one you buy
in the supermarket. Why is it that you have this one? You have this one
because in order to feed a family, with this, you need a lot of plants. (Laughter) But, look: I’ve got good news for you. I’ve got good news for you because now
everybody is mad about “natural.” Everything is “natural.” Your shampoo is natural, your shirts are made
of natural fibers. I googled it and I found a big company
in Australia who is selling toilet paper as “all natural toilet paper”! So, everything is natural. Everything’s got to be natural for you. To a point, it is all right. Nature is good to us. It gives us air and sunlight. Nature would give us
the food that you eat. But you know what? Nature would give us tsunamis that will kill a quarter of a million
people in one night. And you know what? There is nothing more natural
than a tsunami. There is nothing man-made about it. Ah, and nature… Nature would give us malaria. Why? Because we have this mosquito here. And the mosquito’s got to eat, all right?! So, the thing is that nature is not good and nature is not bad. Nature is neutral. For nature, everybody’s got
the same rights. Why? Because, the misconception is that
we are the only sons of Mother Nature, and we are not. You see, this mosquito
is also a son of Mother Nature, and Mother Nature is taking care of it. He’s got to suck up blood from you, and if in the meantime,
it gives you malaria, too bad for you, mate! (Laughter) So, we’ve been eating food forever. This new biotech food is going to kill us because is so new
and I just want to go with my old food. And I’ll give a bit of a tale about
the Chinese gooseberry, which was brought to New Zealand
in the 1900s. Somebody put a lot of breeding,
a lot of effort into it. Gave it a new name. And what did you get? You get the kiwi fruit in 1959. And what about the strawberries? You’re going to say:
“All right Jimmy, that’s not possible. Strawberries are very old. I know it. I’ve seen it in a movie.
Cleopatra was eating strawberries.” (Laughter) All right. Fair enough. So strawberries are actually an accident. This is an accidental cross
of two different species. Wild species, one coming from Virginia,
one coming from Chile. And you may think: “They are plants,
they expanded territories.” The Virginians were going down. The Chileans were going up. They found themselves, I don’t know,
in Central America, in the Caribbean, they have a romantic night, you know… And the new strawberries came. But, I’ll tell you what: it was romantic. It was romantic
because it happened in Paris. (Laughter) Or in the outskirts of Paris,
in Versailles, in the Botanic Garden. They had this collection, they put these 2 berries together
and accidentally crossed them. There you go, your strawberries. That actually happened
in the middle of the 18th century. So next time you go to a movie
and you see Cleopatra eating strawberries, say, “That’s not right!” So, what about your traditional food? Like potatoes in Europe,
chillies in India? You know, there can’t be
an Indian food without chillies. Curry’s no good without chili. Cassava in Africa. Guess what? They all come
from South America, all right? What about safety? This new biotech food, you know, it’s not safe because it’s new. But all the old food is totally safe. Like Cassava, which can give you paralysis
if you don’t know how to process it? What about if you try
to eat a natural banana? Well, if you try to eat
the natural banana, and actually, people do it in Cambodia, they have a big problem
with bowel obstruction, because they eat the seeds. Anyone got a coffee today? A coffee’s got a thousand chemicals. Somebody decided “I’m going
to test 27 of it.” Guess what?! 19 of them were carcinogenic. So perhaps your normal food
is not as “natural” as you thought. Perhaps it’s not as traditional
as you thought, perhaps it’s not as safe as you thought. And perhaps it’s not as old
as you thought. But at least it’s plentiful, and I’ll come back to that in a minute. Now, I need to define what is a GM plant. A lot of people don’t know
what a GM plant is. It’s a complicated definition. A GM plant is a plant to which
you have added a fragment, a little bit of DNA,
but not in just any way. You have to do it using
precision techniques called Genetic Engineering. Now, if you add a lot of DNA,
that is not GM, all right? So, it’s important to know
what is not a GM plant. If you cross 2 plants and you have
thousands of genes, that’s not GM. If you produce plants in tissue culture
and create polyploids, giving them entire genomes, that’s not GM. If you produce varieties by irradiation
or using random mutagenesis, that is not GM. And you might say: “These techniques give
thousands of mutations, unknown mutations.” And you might say: “People don’t do that.” Aha! People do. Many of the foods that you have
in the supermarkets were created by irradiation
or random mutagenesis. It was the flavor of the day
in the 60s and 70s. It’s still done. So, one of the main questions I get
when I talk to people about GM food is “Are they safe?” Well, the first conception people ask is, you know, this food
is coming from science, it is not natural… And you’ve got to agree
I look pretty mad in this picture. (Laughter) I do look like a mad scientist. The funny thing is when
I turn around and I say: “Look, this is how we do bananas. We do GM bananas, I grab them
so they don’t run away and this guy actually injects the gene.” And people go: “Wow, I didn’t know
it was that easy.” (Laughter) Well, it wasn’t that easy. It’s very complicated,
but people don’t know about it. Obviously, they always
ask me this question: “Can you guarantee me, Jimmy,
there’s no risk eating GM food?” I may be kind of a honest guy and say: “No, I cannot guarantee it.” So, their obvious conclusion is: “Then don’t make me eat it.
I don’t want to take the risk.” Is there absolutely no risk? No, there isn’t. So I got to thinking about risky things. Risky things that you do everyday
or you normally do. One of them is driving. Well I live in Kenmore,
10 kilometers from here. I drive. Driving is dangerous.
You can have an accident. If I don’t drive, it’s going to take me
3 hours to get home. Or you say, “All right, I’m not driving.
I’m just going to walk.” Because driving is too dangerous. But sooner or later,
you’re going to find a street and you’re going to have to cross it. And you stop there
and say: “What do I do?” If you don’t cross the street,
you are not getting home. (Laughter) You say: “Well, never mind,
I’m going to move.” I’m going to buy a house
on the university campus, so I don’t have to cross the street. But, you see, classes are in the morning and if you walk under the sun,
you get a fantastic skin cancer. (Laughter) You practice sports? I broke my foot doing wind surfing. You cook, you can burn yourself. You breathe, you can get the flu. But, are you going to stop breathing? (Laughter) So, the thing is, pretty much
everything you do… (Laughter) Everything you do is risky. Because when start thinking
about the things that are not risky and you think and you think
and you keep thinking… You end up concluding: “Obviously, I cannot promise you that
there is absolutely zero risk in GM food. Because there is absolutely no zero risk
in anything you do in life. What do you do? You think about it
and you decide is it worth it or not. So, I’ll tell you
about classical breeding. Not GM. Classical breeding. You got this celery variety. Very healthy celery. Mom was a celery. Dad was a celery. They crossed them. They got this variety
that was so carcinogenic that farm workers
got rashes on their skin. By the way, you don’t need
any permits to sell this. You don’t need to [test] anything. So, what about there being plenty of food? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. The news is that
in the next 2 generations, we will consume twice as much food as has been consumed
in the entire history of human kind. Depending on your belief, that’s since Adam and Eve, or since the monkeys came down
from the trees. Twice as much food. And what? You are going
to have to produce it. We are beginning to see food shortages and we are beginning to see social unrest because food prices are going up. And you know what? For you, if a kilo of tomatoes costs
$1.50 or $2.50, you don’t even know. For these guys, if a kilo of rice
costs $0.10 or $0.15, it’s the difference between
I’m eating or I’m not eating. So, for a lot of people who are not
as fortunate as us, that is a problem. So, what major crops do we have? Here is some data for you. It’s almost impossible
to find any soy beans that are not GM anymore. Or cotton. And you’d say but we don’t need cotton. Think again. Because if you go
and have some fish and chips, it’s made with cotton oil. So you’ve got maize, you’ve got canola. And if you want to talk about
the commercial impact, what is it that you have? Since GM food started in 1996, we have 1,5 billion hectares
planted of GM food. Contrary to what a lot of people say, most of the farmers who grow GM food
are small farmers, they are not huge multinationals. 90% are small farmers. Some of them from India. Some of them from Australia. And if you look
at the environmental impact, it’s incredible that essentially
GM crops have contributed to a huge gain in avoiding
environmental impact of agriculture. One example is that half a million kilo
of active ingredients has been saved by these crops. Remember, the active ingredient
is normally 1% of the total thing. And, now, the way that you [use it], is you go around your field
and you spray. And this guy has this mask, but you have to agree with me
that is not very good, all right? Some others are not so lucky. They don’t have any masks. They are breathing it. And in case you didn’t know, the incidence of cancer
and respiratory diseases in farmers is a lot higher than in people
who are not related to farm work. Why? Because they do this a lot. Now, in Australia, we don’t do it. Our fields are too big,
so we use airplanes. When we use airplanes, they’re very convenient to fumigate, but they use a lot of fuel So, another impact that you have from this is that just in 2011 alone, not in all of history, just in 2011, 23 billion kilos of CO2 was saved. [Reduction in pesticides
and CO2 emissions] And that is equivalent
to 10 million cars off the road. So, the previous speaker that you saw
was talking about 2 million. This is 10 million cars in one year. So, I hope I’ve convinced you
that GM is really the solution to all your problems, you know? Hair loss, whatever. (Laughter) The truth is: no, it isn’t. This is over-glorified. This is just one more technique,
all right? It just happens to be a technique
that is technically complicated and it’s very difficult to explain it
to your neighbors. And, therefore, whether you are
in favor or against it, you do have to respect the opinion
of the people who are afraid of them. Because people are afraid of the things
that they don’t understand. And this is not easily understandable. So, my final remarks… Look, I hope I’ve convinced you that, wherever you go, there is no such thing
as natural food any more. We do have a big problem,
and you might not realize it, but we do have a big problem. A lot of governments and countries
are really nervous about the whole thing. Mind you, we do have enough food today
to feed humanity. People are hungry
because of political problems, not because of agricultural problems. But in 50 years, that won’t be the case. GM is not the solution,
and GM is not perfect. And I would say anything you can solve
without using GM, you should. But you will be really silly not to use GM to solve problems
that cannot be solved any other way. And, of course, we need to have
a logical debate. The problem in this debate with GM food most of the time, is that it uses
a lot of theatricals. It doesn’t use science. So you can have a debate, but you have to base
this debate in science, not beliefs. Because if you tell me: “Look, GM food is not good,
because God told me so.” Well you just killed it,
because what can I say? Can I say: “Can you please give me
an email for God? Can you give me a phone number? Can I talk to your God? Can I talk to your God about,
you know, this GM thing? “No, no. God talks through me,
not through you.” And that is a bit of a problem. But that doesn’t mean that
we don’t have to respect those people, the fact that even given the science,
they decided not to have it. Because respect is number one. But, you cannot tolerate people
who will tell you: “This is this
because it’s my belief, all right?” You can say you can’t have it, but you can’t tell me
that is the reason for it. It’s like with all these cows
and all that. I respect vegetarians,
I truly respect them. It’s your belief, you do it. But don’t come to me to tell me
“I’m a vegetarian because I respect life.” Because that is not true. If you respect life,
you have to eat rocks. (Laughter) Vegetarians are the most inhuman
people in the universe, if you look at it from the point of view
of a tomato. (Laughter) Look, a goat can run away from you. A cow can kill you,
when you try to kill it. So you don’t have a steak. But a tomato… It’s just growing. He can’t run away from you. And you don’t even kill it. You eat it alive. Come on! (Laughter) So don’t give me that. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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