We currently only refer to a limited number of techniques as genetic modification. Humans, however, have been practicing agriculture for around 12,000 years and in that time have bred plants and animals so they bare very little resemblance to their wild ancestors.
This has led us to convert large areas of biodiverse woodland and grassland into fields. To ensure that arable fields have the maximum quantity of crop we have plenty of ways (both organic and not so organic) of removing excess biodiversity.
The carbon footprint of agriculture is also huge, everything from fertiliser production to transport of produce. Last year, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) reported that one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Agriculture also allowed us to develop a society where people could dedicate time to creating cars, airplanes, coal-fired power stations…
It’s just as true that genetic modification is responsible for the development of antibiotics, vaccination and cancer screening. Prior to settled agriculture, the lives of hunter gatherers were short and hard. The only way we can support billions of people, the majority confident in their stable food supply, is through crops and livestock altered by millennia of selective breeding.
So we have to consider genetic modification in the context of an agricultural system that supports our whole society, yet is responsible for environmental degradation, both directly and by supporting a large human population.
It also further questions the ideology that ‘genetic modification is unnatural’.