Re: "effort wouldn't be better expended on something of more value to society."
Hmm except with GM foods when people object on the basis that transgenes might act like viruses then they have left contact with verifiable reality. I saw and still see an awful lot of stuff along those lines.
I have made in my time a small mountain of transgenic mice and the world has failed to deform in grey goo and the transgenes didn't jump across the mouse room to other mice and wild type littermates were even entirely possible and if you put transgenic containing embryos into a wild type recipient mother mouse she does not become transgenic. It is easy to tell.
The level of knowledge and understanding of transgenesis and molecular genetics is inversely proportional to the lurid and virulent objections to them.
Observing the GM debates made me fear for the future of humanity.
That is not to absolve Monsanto from blame. The first GM products were designed to sell more weedkiller, hardly the best advert for the technology. This queered the pitch for transgenics from then on. Future generations will look back and wonder at the luddite stupidity.
The US has been eating GM food for several decades now and the bodies continue to abjectly fail to pile up and the goo is neither present nor grey. Ebola comes out of the forests with bushmeat and is entirely natural, the vaccine against it may well have relied on recombinant and transgenic techniques.
Any ideas of natural = Good and technological = Bad are easily knocked down with such examples.
BTW lateral gene transfer which is what we call it when Nature swaps genes around without so much as a by-your-leave is so common you can literally fall over it. I did in the lab one day, I found a gene from chickens which was only otherwise present in humans and malaria mosquitoes. Not mice, not chimps, not fruit flies, not quail.
The poster child for it though are sea squirts, the tunicates. Their leathery tunic which they wrap themselves in is made of cellulose, plant fibre. A chordate animal is making cellulose. Genome sequencing revealed they pinched the entire multi gene cellulose synthesis pathway from a seaweed. They are genetically modified in spades and have been infesting the seas without control for millions of years without Nature falling into grey goo.