The ultimate GMO article

Great, great article from Will Saletan on GMO food and the nature of the opposition to it.  He spent nearly a year researching the issue and as much as anything it is absolutely devastating account of the scientific illiteracy, logical incoherence, and outright lies of anti-GMO lobbies.   Here’s his intro summary:

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins.  [emphasis mine] They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.

Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.

If you have any doubts about the anti-GMO movement, just read the section on BT.  I had not realized that this is regularly sprayed as an organic pesticide and they love it.  Put the BT in the corn and all of a sudden its a horrible toxin.  Or the case of papayas where public scientists saved the Hawaiin papaya industry with a food that has tested time and again as safe.  But anti-GMO forces just don’t listen to science:

Some people, to this day, believe GE papayas are dangerous. They want more studies. They’ll always want more studies. They call themselves skeptics. But when you cling to an unsubstantiated belief, even after two decades of research and experience, that’s not skepticism. It’s dogma.

Okay, and some more good stuff from the article:

That’s the fundamental flaw in the anti-GMO movement. It only pretends to inform you. When you push past its dogmas and examine the evidence, you realize that the movement’s fixation on genetic engineering has been an enormous mistake. The principles it claims to stand for—environmental protection, public health, community agriculture—are better served by considering the facts of each case than by treating GMOs, categorically, as a proxy for all that’s wrong with the world. That’s the truth, in all its messy complexity. Too bad it won’t fit on a label.

A third lesson is that GMO segregation, in the form of labels or GMO-free restaurants, is misguided. GMO labels don’t clarify what’s in your food. They don’t address the underlying ingredients—pesticides, toxins, proteins—that supposedly make GMOs harmful. They stigmatize food that’s perfectly safe, and they deflect scrutiny from non-GMO products that have the same disparaged ingredients.

The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy. And companies like Chipotle, with their non-GMO marketing campaigns, are playing along…

Twenty years after the debut of genetically engineered food, it’s a travesty that the technology’s commercial applications are still so focused on old-fashioned weedkillers. Greenpeace and Chipotle think the logical response to this travesty is to purge GMOs. They’re exactly wrong. The relentless efforts of Luddites to block testing, regulatory approval, and commercial development of GMOs are major reasons why more advanced GE products, such as Golden Rice, are still unavailable. The best way to break the herbicide industry’s grip on genetic engineering is to support the technology and push it forward, by telling policymakers, food manufacturers, and seed companies that you want better GMOs.

After I posted this on FB, I only got one commenter, but as you can guess, “Monsanto!!”  Many of the comments at Slate seem to be similar.  Who do all these people think is making the non-GMO food on their grocery shelves?  Well-meaning mom-and-pop operations looking out for the health of consumers and the environment?  Of course not, it’s corporate agribusiness whether its GMO or not.  And sure, there’s plenty wrong with big agribusiness, but GMO is almost entirely besides the point on that.

Ultimately, this problem is double-edged as it takes focus away from the actually destructive practices of big agribusiness (e.g., monocultures) and furthermore the real promise of GMO food (which is so much more than pesticide-resistant crops) goes under-developed in the face of all the knee-jerk, anti-science opposition.

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