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GMO Worry Warts: This is Your Brain on Ignorance and Ideology

By Keith Kloor
Apr 7, 2013 5:08 PMNov 19, 2019 9:32 PM


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The biotech discourse is infected with a bugaboo spread by both fringe types and mainstream influentials. It is the belief that GMO foods are deadly or potentially harmful. Two illustrative examples of this mindset recently appeared on the same day. On April 4, crazy-ass Mike Adams at his Natural News siteexplained how GMOs were murdering humanity:

GMOs have been proven to cause wildly increased growth of cancer tumors. They also cause infertility and organ failure. GMOs may also help explain why infertility is skyrocketing in humans and why younger children are increasingly being diagnosed with cancer.

None of that is true, of course. But here's the best part:

Given the deadly results of consuming GMOs, every "scientist" who pushes GMOs is an indirect murderer. When you see a "scientist" arguing in favor of GMOs, think to yourself, "That's a homicidal maniac" because widespread death is the ultimate result of their irresponsible, dangerous actions.

It doesn't get much nuttier than that, but if anyone can top himself it would be Adams. Now, normally I wouldn't give a moment's time to such a loon. If you're familiar with Adams you know he is a mutant cross between Alex Jones and Joe Mercola. Whoever listens to these guys is likely beyond reach, so I don't see the point in bothering with them. But the notion that GMOs are unsafe--which Adams exaggerates to outlandish proportions--is widely shared by people who advocate for GMO labeling, such as the popular New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. Like Michael Pollan, Bittman strives to sound reasonable. On the same day that Adams was warning us about GMO-pushing scientists, here's Bittman making his case against genetically modified crops:

It’s smart to prudently explore the possible benefits and uses of genetically engineered materials in agriculture, and to deploy them if and when they’re proven to be a) safe (otherwise, no) and b) beneficial to society at large (otherwise, why bother?). I don’t believe that any G.E. materials have so far been proven to be either of these things, and therefore we should proceed cautiously.

He does not cite any evidence to back up this belief. If he wanted to, he could turn to science for some guidance. For as University of California plant geneticist Pamela Ronald has written in Scientific American (my emphasis):

There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union’s scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008).

Bittman's entire piece is disingenuous artistry. He starts off by saying:

Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it.

Really? Who are these people? I think if Bittman bothered to talk to someone like Ronald, he'd learn that it is scientists who are disappointed that that the demonization of biotech by activists has been so successful. Their toxic rhetoric and campaigning has poisoned the well, which Bittman continues to drink from. And that disappoints many people who perhaps had high hopes that he would elevate the GMO dialogue. Instead, he continues to muddy it. What a shame.

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