Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 29, 2012 8:57 PM


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In Europe, anti-GMO activism has turned increasingly confrontational, which seems to have backfired in one recent case. In the United States, anti-GMO sentiment has taken a different form, which Amy Harmon of the New York Times wrote about last week in this excellent piece:

For more than a decade, almost all processed foods in the United States "” cereals, snack foods, salad dressings "” have contained ingredients from plants whose DNA was manipulated in a laboratory. Regulators and many scientists say these pose no danger. But as Americans ask more pointed questions about what they are eating, popular suspicions about the health and environmental effects of biotechnology are fueling a movement to require that food from genetically modified crops be labeled, if not eliminated.

On twitter, Harmon noted that of the hundreds of comments on her article, "what you really see is extent to which GM is proxy for (perceived) ills of industrial ag." In the comment thread of a recent post of mine, a plant scientist echoes this observation:

People are blaming GMOs for all the ills of big ag. And because of that they can't think past it to the possible benefits. And to me the benefits outweigh the risks.

The extent to which people oppose a technology because of what/who it has become identified with is fascinating to me. So I got to thinking of where else such logic can also be applied. Below are some examples: If you require prescription drugs for an illness or medical condition, do you decline the medicine because it was produced by Big Pharma (and their profit motive)? If you know that esteemed investment companies and banks are still engaging in behavior that contributed to the recent global economic meltdown, do you oppose capitalism? If you know that many politicians are corrupted by special interest money, do you oppose elective democracy? If you believe that some climate scientists exaggerate the current impacts of global warming, do you distrust all climate science? If you believe that environmentalism, in recent decades, has perverted the meaning of the precautionary principle, do you oppose all regulations for industrial contaminants? If you know that the conclusions drawn from research published in biomedical journals are frequently "misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong," because of bias, do you reject all peer reviewed science? Call me crazy, but wouldn't reform of aforementioned institutions, companies, and practices be the more rational way to go, instead of outright rejection? Feel free to play along and offer more examples.

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