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Why Are Greens Seduced by Anti-Biotech Charlatans?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 31, 2013 10:50 AM


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To understand just how mainstream anti-GMO sentiment is within environmentalism, check out this event held several weeks ago at Audubon's educational center in Greenwich, Connecticut. The promo:

Two films and speakers about genetically engineered seeds; the history & future of farming; and why leading scientists think GMOs threaten human health and sustainabile food production systems.

I really wanted to attend this, so I could learn who those leadings scientists were. But I had tickets to a Rangers game that night. Also, I'm not sure I would have had the stomach to sit through a double feature on GMO paranoia and misinformation, especially with one of the movies being Jeffrey Smith's Genetic Roulette. It's pretty amazing that someone as disreputable as Smith has been legitimized by popular talk show hosts and celebrity environmentalists like David Suzuki and Jane Goodall. Goodall, as you probably have heard, is under fire for apparently plagiarizing portions of her new book, Seeds of Hope (which has now been postponed). For science-based fans of Goodall, the news gets worse. Michael Moynihan points out in the Daily Beast:

One of the more troubling aspects of Seeds of Hope is Goodall’s embrace of dubious science on genetically modified organisms (GMO). On the website of the Jane Goodall Foundation, readers are told—correctly—that “there isscientific consensus” that climate change is being driven by human activity. But Goodall has little time for scientific consensus on the issue of GMO crops, dedicating the book to those who “dare speak out” against scientific consensus. Indeed, her chapter on the subject is riddled with unsupportable claims backed by dubious studies.

With that background and his blatant GMO nuttiness, Smith is easy to ridicule. But what does it say about people like Goodall who endorse such a charlatan? What does it say about a highly regarded environmental educational center that promotes Smith as a credible source on genetically modified foods? Mark Hoofnagle is unsparing in what he thinks it says:

Many of the claims in Seeds of Hope can also be found in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, a book by “consumer advocate” Jeffrey Smith. Goodall generously blurbed the book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and in Seeds of Hope cites a “study” on GMO conducted by Smith’s “think tank,” the Institute for Responsible Technology. Like Goodall, Smith isn’t a genetic scientist. According to New Yorker writer Michael Specter, he “has no experience in genetics or agriculture, and has no scientific degree from any institution” but did study “business at the Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”

It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech...I’m irritated with the anti-GMO movement because it’s an embarrassment. It’s Luddism, and ignorance masquerading as environmentalism. It’s bad biology. It’s the progressive equivalent of creationism or global warming denial. It’s classic anti-science, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Ah, but most greens and foodies not only tolerate anti-GMO craziness, they wink at it. Why is that?

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