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Why Leading Foodies Tolerate Junk Science

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNovember 8, 2012 6:51 PM


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Now that California voters have rejected the initiative to label genetically modified foods, the fight moves on to other states. Before we speculate on how those efforts might play out, let's first be clear on what the fight is actually about. In a piece at Time, Bryan Walsh argues that

the battle over [California's] Prop 37 and GM food was never really about science or health. It's about politics "” and who should control the U.S. food system.

This is true for people like Michael Pollan, but for those like Grist's Susie Cagle, who want GM foods to be labeled with the "grinning face of genetically modified death," something else is at work.


Cagle is a fan of the Label It Yourself campaign, which asserts:

While we do not know for sure the longterm impacts of GMO's, increasing evidence connects them with serious health risks (including infertility, birth defects, allergies, and digestive problems), environmental damage (including water contamination, degraded soil health, die-off of beneficial insects, loss of biodiversity, and seed pollution) risks and violation of farmers' and consumers' rights.

But as Walsh writes in his piece,

there's no getting around the fact that the majority of the science done so far indicates that GM food poses no known threat to consumers. That puts those warning about the threat of GM food in a very similar position to global-warming skeptics "” defying the mainstream scientific consensus, calling into question the quality of the studies that form that consensus and seeking out dissenters who share their doubts.

So yes, while politics ("who should control the food system") is an underlying basis for much anti-GMO sentiment, there's also no getting around that fear of genetically modified crops is a big factor, too. And that fear is a palpable force driving the anti-GMO ranks within the food movement, which Pollan et al cynically exploit to advance a political agenda that aims to change the way food is produced and curb the power of agricultural giants like Monsanto. As I wrote recently at Slate:

Without subtly stoking ignorant fears about GM food, there would be no way to mobilize the fight against Monsanto and what it stands for.

Going forward, as the GMO labeling battle spreads from California to other states, the big question for Pollan, Marion Nestle and other leading champions of the Food Movement is this: Do they believe that a campaign based on junk science and fear-mongering is the best way to achieve a political goal?

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