Planet Earth

Who Will Elevate the Conversation on GMOs?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOct 24, 2012 4:24 PM

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Yesterday, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now devoted her program to a discussion on California's Proposition 37, a voter initiative that, if passed on November 6, would mandate the labeling of many foods in the state's grocery stores (restaurants are exempted) if they contained genetically modified ingredients. One of the guests on the program was Michael Pollan, the best-selling author and a journalism professor at UC Berkley. At one point in his interview with Goodman, Pollan lauded Michelle Obama for "elevating the conversation" on food issues. (The First Lady has adopted healthy eating as her main cause.) The debate on genetically modified foods (and the CA labeling initiative) is screaming out to be elevated by someone with prominence. Here's what Pollan, who is in favor of labeling GM foods, said to Goodman on this issue:

Consumers would probably avoid genetically modified food if they were given a choice. Why would they do that? It's perfectly rational to avoid genetically modified food so far. It offers the consumer nothing. To the consumer, all it offers is some uncertainty--the doubts [on safety] that have been raised by certain studies about it.

Pollan is no dummy. He knows that such studies are rubbish (I wonder which ones he's referring to) and that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that GMO foods are potentially unsafe to eat. But he reinforces the fears that are fanned by anti-GMO campaigners. In the next breath, he says this:

It [genetically modified crops] is also a type of agriculture that some consumers want to avoid: giant monocultures under a steady rain of herbicides, which is what most GM crops are. So faced with that risk/benefit analysis--some undetermined possible risk vs no benefit whatsoever, what is the smart thing to do? The smart thing to do is just to avoid it until we know more about it.

It's incredible to me that someone so smart can make this argument with a straight face. As University of Wyoming agronomist Andrew Kniss tweeted today,

 Monoculture adoption is due to the increased efficiency, not due to any one technology.

Kniss also said this in a follow-up tweet:

Monoculture & GMO are often associated, but not cause-effect.

So Pollan, given an opportunity to elevate the debate on GM foods, instead plays the "uncertainty" card and repeats the "monoculture" trope. What a shame. In her program, Goodman also interviewed the scare-mongering huckster Jeffrey Smith, who is Dr. Oz's go-tosource on GMO issues. Is there any hope for a sensible public conversation on GMOs?

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