The Sciences

A Sideswipe on Ag Biotech

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 22, 2011 7:56 AM

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Jonathan Adler, who writes much about science from a conservative perspective, doesn't like anti-GMO yahoos on the left. Neither do I. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, he writes:

It has been clear for decades that the means through which a crop strain is developed has no bearing on the health or environmental risks such a crop could pose. The scientific consensus here is broader and more stable than on climate change and other contentious environmental questions. The National Academy of Sciences, British Royal Society and EU have all concluded that modern biotech techniques are no more dangerous than traditional crop modification methods. Nevertheless, due to progressive environmental activism and fear campaigns, crops developed with modern biotechnology are subject to greater regulatory scrutiny. As Federoff notes, a reactive precautionary stance may have been justified years ago when biotechnology was new, but there is no scientific justification for such a position today. Yet progressive environmentalists continue to oppose modern agricultural biotechnology — and the supposed defenders of scientific integrity have little to say about it.

That last link, you'll note, is to this blog. Why is this a low blow? Because I don't like anti-GMO advocacy or its scientific exaggerations, and I have spoken and written about this, and Adler knows it very well. How does he know? I need only link to his own review of my book, 2005's The Republican War on Science:

UPDATE: One of the best examples of the politicization of science by the "left" — and one of the few that Mooney acknowledges — is the treatment of agricultural biotechnology, and the decision to subject such products to more stringent regulatory review than those developed with other methods. This policy has no scientific basis, as the National Academy of Sciences has stated many times.

Yup, it's right there in my book, where I ding Greenpeace for the whole "Frankenfoods" demagoguery. Did Adler forget? Or does he merely sideswipe for no reason? I don't exactly write about GM foods or crops every day, but I've written about the topic, I'm aware of the state of the science is, etc. Of course. Adler also has the politics of the issue wrong, incidentally. It's precisely because the risks of ag biotech are overblown that the left is not mostly opposed to these foods, and consequently, resistance has largely failed to catch on United States. Europe may have more left extremes--and more issues with food in general. But over here, we liberals listen to our scientists and update our views accordingly--this is a core part of our political identities. Consequently, the issue really plays out much like nuclear power--some left activists are emotionally opposed, and hype the risks, but those who listen to the science and the scientists just can't take that sort of a stance. And you don't find mainstream liberals being either anti-nuclear, or anti-GM.

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