Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.
The GMO Backlash Backlash
Aug 16, 2013
Genetically modified crops enjoyed rocket-fast adoption, even though the technology itself can be difficult to understand. That’s a surefire recipe for backlash, and sure enough, GMO opponents have been questioning the technology for the past decade. But as research trials pour in year after year proving GMO safety, the arguments against GMO safety are looking flimsier than ever.
"The modern technology that is being used – which is broadly called biotechnology – is in fact far more precise, far more predictable and far more controlled than older technologies that were used to introduce quality traits into our crops," explains Martina Newell McGloughlin, a professor at the University of California at Davis.
McGloughlin shares this viewpoint with the vast majority of the scientific community. Even so, journalists far too often give level footing to both sides of the debate. That’s beginning to change, as publications are beginning to call each other out with accusations of supporting "junk science."
Elle magazine is the latest to be criticized for its scare piece, "The Bad Seed," which asserted the author suffered "GMO allergies," a condition that has not documented nor formally recognized by any science or health organization. Reaction in the publishing world was swift, led by a takedown by online magazine Slate and echoed across the journalism blogosphere.
"["The Bad Seed" author] Shetterly’s narrative is emotionally compelling, but only that; it just doesn’t withstand the critical scrutiny of science," writes author John Entine for Slate. "Shetterly’s journalistic trick—a tactic often employed by anti-GMO activists—was to frame a settled issue in the science community as a mystery or controversy."
Entine elaborated on his Forbes blog: "Simply said, Elle has failed journalism and its readers. It should never have published this piece. It’s rationalization—that it was committed to airing both sides of a debate—is the worst kind of journalistic ‘false equivalency’—giving equal weight to two views that are not equally credible."
From a farmer’s standpoint, there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to grow genetically modified crops. Conventional crops can yield just as well for a fraction of the cost, and farmers can capture premiums in certain markets for conventionally grown crops.
But there is no scientific evidence that suggests it’s unsafe to eat genetically modified food. It’s encouraging to see mainstream media begin to self-police each other against unearned scare-mongering.