Friday, May 31, 2013

Sleeping Through Science Class

Last weekend protesters held rallies against genetically modified or genetically engineered food in 52 countries and 436 cities.  I looked into and explained the safety and acceptability of GMO foods back in January.  I urge you to review that essay.   The news article itself reinforces this stance by stating that the controversy continues, “even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.”

The protests targeting Monsanto, chief supplier of GMO seeds, arose when “founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company's practices.”

Using the Internet, I tried to research her scientific background and credentials.  I found nothing except news of the protests and a single interview where she explains her position.  This interview tells of her fears for the longevity and fertility of her children as they are unknowingly exposed to these (assumed) harmful products.  She, along with other critics of GMO, want foods labeled so that people know what they are buying, “just in case anyone ever scientifically proves in the US that they are harmful.”  (She and the interviewer subtly imply that this will never happen, not on the basis of science, but due to some vague conspiracy.)  Later she says that Kellogg’s Froot Loops are 100% genetically modified and are marketed to children.  Although previously admitting that there is no scientific evidence, she wants everyone to “stop supporting these companies that irresponsibly put out a product that they know will cause harm.”  This leap from no evidence to companies knowing they “will cause harm” is echoed in her drive to make school lunches healthier and to stop providing “poison meals for our children.”

How do you get two million people fired up and marching? – Fear.  People who don’t understand science are being scared into action by other people who don’t understand science, on the off chance that GMOs might someday turn out to be dangerous.  How many other products can be accused of possibly being dangerous in the future?  Are we supposed to be afraid of them all and march to have them banned?  No product or action is absolutely safe.  But based on no scientific evidence, in fact evidence to the contrary, they express a firm belief in certain danger, an almost religious – not a reasoned – fervor that spreads from person to person with nothing behind it except a shared fear of some remote what-if scenario.  Soon large crowds are calling for changes.  This train of thought is too reminiscent of the witch trials of previous centuries.  In the words of Patrick Moore, who has a PhD in Ecology, became one of the first members of Greenpeace and is former president of the Greenpeace Foundation:  “I believe that the campaign of fear now waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic.”  (From “Environmentalism for the 21st Century” p. 9)

What these people should really be afraid of is the hunger, food shortages, and price increases that will follow as spineless and scientifically challenged politicians succumb to public pressure.  Even a labeling requirement will add costs to our food and will, once again, have a greater negative impact on those least able to afford it.  If we really care about our children and the future of the world, we would do two things:  protect them against the pernicious side effects of these ill-conceived and irrational movements while ensuring their generation receives (and stays awake through) a decent science education.

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