Editorial: Demonizing GMOs

2/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

There’s something disturbing about the relentless push to require the labeling of genetically modified ingredients in food.

On the simplest level, proponents say people should have a right to know what’s in their food, including genetically modified organisms.

That seems innocuous enough on the surface, but scratch that surface and a darker motive appears.

Anti-GMO activists appear determined to demonize all instances of genetic modifications. Search the Internet for articles about GMOs and you will find plenty of “facts,” such as this explanation posted by naturalsociety.com:

“Genetically modified foods have been proven not only to be unhealthy, but also deadly. One review of 19 studies showed that with the consumption of genetically modified foods comes significant organ disruptions, especially in the liver and kidneys.

“What’s more, however, is that the damage posed by Monsanto’s GMO creations extend even further than public health. In fact, they threaten the environment as a whole.”

Now, no one wants to eat anything deadly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies spend a huge amount of money and effort each year tracking down cases of food contaminated with E. coli, salmonella and other deadly micro-organisms.

Yet the FDA says that after two decades, it has found no credible evidence that genetically modified ingredients — which the Center for Science in the Public Interest says are now used in 70 percent of all processed foods — pose any more risk to health than non-GMO ingredients.

It strains credibility to believe that the FDA is involved in some vast conspiracy with Monsanto and other large agribusinesses to endanger the health of the American public, yet that is what many GMO labeling proponents allege.

And, as propagandists in totalitarian societies have shown time and again, a good many people will eventually believe just about anything if it’s forcefully asserted often enough.

What better way to reinforce such assertions about the “deadly” dangers of GMO foods than to require such products to be labeled as a warning to consumers.

Journalists learn to develop a healthy level of skepticism about such assertions, especially when they’re sweeping condemnations of a broad category of anything.

If there’s a particular GMO ingredient that’s proved to be a hazard to human health, by all means, let’s remove it from the food supply.

But that’s not what I hear the anti-GMO activists asserting. Instead, they’re asking us to believe that all genetic modifications are hazardous, or at least highly suspect.

And underlying that appears to be an assumption that non-GMO ingredients spring from “natural” sources, as if such food has been in existence from time immemorial, ignoring the fact that nearly all food — animal as well as plant — is the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation through selective breeding.

We know that selective breeding has produced problems over the years. We can expect that similar problems will surface from genetic engineering.

But just as we wouldn’t want to go back to subsisting on wild plants and animals, we shouldn’t be asking scientists to set aside the tools they’ve developed to improve the productivity and resiliency of our food supply.

Instead of asking our elected officials to demonize a whole category of products through mandatory labeling, we should be asking them to provide more funding to investigate the safety of individual products as they become available.

In a column last week in the Kansas City Star, Blake Hurst, a farmer and greenhouse grower in Tarkio, Mo., as well as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, succinctly summed up how many farmers feel about anti-GMO and other activists:

“What concerns farmers is the growing consensus that the way we farm is nothing less than a crime against nature, nutrition, and all that is good and true,” Hurst wrote.

“Our critics are convinced that technology applied to personal communications devices and medicine is a net good, but science applied to growing things is freakish, unnatural and dangerous.

“They are bi-coastal experts in agriculture, armed with a touching nostalgia for a life they never lived.

“Consumers have every right to be curious about how we raise their food, and I’m more than glad to spend the next year talking about why we do the things we do.

“But those of us out here in the agricultural hinterlands are ill-prepared to joust with eloquent journalism professors, celebrity chefs and multimillion-dollar propaganda campaigns from franchised burrito stands.”

Yet, farmers must make that effort.

As Hurst concludes in his column, “We’re in this for the long haul. If I’m using a new method or a new technology, I’m convinced that it’s not only the right thing for me, but for my grandkids as well.”

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