Fact And Fiction When It Comes To Genetically Modified Foods (GMO).
"Debate" is a nice name for it. Often it's more like a melee-- a meme-driven, name-calling free-for-all. Hackles, and voices, are raised. Rotten fruit is thrown. And all kinds of things pass for fact. Did you hear that Monsanto doesn't serve genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its cafeterias?
It's not just genetic modification. We're arguing about organics, honeybees, factory livestock, fishery depletion, aquaculture, yields, antibiotics, monocrops and chemicals. Some of these can be as polarizing as the most tough social issues; there's as deep a schism in the food community as there is in Congress. On the right, there's the insistence that biotech is the only way to feed a growing population, and the reluctance to admit the shortcomings of industrial agriculture. On the left, it's just the opposite. Monsanto, the avatar for Big Ag, is evil incarnate.
Unearthed is an attempt to negotiate the schism and nail down the hard, cold facts. The challenge is that, too typically, facts are warm and slippery; evidence has a maddening way of being equivocal. Look at any current scientific question-- any at all-- and you can cherry-pick evidence to support the position you happen to like.
Case in point: the impact on human health of genetically modified crops, Unearthed Issue No. 1. Are they safe to eat?
There's an excellent deal of research on the subject, but parsing the hundreds of studies done on GMO safety requires more time and knowledge than most of us have. Instead, we aim to someone else, someone we trust, to do it for us. And so the question of whether GMOs are safe becomes a very different question: Whom do you trust?
Most of us are already leaning one way or the other on GMOs, and it's natural to trust the source we agree with. And there's the problem. We speak to people who share our worldview (it's a nicer word than bias), dig our heels in deeper and before you know it we're shutting down the government.
To find out how we all might make better decisions about charged issues, I talked with James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and a professor of economics and decision sciences. "Risks that are uncertain and dreaded tend to be more feared," he said. GMOs are relatively new, improperly understood by many consumers, and in violation of our sense that food must be natural. Not only are those risks uncertain and dreaded, they're checked out on people trying to feed their families healthfully and safely while the benefits accrue to farmers and biotech companies. All of that adds up to an atmosphere that makes a reasoned argument tough. You can read more about this Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) article at WebMedTalk Genetically Modified Foods