Monday, April 27, 2015

Will we ever get to healthily talking about GMO food?

The news feed reported that "Chipotle to Stop Serving Genetically Altered Food."  It doesn't matter to me; I have never been to a Chipotle nor do I have plans to go there anyway.

But, that corporate talk won't be easy to walk:
Ridding the supply chain of genetically altered components is difficult. They lurk in baking powder, cornstarch and a variety of ingredients used as preservatives, coloring agents and added vitamins, as well as in commodities like canola and soy oils, corn meal and sugar.
Oh well, what Chipotle does is its business.

But, the madness over the GMO issue is my business too.
It's a conversation that needs to change. A recent Pew survey found that the largest disagreement between scientists and the public on a scientific issue is over the question of GMO safety. While 88 percent of surveyed scientists agreed that GMOs were safe to eat, only 37 percent of the public agreed. This is substantially lower than the 50 percent of people who accept that humans are contributing to climate change—GMOs are more controversial than global warming.
As with climate change, it is not the science itself that is the hassle.  It is the PR angle.  GMO needs Apple's PR people for an image makeover; after all, almost always the GMO-haters are religiously devoted to Apple and its products!

A former Greenpeace activist and a GMO hater, Mark Lynas, writes about his conversion:
A lifelong environmentalist, I opposed genetically modified foods in the past. Fifteen years ago, I even participated in vandalizing field trials in Britain. Then I changed my mind.
After writing two books on the science of climate change, I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on G.M.O.s.
There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other.
I have blogged once before about Lynas's (the Comma Queen says this usage is ok!) conversion.  Lynas was no ordinary petition-signing GMO hater:
He was a law breaker. He'd pile into vans with gangs of up to 30 people and spend nights slashing GM crops with machetes. 
Now on the other side, which is the correct side on the GMO issue, Lynas writes:
No one claims that biotech is a silver bullet. The technology of genetic modification can’t make the rains come on time or ensure that farmers in Africa have stronger land rights. But improved seed genetics can make a contribution in all sorts of ways: It can increase disease resistance and drought tolerance, which are especially important as climate change continues to bite; and it can help tackle hidden malnutritional problems like vitamin A deficiency.
We need this technology. We must not let the green movement stand in its way.
I wonder how difficult or easy it was for him to write "We must not let the green movement stand in its way" when he was one of the very people who created the madness in the first place!  To undo all that will not be easy.  Meanwhile, pity the poor and struggling farmers in India, Kenya, Bangladesh, ...

You think I care about what Chipotle does?



Anne in Salem said...

Scare tactics overrule reason. Not the first time, not the last unfortunately. GMOs have contributed so much to feeding the world safely by improving growing techniques, like rice, that millions do not starve any more.

Chipotle can't go GMO free because the feed for the animals who provide their meat is heavily GMO. To avoid that, they would have to use organic meat at a minimum, and the $5 burrito would be $15 instead. Few people care enough about GMOs to pay that much for a burrito.

Ramesh said...

You should care Sriram. For the reasons you and Anne mention, its a bogus claim by Chipotle. Trying to get competitive advantage by pandering to the anti genetically modified crop lobby and that too with something difficult to actually adhere to is worse than fear mongering.

The timing to react to Chipotle is perfect. All that Hillary Clinton has to do is to declare that she won't go to Chipotle again :):):)

By the way, I will also fault the scientific community for not engaging well enough with the community and opinion makers. Norman Borlaug and MS Swaminathan did this very well when they introduced the high yielding varieties long ago - some fear mongering happened then too, but they along with the government handled it well. Perhaps forming a safety panel, coopting some of the organisations that are anti GM into overseeing field trials and safety, might be good to do. We have to engage with the critics, however loony they may be. The prize of ensuring food security for such a huge world population is too important not to stoop, or even grovel, to conquer.

Sriram Khé said...

Borlaugh and Swaminathan were scientists in the pre-internet era. One of the downsides with the internet democratizing everything is that any blogging idiot like me can express an opinion and consider to be equals with the likes of Borlaugh and Swaminathan.
I have always believed that the international accord on CFC and the Ozone layer, for instance, worked only because it was in those old days before the internet.
The internet is a blessing and a curse in some respects.

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