Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why GMO Labeling is Dangerous in the Current Cultural Context

There is a big push underway here in Portland, and in states and cities across the country, to pass laws which would require the labeling of foods which contain genetically modified orgamisms (GMOs).  These pieces of potential legislation are being sold to the public on the theory that we all have a 'right to know' what is in our food.  On the surface, I agree with this principal.  Why shouldn't I be made aware of what I am putting into my body?  Makes sense, right?  Well, not in our current cultural context.

We live in a society that has benefitted greatly from the scientific advances of the past two centuries.  Life expectancy has doubled, quality of life is better than it has ever been for the majority of human beings on this planet, and we can communicate across the globe with unprecedented speed and abundance.  Despite this, there has been a massive anti-science backlash that has stemmed from many of the abuses of scientific knowledge that occurred during the twentieth century.  These abuses, such as the development of the atom bomb, the eugenics movement, the Tuskegee experiments, were all very real and horrific.   Combine common knowledge of these past abuses with incredibly poor science education and a plethora of industries selling us all pseudo scientific woo (ie. alternative medicine, climate change denial, the anti-vaccine movement, Deepak Chopra) and you have a recipe for disaster.

The general public is woefully scientifically illiterate and massively misinformed regarding the science of GMOs.  Despite the fact that the broad scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe for humans and the environment anti-GMO activists are spreading misinformation and pseudo-science to support an ideological agenda.  Given that the global population is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century, and that with climate change droughts will become more frequent and severe, it is imperative that we find ways to grow more food on the same amount of, or even less, land.  Genetic engineering is just one tool, a very effective tool, that can and should be used to solve this problem.  Unfortunately the general public is highly confused and misinformed about these truths.  In fact many anti-GMO activists believe the exact opposite of this consensus, in much the same way that climate change skeptics believe the exact opposite of the consensus on global warming.  The latter is incredibly dangerous because it is currently stopping the global community from taking necessary and decisive action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.  In much the same way anti-GMO propaganda is dangerous because it is keeping many farmers from adopting GMO technologies which can be used to increase biodiversity, decrease pesticide use, and increase the nutritional value of staple foods such as rice.

So, given our society's scientific illiteracy in general, and it's misinformed beliefs about GMOs in particular, I do not support the labeling of GMOs in foods.  In my admittedly anecdotal experience I've found that the general public thinks GMO means unsafe, bad for the environment, and unhealthy.  Given such a public perception GMO labels will serve to confuse consumers more, not educate them.  Consumers will avoid anything with a GMO label based on fear and emotional appeals, not science.  In turn, demand for foods with the GMO label will decrease, which means that the application of genetic engineering to agricultural products will be slowed or even stifled.  In lieu of the current global environmental crisis that we are all experiencing anything which slows down or inhibits the further development of GMOs could have disastrous consequences.  If you have a true appreciation of what science is and what it is not, along with a strong desire to help mitigate the effects of global warming then you'll oppose GMO labeling too.

No comments:

Post a Comment