Activists opposed to genetically improved foods (which they call genetically modified organisms or GMOs) have taken to the retraction of the only scientific study purporting to find any harm to human health about as well as could be expected. Like conspiracy kooks who shout, “Fire can’t melt steel!” at every juncture, the anti-biotechnology movement has simply dismissed that the scientific integrity of the now-retracted study was ever in doubt so intrigue is to blame.
Michael Pollan, who has faced criticism from science journalists and reputable scientists for peddling junk commentary on genetically improved foods on Twitter in the past, passed around the musings of “GMWatch,” a group that admits it has received funding from British organic pressure group the Soil Association, on the retraction.
— GMWatch (@GMWatch) December 11, 2013
Naturally, GMWatch alleged a Monsanto conspiracy and demanded the paper be reinstated. Another blogger at the Huffington Post demanded that his fellow activists continue to claim that biotechnology was a lethal poison, standing up for the validity of the retracted study.
Other commentators had different views, actually informed by the science on genetic improvement of foods. The Economist editorial board admonished the anti-genetic improvement movement, stating, “There is now no serious scientific evidence that GM crops do any harm to the health of human beings.” A Bloomberg View opinion writer was equally harsh, writing about the retraction:
That should have settled it, right?
Maybe if this were a normal scientific controversy. But this is GM food and, like climate change, it’s a topic that doesn’t seem subject to the normal rules of scientific inquiry. That might include the molecular biologist who headed the study, Gilles-Eric Seralini of Caen University in France and a longtime foe of GM foods. Instead of voluntarily withdrawing the study after its shortcomings were pointed out by other scientists, he threatened to sue the journal and accused those who disputed his findings of having conflicts of interest.
Activists like Pollan have clearly demonstrated that science will not guide their view of genetically improved foods. It is, as Soil Association leader Peter Melchett once said, a matter of “feelings.” And truthfully, those “feelings” are just wrong. Even the “heirloom tomatoes” that so enthrall people like Pollan are products of centuries of human manipulation and intervention.
Against those feelings stand reputable science, including the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Health Organization. Activists relying on debunked studies continue to push their discredited “Label GMOs” campaigns, but as more people learn the truth, expect more states to follow California and Washington in rejecting them.