The Truth about Biotechnology
Background: Since the mid-1990s, grains and vegetables enhanced through biotechnology have been common in the United States. But some food scaremongers, fueled by a combination of ignorance and junk science, are attempting to drive the biotech food industry into the ground—literally.
- In the U.S. alone, more than 100 separate organizations speak out against what they derisively call “Frankenfoods.” Such groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars to scare the public about advances in biotechnology. DNA research pioneer James Watson has pointed out the obvious: behemoths like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth “get bigger memberships if people are afraid of their food.”
- Ronnie Cummins, a Ralph Nader disciple, has described how “mad cow” disease, which had nothing to do with crop biotechnology, made Europeans “lose faith in industrial agriculture altogether,” sparking huge growth in activist budgets and political power. Cummins openly hoped for “a similar crisis of confidence … in the United States.”
- Joan Gussow, a Columbia University nutritionist who rails almost pathologically against food technology, has complained to the San Francisco Chronicle that big companies are “taking over” organic markets. “When we said ‘organic,’ we meant local,” Gussow complained. “We meant social justice and equality.” Apparently this crusade is less about what’s for dinner and more about who produces it.
- England’s Prince Charles told the London Telegraph that genetically modified foods would bring about “the absolute destruction of everything,” the biggest environmental disaster ever, and an overall “unmentionable awfulness.”
Research: There is no scientific basis for activists’ revulsion of genetically modified foods and organic-only orthodoxy. There is, on the other hand, plenty of evidence that biotechnology is beneficial.
- The World Health Organization’s position on genetically modified food is that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
- In 2002 the Hudson Institute found that organic and “natural” food products were eight times more likely to be recalled or suffer other food safety problems, compared to their conventional counterparts.
- According to Dr. Robert Tauxe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s foodborne diseases chief, “‘Organic’ means your food was grown in manure. The public health hazard of fresh fruits and vegetables contaminated with feces as fertilizer is a long standing concern.” An FDA spokesman later echoed Dr. Tauxe’s concerns, stating that “Most especially at risk are organic products because they could be fertilized with manure.”
- The FDA has found that genetically modified salmon are safe for human consumption, pose no environmental threat (they are sterile) and had no “material difference” that would require the fish, once approved, to carry a special label.
Arguments: With near-religious fervor, organic-only food activists have baselessly sought to remove genetically modified foods from the marketplace, despite mounting evidence that they are not only safe, but also beneficial for food production.
- Grains and vegetables enhanced through biotechnology have been as common in the United States as tap water since the mid-1990s, and there’s no proof that even a case of the sniffles has resulted.
- Former British farming minister Lord Rooker weighed in on the madness and offered his own assessment: “One thing I will not accept is the arguments and the slogans when there isn’t any evidence. Organic food activists are on a messianic mission. It is almost a religion where there isn’t any science base to it.” Lord Peter Melchett of the Soil Association has conceded as much, saying, “Science doesn’t tell us the answers so some of it we have to go on feelings.”
- Organic-only food supporters are free to choose food grown as primitively as when humankind began to cultivate the earth thousands of years ago—but that’s no reason to impose their choices on everyone else.