In the neo-Luddites’ county-by-county campaign to ban genetically engineered (GE) crops in California, one activist has stumbled over his own rhetoric. According to GE-Free Sonoma County campaign coordinator Daniel Solnit — a former state Green Party lead organizer — proponents of GE crops are “afraid to argue the issue on its merits.” But Solnit himself sidestepped any debate of merits, and instead invokes an old myth and the ridiculous “precautionary principle.”

If Solnit were looking to argue his case on the merits, he likely wouldn’t have ratcheted up his rhetoric to claim: “After the Starlink disaster, hundreds of people had serious allergic reactions. We shouldn’t be playing Russian roulette with public health and the safety of our food.” Of course, despite the activist-driven media hullabaloo over the GE corn, Starlink never caused anyone so much as the sniffles. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in 2001 that Starlink did not cause allergies in the group of 17 people who had reported a supposedly severe response. Subsequent, peer-reviewed research has substantiated the point. Besides which, biotech crops have undergone hundreds and thousands of tests the world over — and in the U.S. alone they are overseen by three government agencies. The balance of evidence is so overwhelming that the European Union deemed them “safer than conventional plants and foods.”

In the ultimate act of avoiding arguing the issue “on its merits,” Solnit insists that “the precautionary principle should apply” to biotech crops. Invoking that ridiculous “principle” is just a way of sidestepping real debate by saying that any risk, no matter how hypothetical, justifies stopping a new technology. That essentially asks you to prove a negative, which is impossible. Consider the words of Martin Teitel, an anti-biotechnology activist who wanted to employ the precautionary principle in his neo-Luddite crusade. He said in 2001: “It’s difficult for me to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, so it’s safer for me to say something like, ‘It needs to be done safely before releasing it.”‘