Last week, the first ballots were mailed out in Washington State’s elections, which include a ballot question, I-522, that would mandate the labeling of foods produced using modern scientific biotechnology. Activists claim that these foods are unsafe, but reputable scientific authorities like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Medical Association find the agricultural advances in genetic modification safe.
The Seattle Times investigated the controversy recently but failed in one key regard: Despite presenting a convincing case that biotech food crops are safe, the paper did not state a conclusion. Indeed, the article noted that while there are confirmed cases of problems arising from “conventional” cross-breeding techniques, there is no evidence that any problematic biotech products have left the lab.
And the most hysterical claims of harm come from non-credible sources. A study by a committed anti-biotech activist from last year screamed that “GMO” (genetically modified organism) food caused tumors in rats, but the study was designed horribly. A Los Angeles Times commentator declared it “weapons-grade junk science.” Even European regulators found the study was of “insufficient scientific quality,” and Europe is known to be extremely hostile to biotechnology.
In fact, Marion Nestle—a longtime advocate of organic food and foe of biotechnology—even conceded to the Los Angeles Times that the activist’s claims were based on “a really bad study.” But that didn’t convince the committed left-wing professor that biotechnology is fine.
Nestle told the reporter: “When you’re dealing with belief systems, science isn’t going to work […] I’m not concerned so much about the safety — but even if they are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable.” That’s a statement of a religion’s sumptuary law, not a science-based statement. It would be illegal for a state to require food to be Kosher or to enforce the Catholic custom of “fish on Fridays,” a proposition one suspects Nestle would concede. But by dressing up their anti-business faith in the clothing of weapons-grade junk science, activists hope to scare the public and circumvent the Establishment Clause. It’s a shame that some don’t acknowledge what’s plainly in front of their faces.