"Debate" is a nice name for it. Sometimes it’s more like a melee— a meme-driven, name-calling free-for-all. Hackles, and voices, are raised. Rotten fruit is thrown. And all kinds of things pass for reality. Did you hear that Monsanto doesn’t serve genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its lunchrooms?
It’s not just genetic modification. We’re suggesting about organics, honeybees, factory livestock, fishery deficiency, aquaculture, yields, monocrops, antibiotics and chemicals. Some of these can be as polarizing as the most difficult social concerns; there’s as deep a schism in the food community as there is in Congress. On the right, there’s the insistence that biotech is the only means to feed a growing population, and the reluctance to admit the imperfections of industrial agriculture. On the left, it’s just the opposite. Monsanto, the avatar for Big Ag, is evil incarnate.
Unearthed is an attempt to discuss the schism and nail down the tough, cold realities. The challenge is that, too often, realities are warm and slippery; evidence has a maddening means of being equivocal. Look at any existing scientific question— any at all— and you can cherry-pick evidence to support the position you take place to like.
Case in point: the influence on human health of genetically modified crops, Unearthed Issue No. 1. Are they safe to eat?
There’s a large amount of research on the target, but parsing the hundreds of research studies done on GMO safety requires more time and expertise than many of us have. Instead, we look to someone else, someone we trust, to do it for us. And so the question of whether GMOs are safe becomes a really different question: Whom do you trust?
Many of us are already leaning one means or the other on GMOs, and it’s natural to trust the source we agree with. And there’s the trouble. We chat to people who share our worldview (it’s a nicer word than prejudice), dig our heels in deeper and before you know it we’re shutting down the government.
To figure out how we all could make better decisions about charged concerns, I chatted with James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and a professor of economics and decision sciences. "Risks that are unsure and dreadful tend to be more feared," he said. GMOs are reasonably new, poorly understood by lots of consumers, and in offense of our sense that food should be natural. Not only are those threats unsure and dreadful, they’re visited on people trying to feed their families healthfully and safely while the benefits build up to farmers and biotech companies. All of that adds up to an atmosphere that makes a reasoned debate difficult. You can read more about this Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) article at WebMedTalk