Anti-Biotechnology Rhetoric Withers on the Vine

We’ve looked before at California’s ballot initiative to require that foods produced using biotechnology be labeled (and that labeling be enforced by the trial bar), and it’s in the news again in the lead-up to a November vote. The American Medical Association has rejected so-called “GMO labeling,” but a combination of organic-food zealotry and hopes of future legal paydays has put the question before California voters.

One columnist for the Los Angeles Times went looking through the pro-labeling campaign’s disclosure records and found that it has received support from Joseph Mercola, a “natural foods” salesman whose dubious claims have led to FDA warnings. The Sacramento Bee editorial board warned that California’s proposal “is an overreach, is ambiguous, and would open the way for countless lawsuits” and that “California does not need another open-ended cause of [legal] action.” (Remember Proposition 65 and the resulting cancer warnings on everything from fishing rods to parking garages?)

And while anti-science activists like New York Times columnist Mark Bittman agitate for unnecessary labels, scientists are using biotechnology to attack hunger and improve crop yields. (In study after study, organic crop yields just don’t stand up to conventional, biotech-friendly yields.) The Los Angeles Times reports on one such path of research: As major crop-growing regions of the United States suffer exceptional droughts, scientists are working to improve drought resistance in corn. Biotechnology is among the methods being tested.

Should the scientists succeed using biotechnology, it won’t quiet the activists—just as a Stanford study showing that organics are predictably no more nutritious than conventional foods led to outrage from the movement. Some like Mercola have money on the line, and anything that pierces the “organic” or “GM-Free” haloes is a threat to their business. Others like Bittman are simply wrong (see his views on “local food” and “raw milk” for other examples).

But being on the wrong side of science hasn’t stopped anti-biotechnology activists before. Remember British organic leader Peter Melchett? He encapsulated the views of the anti-biotech and organic movements when he said, “Science doesn’t tell us the answers so some of it we have to go on feelings.” Years later, he and his allies are still going strong, while the rest of the world needs realistic solutions.


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