The Dangers of Outsourcing Policy to Activists

CornfieldToday, BusinessWeek reveals a concerning development in food policy in this activist age. Noting that activist groups (contrary to the provisional findings of the Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that reviews the safety of genetically improved animals, which has thus far identified no problems) have convinced several grocers not to sell genetically improved salmon—should it ever come to market—a headline asks, “What About Wal-Mart?”

Now, by the law and by science Wal-Mart has literally done nothing wrong. The company is waiting on the FDA’s evaluations and approval before evaluating whether to stock the new salmon, which has been improved to grow to market weight more quickly. (The fish is not yet commercialized, as it awaits final approval by regulators.)

So why would BusinessWeek’s headline writer imply Wal-Mart was doing something wrong? Simple: Activists have taken it upon themselves to make policy, stealing responsibility from regulators and scientific advisory bodies. We see this all the time with genetically improved food crops: Despite convincing scientific consensuses that GIFs are safe, activists like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) attack them, leading consumers to be unreasonably frightened and spooking retailers from stocking perfectly safe foods.

And while the anti-salmon attacks might have no effect on human health, other activist attempts to seize regulatory authority can kill. Most notoriously, activists like EWG trumpeted a finding later retracted for serious misconduct resembling fraud that childhood vaccines cause autism. Despite a landslide of blowback from the scientific and medical communities, enough people still refuse vaccines that diseases like measles and whooping cough are having a resurgence.

And the general assault by EWG and others against GIFs may very well lead to deaths. In the developing world, researchers hope that GIF rice, sorghum, and cassava will reduce micronutrient deficiencies that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year. Other GIFs are being developed that protect staple crops against drought and disease, preventing famine and crop failure. And consumers who wish to avoid GIFs already have a government-sanctioned option: “USDA Organic” foods are not allowed to use modern genetic improvement. This isn’t about choice—it’s activists once again trying to compel the rest of us to follow their ideologies.

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