Maywa Montengro has a commentary on Seed Magazine about the opposition to genetic engineering that’s worth taking a read, and it’s right on-topic with what we’ve been talking about with anti-science. Here is a taste of A Natural Obsession.
When delegates from 192 nations arrive in Copenhagen in December for the UN COP15 summit, they will confront a 181-page draft negotiation text, 2,000 bracketed passages still in dispute, and just 11 days in which to come to some sort of consensus. To power them through these discussions, Denmark has promised a smorgasbord of ecologically minded fare: All water will be tap (not bottled), tea and coffee will be fair trade, and the food menu will be no less than 65 percent organic.
Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, this last provision is troubling, but not because anyone really cares about the provenance of Ban Ki-Moon’s turnip greens. Rather, it suggests a willful and dangerous ignorance about the tenuous state of global agriculture, and the prospects for feeding 9 billion people while also addressing biodiversity loss, water shortage, and, yes, climate change. Organic foods are enjoying skyrocketing popularity in the US and Europe, as are their ill-defined sidekicks, “natural,” “whole,” and “real” foods. Yet popular notions that these foods—and the agriculture that begets them—are at once better for people and for the planet turn out to be largely devoid of experimental support. Worse still, “organophilia” tends to go hand-in-hand with technophobic skepticism towards the very sorts of scientific approaches most likely to supercharge an ailing food system while leaving our planet intact.
How did this movement get this way?
Unfortunately, what may have begun as a revolt against fake food or, for many, the horrors of concentrated animal feed lots, has given way to a culture that increasingly fetishizes organic, natural, and whole foods with little agreement on what such terms even mean, outside of an emphatic devotion to what they are not: They aren’t in any way related to industrial-scale farms or big-box grocery chains; chemical herbicides or pesticides; biotechnology or its subgenre, genetic engineering. And by those criteria, they are deemed to be safer, more nutritious, and less damaging to the environment.
Someone else has noticed that Organic has been identifying itself by what it is not, rather than what it is. So is organic automatically better? Read the rest and come back!
I particularly liked the part about the rat feeding study… Definitely going to look that one up.
A suggestion: There seems to be a lot of time here and elsewhere spent trying to define (and in some cases vilify) the “other” side. If this blog is to live up to its proclaimed mission of “fostering discussion about plant genetics, especially genetic engineering” , I believe it would be best to engage your opposition directly, if they are willing. Name calling at each other across the void does nothing constructive. Neither does trotting out lists of potential guest bloggers and interviews that only support your POV. Why not try to get the “others” over here? For example, how about showing some good will, and true interest in the discussion, by offering to share some of the Pollan interview with GMwatch? Create a three way interaction and let Pollan respond to both sides. Or let a GMwatch, etc spokesperson state their case here as a guest. At least we’ll all know, up front, where everyone stands, rather than relying on hear-say, innuendo, and he-said, she-said BS. And for the record, I know little about and have no connection in any way with GMwatch or any other “anti-GM” group. I’m just wanting more substantial discussions here.
Of course, they would have to be willing, and to be useful, both sides would have to restrain from the type of trashing that has become the norm of Pharyngula. It still may worth a shot, though. We all might be surprised what we learn.
Thanks for your comment, Pdiff. When the changemakers contest is over I plan to invite the Non-GMO Project over for an interview. I am currently interviewing someone else by email who is critical of GE crops, and anyone can start their own topics of discussion in the forum. I have specifically invited several anti-GE folks to come on over here and join in on the discussion but none of those people has even left a single comment on the blog.
You bring up a good point about inviting anti-GE people to state their case with guest posts – and that option is open to them, all they need to do is contact us by email and set it up. We could certainly expound more on that in the Write for Biofortified page, because so far there have been no takers. And I know GM Watch reads the blog.
I am pleased with the level of discourse on the blog so far, with only minor testiness between a couple readers. I would like to cultivate an atmosphere of approachability on this blog, where people from the ‘other’ side can feel comfortable voicing their opinion and asking questions.
I wonder if the Non-GMO project would have done the same courtesy for us and shared the interview? (I hope you were confusing GM Watch with the Non-GMO Project in this regard) I would also like to point out that it seems they came in third and “The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America” came in second. Should we extend the invitation to Jeffrey Smith, too, then?
Genetic engineering is not the same kind of discussion as the Evolution v Creationism discussion that goes on at other science blogs. For example, there are legitimate concerns that genetic engineering brings up and it’s not an either-or issue like the other. I’m hoping that we can make it a discussion of those details and how we as a species are to navigate them.
Very glad to see you are at least extending the offer. If they do not take it, then so be it. At least you have now publicly made the offer. It is irrelevant whether or not they would do the same. I referred to GM Watch because they leveled the accusation of you (biofortified) being part of Big Ag. My thoughts were to simply negate the accusations they made that “Big-Ag was taking over the contest” by offering to share the interview with the accusers. That pretty much takes the wind from the sails of their line of attack and shows that you have nothing to hide or fear from their arguments and are interested in hearing them out.
I think there would be limits to how many voices would be practical to include, but that’s your call. Perhaps they could all speak through one voice. I assume you will be doing something similar with your colleagues here, i.e. brainstorming on a set of questions or topics to bring up. They could do the same and then elect a representative to present them. Just my random thoughts here. If they are not appropriate for this, then maybe for a future interview.
Again, glad to see you’re on top of it! 🙂 I have some ideas for the forum that might stir interest. Not really anti-GM, but important IMO. If I get some time to post them, I will.
Pdiff, I just wanted to be clear in that the interview I was talking about with the Non-GMO Project would be between us and them (Or me and Megan Westgate as the case may be), not the Pollan thing. Anyway, I haven’t made the offer/request yet, but I shall.
Interviewing someone from GM Watch would be interesting, too…
Oh, do try out the forum! That’s what it is there for.
Pdiff thanks for broadening this blog site.
The Seed magazine article is too biased, way too much spin ,don’t they too realise name dropping companies like DuPont seldom helps the gmo apologists cause?
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