Is the GMO 'debate' worth having?

Jul 29, 2014

I had been planning to write a blog about crop biotechnology/GMOs for quite some time. It was going to be witty, yet sensible; logical, but not academic. I was envisioning myself as a voice of reason. As someone who had spent the last 14 years thinking critically about crops and crop production. I studied agriculture. I made it my vocation. I tried to learn from scientists and farmers, alike. Sometimes I impressed them (both groups) and sometimes I pissed them off (again, both groups). Regardless of the situation, I always tried to ensure that my thoughts and opinions were well-reasoned. 


And then I heard it. The word. The word that was being used to describe scientists and science reporters that supported biotechnology. Shill. /SHil/ noun An accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others. In many arenas (not all, but many), this was the only explanation for someone to back the development and adoption of GMOs; they (biotech supporters) were (obviously) in a covert and deceitful alliance with 'Big Ag'. Assuming that one's ability to evaluate data and draw thoughtful and independent conclusions about GMOs is naturally suspect (and disregarded), all that you have left is shill. Either that or you are just not smart enough to be complicit (i.e. you are being fooled). 


On the flip-side, a Facebook friend of mine (a molecular biologist and organic farmer who takes a conservative stance on GMOs) feels that the pro-biotech crowd can come off as elitist and arrogant when they refer to someone, whose sentiments he might sometimes share, as a 'loon'. And, in the interest of total disclosure, I have also used the 'L-word' on Facebook to describe a few anti-GMO advocates with extreme (in my opinion) views. And no, the irony is not lost on me; it is my wake-up call to think about my friends' emotions about food, in addition to the science. I don't think that I will be an effective communicator if I make people feel embarrassed or angry. 


But then this.


The Twitterverse has been in an uproar, recently, over the comments of Mike Adams, a.k.a. The Health Ranger. For those of you not in constant touch with the internet, Mike Adams recently wrote on the Natural News webpage that journalists and scientists who support biotechnology are no better than Nazi accomplices and are helping to lead the world into an 'Agricultural Holocaust'. (See Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) Furthermore, the Health Ranger called upon people to develop a website to record the names of all persons deemed to be 'Monsanto propaganda collaborators', presumably so that they can be brought to justice someday. A  website (which was attributed to Mike Adams and which he disavows) listing the names of prominent biotechnology supporters, was even launched (and then taken down, although there is an archive). 


So, you can be called something much worse than a 'shill', a 'loon', an 'abettor', a 'crank', an 'apologist', or a 'quack'. And I wonder if the debate has been taken to a ridiculous new level. And I wonder if I should just wait before I try to write a full-on blog about biotechnology.




By Lynn M. Sosnoskie
Author - Agronomy and Weed Science Advisor