Scientific Sanctimony and Sacrilege

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice has an enchanting exchange over math abilities with the Red and White Queens.  After much consternation, Alice hopes to turn the tables on them with her own inquiry:

“Can you do sums?”  Alice said, turning suddenly on the White Queen, for she didn’t like being found fault with so much.

The Queen gasped and shut her eyes. “I can do Addition,” she said, “if you give me time — but I can’t do Subtraction under any circumstances!”

Many progressive activists appear to take the White Queen’s approach to two important scientific issues: climate change and genetically modified foods.

These progressive activists who bow at the altar of science and hold pious views on the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) flatly ignore actual rooted science when it comes to food.

It’s an inconsistency that deserves more attention.

The George Soros-funded organization Friends of the Earth provides a good example of this juxtaposing use of science.

Regarding CAGW, Friends of the Earth declares that:

The climate crisis is the definitive challenge of our time, and our reliance on fossil fuels is driving it.  Other energy sources also pollute our air and water and threaten our health. But energy use doesn’t have to make us, or the planet, sick.  That’s why Friends of the Earth promotes conservation and clean energy — including wind, solar and geothermal power — and why we fight to end our unhealthy dependence on dirty sources including coal, oil, nuclear and biofuels.

“Definitive challenge of our time?”  Overwrought much?

Considering that CAGW is just a theory that is based off consistently changing and constantly corrupt computer models, Friends of the Earth makes some pretty bold claims here.

But consider the organization’s stance on the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – also known as high yield produce.  Every major scientific body that has studied GMOs has determined that they are safe for human consumption.  Yet, in this arena, Friends of the Earth ignores actual science and instead peddles fear and junk science, stating:

Our farms and food are one of our most important connections to our environment.  Yet as corporate agribusiness expands its control over our agricultural system and increasingly uses toxic chemicals and risky technologies to produce our food, our environment and health are threatened.

That’s some pretty scary stuff.  Except it isn’t real.  As the activists are want to say regarding the theory of CAGW, the science on GMOs is settled.

Here is just a sampling of the scientific consensus that exists regarding the safety of GMOs.

  • The National Academy of Sciences has stated: “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”
  • The Royal Society of Medicine unequivocally notes: “There is no reason to doubt the safety of foods made from GM ingredients that are currently available, nor to believe that genetic modification makes foods inherently less safe than their conventional counterparts.”
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science has stated that the “science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
  • The World Health Organization notes: “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.  In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
  • The American Medical Association – which has plainly stated that, “[b]ioengineered foods have been consumed for … 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”
  • The European Union also spent ten years and hundreds of millions of Euros in an exhaustive examination of GMOs that determined that “[t]he main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”

Despite this clear accord, anti-GMO activists such as Friends of the Earth continue to sow seeds of doubt in an obvious effort to alter public perception and co-opt corporate behavior.

And, by most estimations, they are doing an incredible job.  Fear and deception are powerful tools.

According to ABC News, 93 percent of Americans favor government-mandated labels for products containing GMOs.  Additionally, 62 percent of women and 40 percent of men think GMOs are unsafe.

The only reason to want to label a safe product is to sow the seed of distrust and create

an environment to push for regulation at a later date.  But a whole lot of people who are either unaware of the clear scientific findings on GMOs or who have irrationally given into the fear campaigns that are often propped up by the organic food lobby.

Corporate tepidness also plays into these numbers.

Recently, Friends of the Earth and its allies scored major corporate victories in the battle over GMO salmon.

AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotech firm, developed the first genetically modified animal protein.  It allows salmon to grow and mature faster than they otherwise would.  Developed more than two decades ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may soon announce a final decision on whether GMO salmon can be sold in stores and restaurants.

The FDA’s preliminary findings noted that the GMO salmon would not adversely affect the U.S. environment.

But Friends of the Earth isn’t going to wait for the U.S. government scientists to come to a conclusion before they condemn GMO salmon.  The very same activists that promote the yet unproven scientific theory of CAGW to call for increased federal regulations are already declaring GMO salmon unsafe – ahead of the federal government’s final, and seemingly inevitable, positive scientific assessment.

Friends of the Earth proudly claims:

We are working to keep genetically engineered “frankenfish” – which would be the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption – off of grocery store shelves.

And corporate America is all too happy to be the dupe for this fear-based campaign.

According to Food Navigator, Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have all pledged to not carry GMO salmon should it gain approval.  In the short term, this can relieve these companies from the activists’ specific campaign.  In the long-term, however, these corporations are doing much more harm than good.

GMO salmon could dramatically increase competition in the fresh fish market driving down the costs of this very healthy source of protein and fats (which is one reason why traditional salmon fisheries have been working against GMO salmon).  It could lower consumer prices and bring salmon to a whole new segment of the population that currently see salmon as a luxury food.

Furthermore, giving in to the activists only increases their appetite – so to speak.

For example, when Safeway kowtowed to activist demands on GMO salmon, it wasn’t enough.  At Safeway’s annual shareholder meeting last month, the Green Century Equity Fund presented a shareholder proposal that – if approved – would have required the company to label all of its products that contain GMOs.  I attended that meeting and presented the investors, company management and board of directors with the actual facts and science regarding GMO safety.  The shareholders rejected the proposal with nearly 90 percent casting votes against this mandatory labeling scheme.

This is a dramatic about face from public opinion.  And it shows just how powerful the introduction of science and facts into an irrational debate can be.

But the anti-high-yield produce activists are relentless.  Presently, Friends of the Earth is sending out a form letter that its followers can submit to Costco demanding that demands the wholesaler join with Safeway, Target and Kroger to renounce GMO salmon.

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek has not always been the strongest advocate for free markets, but he could make a very strong stand by rejecting this buffoonery.

But it can’t just be Costco.  Many more companies must join the fight against these would-be food czars.

In September, General Mills shareholders will also vote on an anti-GMO shareholder proposal that asks the company to eliminate GMOs from all of its products altogether.  And why is General Mills a target?  Because, in January, they made a major concession to anti-GMO activists when they announced they would remove all GMO ingredients from original Cheerios.  This concession put a target squarely on General Mills because the activists are never satisfied.  For a group of people who are willing to ignore science and peddle fear at the expense of human life, conceding one breakfast cereal was never going to be enough.

General Mills shareholders should follow Safeway’s lead and reject this junk-science proposal.  But, more than that, the company’s management should take the lead in promoting the great potential that GMOs hold.

Earlier this year, the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project lauded Starbucks for standing firm against anti-GMO activists.  It also urged Monsanto, Pepsi and Kraft to do more in the public arena to promote GMOs.

At the Monsanto meeting, I once again rose to speak out against a shareholder proposal that sought to have the genetic seed giant work with the Food and Drug Administration to label all GMO food.  Again, the shareholders sided with science and reason and roundly rejected the proposal.  Perhaps more importantly, however, at the National Center’s urging, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant recognized the need for the company to actively engage the public in a rigorous manner concerning the great benefits and health safety of GMOs.  The company had long believed that it was not its job to engage in the public dialogue since it only makes seeds and isn’t the end supplier of food products, but it is now taking a much more aggressive stance.

This is welcome news because junk-science activists currently dominate the public narrative and corporations have a moral obligation to correct the record with science, facts and common sense because the fight for GMOs is literally a life and death struggle in some areas of the world.

In a great expose about perhaps the world’s leading anti-GMO activist –Vandana Shiva – published in the New Yorker on Monday, staff writer Michael Specter explained that:

By the end of the century, the world may well have to accommodate ten billion inhabitants — roughly the equivalent of adding two new Indias.  Sustaining that many people will require farmers to grow more food in the next seventy-five years than has been produced in all of human history.  For most of the past ten thousand years, feeding more people simply meant farming more land.  That option no longer exists; nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy per cent of the Earth’s freshwater.

That’s where genetics holds such promise.  Genes can be introduced that allow produce to both be more nutritious and generate a greater yield on the same amount of land.  Genes are also added to crops to prevent disease and blight.

In a world where malnutrition is already a rampant concern, it is not a stretch to say that anti-GMO leaders such as Vandana Shiva and Friends of the Earth have blood on their hands.

For example, to battle malnutrition and Vitamin-A deficiency in India, Syngenta created a product called Golden Rice that inserts genes from carrots into rice.  Golden Rice was tested, found safe and ready to go in 2002, but activists such as Shiva have prevented it from coming to market.  Two agricultural economists recently published a study showing the effect of this unnecessary delay.  As explained by Scientific American:

The delayed application of Golden Rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002.  That odd sounding metric – not just lives but “life years” – accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes.  The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children.

The fight over GMOs is deadly serious.  And I urge corporate America to stand up for the science, value, promise and potential of GMOs.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.