Something I spotted while doing some light reading into GM crops.
Melissa Mastrogiovanni’s column on Genetically Modified (GM) foods is a thinly-veiled hatchet job, repeating a mixture of half-truths, lies and grossly misinformed opinions about this technology. This was disappointing, as Ms. Mastrogiovanni interviewed me (I’m an “NIU Expert” on plant genetic engineering) at some length during the preparation of her column.
Judging from the content in her column, Ms. Mastrogiovanni came to this subject with a pre-formed agenda, and wasn’t interested in accuracy or real science. Let me be absolutely clear that I am not upset or concerned that Ms. Mastrogiovanni used little if any of the information she and I discussed. This was an opinion piece and she was perfectly within her rights to use or not use any information that I provided to her. I have no ego involved here.
What I found disappointing, however, is that Ms. Mastrogiovanni gave enormous credibility to anti-GMO advocates, when for the most part those opinions have little, if any, real scientific credibility.
When reporters are writing about science-related issues, whether that be GMOs, vaccines, Global Climate Change or E. coli from German organic farms that has recently killed at least 40 people, they have an obligation to do their best to understand the science and to realize that when experimental evidence is involved, not all opinions are equal.
I won’t post the whole item, but the link is in the title if you want to read it. It points out a few thing that often bug me about anti-GM pieces. In particular the lack of discrimination between good scientific sources and some crusty bloke who’s running a website. As the piece says, not all opinions are equal. I tracked down the original article here. One of the funnier bits is where Ms Mastrogiovanni names the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) as a quotable source (you can find it on Quackwatch). However, the author of the letter does a better hatchet job than I could ever hope to. Particularly on how she wrangled the comments of Dr Oz so she didn’t have to mention that he had pointed out that overwhelmingly studies of GM food showed it to be safe.
I was also bemused how she attributed the rise in autoimmune diseases to GM. There are very strong statistical cases for allergies and asthma to be tied to the increase in childhood antibiotic exposure, smoking, NSAID’s and lower levels of pathogen exposure in childhood. Not GM.
And finally, I’d like to point out many naturally occurring foods and well accepted foods have their downsides. Corn syrup causes fatty liver, liquorice is mildly toxic, at least one vegetable from East Asia has a very high level of oxalixc acid (toxic when raw) and many pulses and beans are virtually indigestible when uncooked. Gluten containing grains can cause a lot of digestive discomfort and nutritional deficiencies, even going as far to cause cancer in some coeliac patients. And as for milk, 70% of the planet would get the runs if they drank a pint of it. So some sense of perspective is due when reading the studies in the press, and also an understanding that the studies results usually aren’t represented particularly accurately by journalists looking for a headline.