Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spinning a Consensus on GMOs

© Food and Water Watch
Food and Water Watch | May 12, 2014 | Tim Schwab

Journalist Keith Kloor, always a busy beaver advancing the biotech industry’s agenda, linked to Food & Water Watch in a recent blog, portraying us as part of the “GMO Fear Train” that’s going off the tracks. His post centered on New York Times’ writer Mark Bittman’s recent statement that GMOs are “probably harmless,” a stance Food & Water Watch criticized last week as hollow and shortsighted.

But to Kloor, Bittman’s article was evidence that even mainstream foodies are accepting the “scientific consensus” regarding the safety and so-called merits of GMOs. Unfortunately, Kloor appears confused about the meaning of the word “consensus.”

Parroting industry talking points, Kloor asserts that a consensus on GMOs exists by linking to the website of “futurist” Ramez Naam, which points to a variety of scientific groups that say a lot of different things about GMOs—that they are safe, or not unsafe, or haven’t been shown to be unsafe, or shouldn’t be labeled.

Out of all of this noise, it would appear that the “consensus,” at its very best, is that that GMO advocates believe that GMOs are safe. This is very different, than, say, the scientific consensus on climate change in which the vast majority of expert scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity.  (Check Tom Philpott’s brilliant send-up of Keith Kloor on a related subject).

With GMOs, this level of agreement among scientists does not exist. In fact, many in the scientific community have become so upset with the bogus “consensus” talking point that they began circulating a sign-on statement that explicitly states there is no consensus on the safety of GMOs. Already, there are almost three-hundred signatories, almost all of them PhDs with relevant expertise. 

That statement reads, “…we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over.’” The statement explicitly cites Kloor as one of the cheerleaders in question. Ouch.

Clearly, there is widespread disagreement within the scientific community on the safety of GMOs, but what’s interesting is the way in which the opinion is split. In contrast to the “no consensus” document, which is signed by independent scientists, the sign-on letter that supports Kloor’s version of “consensus” is largely supported by representatives from Monsanto, Pioneer, BASF and Syngenta, companies that stand to gain from public acceptance of GMOs.

Want to cut through the spin? Check out Food & Water Watch’s comprehensive report on the problems with GMOs.

Update, May 14, 2014: After this blog was posted, a link to the Columbia Journalism Review was added to the blog by our communications team in error. That error appears in a Common Dreams repost, and it became the subject of a rebuttal by Kloor, which ignored the content of this blog and simply restated the fallacy that a “scientific consensus” exists around GMOs.

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