Genetically Modified Ignorance



When Republican congressmen start chiding folks about scientific ignorance, you know something is horribly askew.

Especially when they have a point.

Back in July, the bipartisan Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture subcommittee held hearings on the subject of whether food containing GMOs should carry mandatory labels, and the panel recommended that no, they should not be forced to carry labels.

Perhaps you’re saying, labeling? How can anyone be against providing the American people with basic information? Labeling food products seems so darn reasonable, resonating with values and phrases that sound so obviously good, like transparency and sunshine and empowering the consumer. It’s the legislative equivalent of voting against puppies.

Clearly the only reason to vote against labeling is because Congress is in the pocket of Monsanto and other giant food conglomerations who know the public doesn’t want to eat their GMO poisoned frankenfoods, and labeling will cause consumers to stay away in droves and Monsanto’s profits will precipitously tumble.

This “analysis” is partly right, in that labels would likely scare off a large chunk of consumers. But that’s actually the most valid reason for voting against labeling.

The call for labeling GMO altered foods, of course, comes from those who view them as unsafe, or even dangerous. (Other arguments against GMOs concern giant corporations patenting seeds, and mono-culture {one-crop] farming. These are important, but peripheral).

Now, considering that it’s estimated that roughly 80% of the food the average American already obliviously and happily devours contains GMOs, you’d think the issue of safety was more or less settled. But critics point to rises in disease that have no known connection to GMOs, or other products, like lead and tobacco, that were once considered safe but eventually proved deadly, like lead, as arguments against them.

But there’s never been a study (that hasn’t been debunked) linking GMOs directly to any illness in humans. When you get down to it, GMOs are nothing more than scientists extracting a gene with particular quality, like resisting drought, or containing Vitamin A, or being resistant to a deadly bug, and inserting it into a crop that would benefit and thrive from this addition. Science-fiction fantasies aside, Cornzilla is not going to one day arise from the cornfields, “stalking” the population (Good pun intended!). The World Health Organization, FDA, National Academy of Sciences and other “objective” organizations have all concluded the same thing.

It’s way beyond the scope of this space to convince you otherwise, but I suggest you read this recent piece in the New Yorker, for starters.

The problem is, this is one of those issues, like evolution and climate change, where minds are made up and no amount of information seems capable of changing them. Any study that characterizes GMOs as safe is summarily dismissed by critics as a “hoax,” “conspiracy,” “media propaganda” and/or “funded by giant corporations,” etc. Basically arguments that “shoot the messenger” without refuting any of the evidence.

If these objections sound familiar, it’s because they’re the words the Tea Party and the religious right use when scientific study after scientific study comes down on the side of evolution or climate change. You could show them a monkey turning into a man (which was not part of the evolutionary process) in front of their eyes, and they still wouldn’t believe it. Their scientific ignorance is actually one of the “perks” of being on the left: we get to feel smugly superior because we have science on our side.

The thing is, this time many of the most vociferous objections are coming from the “left,” the supposed “science’ people.

GMOs are the mirror image of the right’s denial of climate change.

This exact same point was made by Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader at that Horticulture hearing: “I find it somewhat ironic that those very people that seem to be most concerned about climate change seem to be against one of the major tools we can use to actually combat some of the deleterious effects of current farming practices. There’s less tillage need with some of the biotechnology crops we have.”

And earlier this year, The New York Times ran a story chronicling the obstinate resistance there is to “learnin’” on this issue, from folks who normally embrace science.

Which brings us back – finally – to the Horticulture subcommittee hearings. The consensus of both the committee members and the panel of witnesses was that labeling would do more harm than good because the American public is willfully ignorant about the subject, insists on remaining so, and so splashing a “GMO” sticker on food would cause needless alarm among the public, causing reliance on “traditional” crops, resulting in more crop failures, water use, pesticides, and famine. In other words, the American public must be protected from its own ignorance. Sadly, I concur.

Personally, I think the easiest solution is for the food companies to agree to labeling and then stick a bright, snazzy “NOW CONTAINING GMOs!”or “NEW & IMPROVED GMOs!” label on. Folks, thinking it’s an actual selling point, will gobble ‘em right up.


About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is and you can email him at or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
Posted in: Politics, Society
  • Kini

    Stan Sinberg: You had me until the dig at the Tea Party and religious right. Your talking points about leftist virulent anti-GMO propaganda is very true. However, comparing leftist ideology to the Tea Party and the religious right, diminishes your talking points. It simply is not relevant to the GMO subject. Many farmers that use GMO technology are Tea Partiers and are very religious. They have strong family bonds to their religion and to the land they farm. To link the Tea Party and the religious right to liberal leftist ideology bigotry, is unfair, and shows your ignorance about these good people. The science behind GMO technology is embraced by people that understand the science behind it; that being farmers with conservative religious Tea Party values. It’s the liberal leftist that believes an organic garden in the backyard will be a sustainable food source all year round. It’s a fools paradise.

    These are the same leftist liberals that want to regulate what crops farmers can grow, what farmers can harvest, what technology farmers can use, what manufacturers can weave into clothing, what vehicles people can drive, what fuels they can use, what homes they can live in; in short, the leftist liberals are the intolerant ideologues that deny the fundamentals of science, evolution and basic human rights. Think about it, they deny the science of producing a health crop, while demanding abortion is a healthcare right. That is insanity! They are the same people that claim over-population is consuming world resources, when predictions of mass famines have been proven, time after time, false!

    It is tiresome reading articles like this that use pseudo facts to express a false narrative about people expressing common sense values. At least keep to the subject matter of your article, and do not vilify innocent hard working people that work to preserve the rights granted under our Constitution.

  • R. Smiley

    O.k., so it isn’t “scientific”. I get acute intestinal distress whenever I eat deep fried food prepared with cooking oil from GMO sources. While I don’t know the exact cause, I am sure of one thing: it isn’t in my mind. It’s somewhere else. You figure it out. Food fried with lard, beef fat, butter, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, peanut oil, and etc. don’t bother me. One of my downstairs neighbours had the same problem, as did others on the kibbutz. (Since we were all eating from the same kitchen, it was undeniable). I could hear him/her through the cement floor of the apartment. We all changed our dietary habits, and the problem went away. I don’t eat in restaurants any more, and don’t buy processed foods. Labeling would be nice…. Why do you think we have to drop dead after eating a tortilla chip for there to be a problem?

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  • Schratboy

    New improved GMOs….new undiagnosed ill-health symptoms leading to new medical billable procedures