The BBC website has a piece up titled “Is opposition to genetically modified food irrational?” What’s most interesting here is not the debate, but the composition of the debaters. Instead of the old “false balance” nonsense, where the BBC would trot out people in a “balanced” manner – if we were debating the sum of one and one the BBC would search out someone who thought the answer was three – they have actually tried to reflect the realities of the intellectual debate.
So we have Pamela Ronald, David Ropeik, and Calestous Juma, all supporters of GM crops.
Then there is the rather lonely looking Haidee Swanby of some group called African Centre for Biodiversity.
3 to 1. A first for the BBC surely.
And we must also ask the following: Is this now the public face of the anti-GM movement? There was once a time when journalists could easily get people from Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace to string them a line of irrational nonsense. And you be sure they tried to for this piece. Yet today it just seems to be the fringe groups you’ve never heard of who will spout piffle to journalists.
And what delusional piffle it is. Here is how Swanby makes her case:
“There’s a bullying force emotionally blackmailing the world into believing that we need to adopt this technology if we’re going to feed the world, but actually what it’s creating is an ever bigger divide between the haves and have-nots”.
A bullying force emotionally blackmailing the world? Who would this be? Could it be the groups who claim that GM crops cause cancer? Could it be the groups who blame GM crops for every farmer suicide in India since 1998? (aside: this bizarre claim was once made by the boneheaded Prince Charles, a man I will be the subject of once his mother kicks off).
There seems to be an asymmetry in the bullying and emotional black on this issue, for an opponent of GM crops to act differently requires a litre of chutzpah.
So, three cheers for the BBC and their new found willingness to drop false balance and pursue more objective journalism on the issue of GM crops.
And as for the BBC’s question. Is opposition to GM crops irrational? I will say this. Opposition to GM crops comes from an irrational impulse. It is deemed to be “unnatural” to manipulate GM crops, and this is the foundation of much opposition. It may not be politically correct to call this irrational, but that is exactly what it is. In fact, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish it from a religious dogma. We’ve been manipulating the genes of organisms for thousands of years. That is what agriculture is. The various people who insist that their food should be natural are either ignorant or foolish. No food is natural, every crop grown in a field is something natural that has been improved through human ingenuity.
But we do not live in a culture willing to celebrate the ability of humans to improve upon nature.