Serious Shit

GMOs, BGH and Reasonable Objections


See this image here? This is what bothers me about the whole  GMO debate. A libelous statement presented as truth labeled as ‘Opinion’.

There are sneaky things going on. A PR masterpiece of epic proportions is underway to sway public opinion by any means necessary.

There was the Vandana Shiva hit piece in the New Yorker last winter, then the Smithsonian talking about GMO-hating hipsters, followed by some crazy article in National Geographic comparing anti-GMO folks to anti-vaccine folks. Slate recently piled on with a person spouting off research purporting that GMOs are safe and healthy.

In this massive PR push, the hacks are relying on a time-tested, mother approved format to divide and conquer, obscure and refute, and force through an agenda.

I don’t oppose GMOs on health claims. Or because I hate science. I oppose them on grounds of sovereignty and choice. It’s the continuing capital creep that has driven people out of work for generations and consolidated more and more power in the hands of few.

But back to the whole PR thing – and this is what interests me while watching this whole debate. Back when Monsanto introduced BGH/rBST, they touted it as a safe alternative for farmers to effortlessly produce more milk from the same cows. An FDA – stacked with folks who worked at some of these companies – approved it for use. Studies paid for and bought by the company put out similar ‘BGH is safe’ mantras, but ultimately consumer choice won out.

At that time, the price of milk was already low, but the same arguments emerged then as we see now: ‘We have to trust science! We have a world that’s growing to 9 billion! There’s only one way to feed them all! Get more from less!’ And small farmers, like my Dad were told that ‘the only way to survive was to get bigger and produce more. Your margins are too high!’

But it was never truly conclusive that it didn’t harm human health or the health of the animals (or maybe it was according to this 2009 FDA Review, except read the intro and the fact that long-term studies were never conducted, whoops!).

Monsanto fought tooth and nail against any regulation. Their PR machine attempted to eliminate any efforts on labeling.  But slowly they lost the battle. Milk started showing up on shelves labeled BGH/rBST free. It was a value add, but as the effects proved evident, it became obvious, consumers weren’t buying it. Monsanto tried to rebrand. After a while they sold it and now you’d have to search to find milk without a BGH/BST-free label.

Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure.

Now we’re at the same debate whether the consumer is truly right or not. Can we trust the consumer to make wise choices?

I’d hope that GMOs would get a fair shake in the media and in the public and be judged based on the science, but there is just too much monkey business – on both sides. Anti-GMO folks are using scare-monger tactics and presenting shaky evidence. Pro-GMO folks are bulldozing and buying out any and all critics, working every media angle to force people to accept their products, whether they want to or not.

This is really not about health. The key is the ability of people to choose. The independence of farmers to not have their fields invaded. The choices people want to make.

But I fear the PR teams behind the pro-GMO are have learned their lesson from BGH and we’re in trouble.

What do you think, folks?


2 thoughts on “GMOs, BGH and Reasonable Objections

  1. It is troubling for sure that debates that wouldbe/couldbe about science descend into debates about PR. I was pretty convinced that GMOs were terrible before I even knew anything about them. Then, while researching something else entirely, I happened to start speaking with scientists who worked on researching technologies for genetically modifying food crops. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure if GMOs were so scary or not. The researchers I spoke with weren’t determined to convince me that GMOs were great; they never actually argued once in favor of them. They were beyond frustrated, though, that various agendas had painted GMOs as evil. As scientists, they were in favor of researching the pros and cons of using new technologies to explore new and different ways to grow crops in ways that can adapt rapidly to change.

    Seed selection and plant breeding is an art that has been around for millennia, and the researches I spoke with saw GMOs as just the latest iteration–and very scientific uptake–of that art. Was it a dangerous and potentially harmful art? Maybe. The particular people I spoke with were tasked with researching GMO potential and not tasked with determining the safety of the technology. They were frustrated that the people smearing their work didn’t even know what that work was.

    I am of course in favor of safe food, but I am also in favor of being reasonable. From what I understand (and it sounds like it might be the case, from what you mention), long term safety trials of GMO crops/ingredients/animals eating GMO crops have never been conducted. PR is usually equally good at convincing us (the hungry/thirsty public) that things are totally harmless or completely destructive. It doesn’t make for a compelling campaign to ask people to go home and do their homework about seed germination and plant reproduction, but I think that in order to understand whether we do or don’t want GMO ingredients in our food, that’s exactly what we have to do. Reading up on the hard science of plant propagation is not a sexy battle cry or sales pitch, but it is probably the way to go in order to pick a side for the GMO debate.

    Unfortunately, the people/businesses loudly arguing “yea” or “nay” for GMOs either a) haven’t done their homework and also don’t know what this whole debate is actually about or (worse?) b) have done their homework and know exactly what the debate is about but don’t want an educated public because they benefit from scared multitudes looking for a battle cry to assume.

    It’s been a while since I had GMOs on my radar–thanks Kyle for the reminder that the discussion is far from over!

    • I’d have to agree on that. I’m open to being convinced, but the pro-GMO side sounds like a lot more spin – like the argument we need it to feed a growing world. The majority of those calories being produced right now are being shoved into American supermarket aisles to make horrible food even cheaper. Not to mention the amount of food waste.

      So is the tech cool? Probably. Is it necessary? I think there are much better (and democratic) ways we could innovate (e.g. perennial grains) that could go much further. GMOs just sort of seem like companies trying to extend the ‘engineered obsolescence’ business model to foods.

      So on that note, I’m all for labeling if companies aren’t all for doing their homework (especially when it comes to cross-pollination and protecting organic and small-scale farmers).

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