Anti-science: What's the risk?

Posted on February 04, 2014

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by Jackie Robin
 

Thierry Vrain, retired from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is now an organic farmer on the west coast of Canada and on the speaking circuit against GM (genetic modification) technology.

There really shouldn’t even be a debate about this anymore.

More than 1,500 research studies have looked at all potential areas of GM impact, such as biodiversity, human health, environmental effects, and pesticide reduction. All reputable studies have come to the same conclusion: genetically modified crops are as safe as conventional crops. This is accepted by the world’s top regulatory bodies, among them the European Academies Science Advisory Council, Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Yet despite this mountain of evidence supporting the safety of GM technology, a vociferous group continues to fuel the fear of GM.

Considering he was once a researcher, it is incredible that Vrain trots out the same tired, discredited arguments against GM technology. He talks about Gilles-Eric Séralini as if his work is internationally recognized, even though his research about a GM-cancer link in rats was so flawed as to attract immediate scorn world-wide. The publisher, Elsevier, recognized the paper as junk science and retracted it from its Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.

Every argument against genetic modification that Vrain uses has already been dismissed. They are based on logical fallacies, not science: The “appeal to nature” that says nature is always good; the “appeal to antiquity,” or assuming that something is better or correct simply because it is older or traditional; along with the “correlation proves causation” argument.

And of course, anyone who counters him is dismissed as an “industry shill,” which instantly shuts out any chance for reasonable debate.

Genetic modification is an important, effective and safe tool that should be widely available. It has already done a great deal of good and promises much more. It has contributed to the establishment of zero-till agriculture, which not only reduces soil erosion, but also captures a significant amount of carbon in the soil and reduces the amount of pesticides required. The latest GM crops increase nutrients in foods, which is especially important in developing countries where poverty and politics make fair distribution of food difficult.

Vrain has added his voice to the likes of Greenpeace, Dr. Mehmet Oz, David Suzuki (who claims to be a geneticist but hasn’t worked as a scientist for three decades) and Vandana Shiva. All of these ignore legitimate, peer-reviewed studies to promote junk science. Instead of hope, they sell fear, profiting from people’s emotional reactions: “Be careful! Nature is good. Our planet is at risk. Our children are in danger. Science is scary!”

There is more at risk here than the loss of this one technology; we are faced with an assault on science itself. On the one hand, we can be guided by science, slowly improving our lot with each new discovery. Or, we can be steered by the strident voices of activists. We could end up with groups such as Greenpeace dictating what the future of agriculture will be.

And that is something we should all fear.

 

Also read:Global impacts from adoption of genetically modified crops – and Column ignores relevant research by Stuart Smyth
Pseudo-science promotes fear, not facts by Robert Wager
Review of 10 years of GMO research – no significant dangers by Michael Simpson
Who is Vandana Shiva and why is she saying such awful things about GMOs? by Cami Ryan
We need a better David Suzuki by Rob Breakenridge
Jackie Robin
Communications Director, Ag-West Bio