Ann’s 500 Words | Could we have a respectful, probing conversation about GMOs?
Adding her voice to our stories, Ann recounts her experience of losing friendship over discussion of GMO issues and calls out for a respectful public discussion based on understanding. Here she is in her own words:
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GMOs might or might not be bad for our health, but talking about them can be costly. Last fall, I asked a good friend of many years how he had made up his mind on how to vote on a GMO labeling initiative. My husband and I were having dinner at a local cafe with him and his wife. We’d spent an hour in friendly conversation about houses, jobs, hobbies, families, etc. before the GMO question. Not long after, he walked away from our friendship forever.
This type of question (“How did you decide…”) is not unusual for me. I’ve always been interested in how people think, what questions they ask, how they sift through competing claims and decide what evidence or opinions resonate with them. After moving to an entirely new area about ten years ago, I started a book club, a discussion group, and a couple of blogs to try to stimulate conversation about thorny issues. We’ve talked about taxes, religion, LGBT issues, even vaccines with some respect and success. But the topic of GMOs has proven to be the hardest topic of all to discuss in an open, respectful manner. I’ve been stunned by the determination of anti-GMO forces to instill fear and loathing into anyone who will listen.
Although the loss of this one friendship hurts a lot, I worry more about the national and global consequences of our inability to talk about GMOs. If a scientist reports that Bt corn might be more problematic for butterflies because the pesticide-infused plant hangs around fields and streams longer than Bt that is sprayed on cornfields, I’d like that idea to get a fair hearing and perhaps further research. I’d also like to think that scientists who criticize those findings are not assumed to be corporate shills just for disagreeing. I’d like critics to realize that “GMO” is not one thing but rather a variety of modifications some of which might be great, some good, some not worth pursing; I’d like proponents to acknowledge that, just perhaps, harm of some sort is a possibility: I’d like the general public to do a better job of comparative risk assessment.
As for agriculture in general, I’d like the ag-advocates and organic fanatics to notice that people like me find it hard to trust any of you. Defending farmers shouldn’t translate into uncritical acceptance of all of the many changes in agriculture over my lifetime. Make your case for changes in pesticides over the past few decades without ignoring the legacy of dead zones in areas of fertilizer runoff. Organic fans, continue your hard work and research but don’t pretend that all organic milk has the nutrition profile of the grass-fed milk in a recent study, that non-organic milk can’t also be grass-fed, and that we actually know more than we do about how the nutrition profile of milk or other products affects our health.
More than anything, I just wish we could have a respectful, probing conversation about GMOs. Is that too much to ask?
Former teacher, city dweller for 60 years, country dweller for 10, planning to return to the city. Activist on health care issues for decades. Skeptic for decades. Love serious conversations.
Her website with a great premise: Doubt It!: Could you change your mind?
Photo credit: Prabhu B Doss | CC