Scientific Consensus on Climate Change and GE Crops

posted in: Science | 7

A story today by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times reveals that for more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“Some environmentalists have compared the tactic to that once used by tobacco companies, which for decades insisted that the science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer was uncertain. By questioning the science on global warming, these environmentalists say, groups like the Global Climate Coalition were able to sow enough doubt to blunt public concern about a consequential issue and delay government action.

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.
‘They didn’t have to win the argument to succeed,” Mr. Monbiot said, “only to cause as much confusion as possible.’ ”

Why does this sound so familiar?

The debate on GE crops has gone a similar route, although this time the concerted campaign to mislead the public on the scientific consensus about a critical environmental issue of our time has come from a coalition from the progressive left rather than the right using nearly identical tactics. As is clear from numerous scientific reports from leading scientific agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the broad scientific consensus is that the GE crops on the market are safe to eat and have clear environmental benefits.

Is there a philosophical conversation to be had on whether or not we want bacterial genes in our crops? Certainly.

Do we need to integrate ecologically-based farming practices into your production food system? Absolutely

Can we say that ALL GE crops in the future will be safe to eat? No.

But if we are going to move to a more sustainable agriculture, feed the growing population and protect our environment, then we’ve got to start by being honest about the science.

Follow Pamela Ronald:
Pamela Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. Her research focuses on the genetics of rice. With her husband, she co-wrote Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. She writes a blog of the same name.