Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Your Anti-GMO Argument is Big Tobacco

‘When the tobacco companies say they're eager to find out the truth, they want you to think the truth isn't known…. They want to be able to call it a controversy.’ - Unnamed American Cancer Society Official [1]
Anti-GMO activists like to try and compare Monsanto to the tobacco industry, claiming that they paid off scientists to hide harm from their products. The problem is that the tobacco industry did no such thing. They denied the evidence scientists were presenting, and demanded that more studies needed to be done. Big Tobacco sounds a lot more like Big Organic.
In the early 20th century, scientists and doctors had begun to notice a correlation between smoking and lung cancer. Franz Muller, in Germany, published the first population study examining the connection. His data showed that smokers were far more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, and his studies were verified by several other German scientists in the 1940s. By 1950 five large studies had been completed in the United States and the United Kingdom, again, verifying a connection between lung cancer and smoking. Cohort studies were conducted by 1954 showing that regardless of sex, age, and ethnicity, smoking was causing people to get lung cancer. The American Cancer Society said it was “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Animal studies, cellular pathology studies, and chemical analysis of the smoke were all being completed at the same time giving undeniable evidence that smoking cigarettes was harmful. By the mid-1950s a scientific consensus was reached.[2] Even the tobacco industry’s own animal studies confirmed that cigarette smoke was causing tumours. [3] 
Big Tobacco began a public relations campaign to create controversy. It was decided to not deny the science, but to ask for more of it. The industry began encouraging the skepticism of science in order to create doubt about the consensus. The idea that there was always more to know, and that we could never be sure, was repeated over and over again. By repeatedly offering more money for research, while questioning the results, they were able to create a moral high ground. How could anyone argue with more research being done? A select few of the very vocal scientists already critical of the research, many of which were smokers themselves, were placed into the center of the stage to deny a consensus existed. These were not scientists that worked for the tobacco industry, but (like evolution and climate change) the natural result of always having a few critics. A loud minority was formed that was able to shout over the other 99%. Journalists like to report on controversy, and this small group of scientists provided the appearance of balance. Rather than try to show cigarettes were safe, they attempted to create rebuttals to research that showed harm and highlight economic benefits of the industry.[4]  Freedom of Information Act requests were even made to harrass scientists studying the effects of tobacco, even going so far to attack Professor Paul Fischer for researching tobacco advertisements and children.

Today, thousands of studies have been completed on the safety of genetically modified crops.[5] A scientific consensus has been reached among every major scientific organization in the world.[6] The organic industry sees the science of GMOs as a threat because it means less research is being conducted on organic seeds[7], the possibility of creating more nutritious seed that doesn’t qualify for organic[8], and the extremely small potential for contamination of organic fields[9]. Most of the organic industry’s anti-GMO campaign involves casting doubt on scientists conducting research.[10] Rather than attempting to argue the science behind the studies, the funding and characteristics of the scientists are called in to question.[11] A select group of vocally critical scientists were selected to engage the public and talk to the press creating the appearance of a lack of consensus.[12]  Rather than attempting to show genetic engineering as inherently dangerous, they call into question cherry picked ways in which it is used such as pest control[13]. Loaded questions are asked like tobacco companies asking “where is the harm in just doing more research”? Asking about the harm in just labeling it, and the use of the precautionary principle have become the new mantra. The FOIA system is being abused to target professors speaking out in favor of science. Grassroots organizations were even set up to create the appearance of charity, much like Big Tobacco’s Scientific Advisory Board.[14]
Big Organic is in danger. The days of DDT are over. Scientists are now able to merge technology with the natural to benefit the environment and human health better than organic could ever hope to. Much like the tobacco industry, the organic industry is in panic mode. Just like creating a controversy helped the tobacco industry actually boost sales and profits regardless of the evidence of harm, creating a controversy about GM crops has boosted sales and profits of organic food.
American Cancer Society 1954 - ‘the presently available evidence indicates an association between smoking, particularly cigarette smoking, and lung cancer’[15]
American Cancer Society 2015 - ‘There is no proof at this time that the genetically modified foods that are now on the market are harmful to human health.’[16]
RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company 1954 - ‘There still isn’t a single shred of substantial evidence to link cigarette smoking and lung cancer directly.’[17]
Gary Ruskin 2012 - ‘...decide for ourselves whether we want to gamble with our health by eating GMO foods that have not been adequately studied and have not been proven safe.’[18]

[1] Lelyveld J. Cigarette makers prosper despite debate on hazards. New York Times. November 29, 1963:59

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