Commentary: Kissing GMOs goodbye
If you’re a typical American adult consumer, you’re bombarded with a slew of commercial messages each and every day.
Anyone care to guess how many?
According to a marketing study—one completed several years ago, by the way—from the Harvard University School of Business, the number exceeds 3,000.
That’s right. Three thousand times a day we’re exposed to advertisements, signage, slogans, jingles, songs, commercials, PSAs, billboards, sales pitches, pop-ups, website links, email offers, online messaging and PR “news”—not to mention all the traditional ads on radio, TV and in print.
We tell ourselves that as efficient, modern denizens of the Digital World (or the post-Information Age or however you want to label the 21st century) that we know how to filter out the chaff and respond only to the wheat. That we can navigate skillfully across the sea of information upon which we daily travel, that we’re not merely treading water, so to speak.
But a critical by-product of this relentless and unprecedented bombardment of information is the increasing difficulty we all have have in separating “good” data from “bad.” Legitimate, factual information from its evil twin misinformation.
Here’s a typical example. Skim through any of the activist posting and papers condemning agricultural applications of biotechnology and you’ll notice a disturbing trend: Most of the non-scientific types posting the propaganda are beginning to refer to “GMOs” as if they were actual microorganisms, like bacteria.
From the Environmental Working Group: “GMOs are ﬁnding their way into 70% of popular processed food, like breakfast cereal, cookies, chips, soda and frozen meals.”
What, they’re like enemy agents infiltrating our food supply?
Or from Natural News.com: “GMOs turn pig stomach into mush!” This non-story suggests that “feeding pigs GMO corn and soy caused a 26% increase in stomach inflammation,” as if the effect is caused by pathogenic “bugs” attacking the poor animals.
Or how about the tagline for a new group called GMO-Free Canada: “Say no to GMOs!” Which makes it seem as if GMOs are some sort of contaminant.
Solving the problem
Granted, the acronym GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms.” But that appellation has been cleverly twisted by activists and their media apologists to emphasize “organism,” rather than “genetic modification.”
Part of the problem surrounding the failure of the food-buying public to understand genetic engineering is the previously mentioned sea of information upon which we all travel daily. There’s just so little time—or cognitive reserves—to dig down into technical or scientific topics for a deeper understanding or a more reasoned perspective of what are complex, nuanced controversies.
But an equally critical factor is the terminology itself. For everyone who grows genetically engineered crops, who feeds livestock with those crops or who is involved in processing and marketing food products using ingredients from those plants, it’s time to stop using the term “GMOs”—now and forever.
GMOs aren’t entities, or “creatures,” as so many people imagine. GMOs don’t’ “make their way” into foods, and they don’t exist as living organisms in the environment, the way pathogenic bacteria like E. coli or salmonella do.
It’s past time for industry to collectively refer to “biotechnology” as a legitimate scientific endeavor that has many, many applications other than food crops, such as in medicine and manufacturing, that the majority of Americans do not want to abandon. And for the improved strains of crops developed with biotechnology, it’s time to refer to “genetic modification” as a process, not a pathogen.
There will always be plenty of anti-industry operatives who will continue to savagely attack biotech, as if the scientific applications it has spawned are some sort of plague on humanity.
But those involved in animal agriculture and food production need to stop enabling them by getting sucked into the game of using the term GMOs.
They want to ban the science altogether.
I think we only need to ban the label.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.