If I wanted to put together a list of the most contentious political issues in the United States, the ones that stick in our craw, that get to us like slits of bamboo slipped underneath tender fingernails, then GMOs would certainly be near the top. Not quite as high on the list as guns, climate change, or abortion, perhaps, but certainly well above air and water pollution, or even corporate greed.
To be clear: I’m not referring to what the most people are talking about; I’m referring to those topics that seem to lead us towards a complete loss of sanity and logic, that get our motors running so hot that steam pours from busted radiators. And I’m saying that GMOs are one ‘em. One that gets our goat, big time.
For some time now I’ve felt that the GMO debate was the one where everything seemed upside down somehow, where conservatives actually had some facts on their side and the more left-leaning among us were the ones having trouble with emotional responses and cognitive dissonance, spending most of the time arguing with buzzwords (the favorite being “Monsanto!” spoken with the exclamation point and expressed with a knowing sneer), while people in the middle seemed to think that perhaps, while the jury was out, we might just want to err on the side of caution and at least let people know what they were ingesting, to give them the choice.
But now more science is in—peer-reviewed science that, at least on the surface (so far) seems remarkably fair. That science, while perhaps not at the level of certainty that surrounds climate change, seems at a level high enough to begin to suspect (perhaps more than suspect) that GMOs are just fine, thank you. Not really harmful at all.
Now before you stop reading right at this point and head down into the comments section for some amygdala-driven tirade, I’ll ask you to review the title of this essay.
A study just released (you can read the abstract here) is the most comprehensive yet, covering twenty-nine years of data and tracing the effects of GMO feed through our food supply, from crop to animal to us:
Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them….Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.
And the findings?
These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed.
Twenty-nine years of data. 100 billion animals. This, by the way, is on top of the thousands of studies which have landed firmly on the GMO side of the scales. GMOs are, according to the Genetic Literacy Project, one of the “most analyzed subjects in science.”
But, as I’ve said twice now, this essay isn’t about GMOs. It’s about this question:
Do you believe it?
If this were climate science, we might say that we’re close to that 97% rate of acceptance: an overwhelming amount of science all arrives at the same place.
But do you believe it?
If you don’t, why not?
There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that we need to hold on to our beliefs and ideologies, our “isms,” if you will and that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary we will still velcro ourselves to those beliefs, hooking our thoughts together defensively by the thousands rather than allowing our conclusions—right or wrong—to be ripped from us. The more liberal in our society are often quite comfortable denigrating conservatives who clings to beliefs about the need for more guns, or more abstinence, or less welfare support—all in the face of statistics that belie those beliefs. And, frankly, the denigration is deserved; facts and science matter. They matter the most. But if so, does it work the other way? Will liberals who have clung to their beliefs about GMO dangers “eat their own dog food,” as it were, and concede they were wrong because the facts and the science say so?
I have something of an idea as to what the responses will be like, and I’ll probably write a follow-up on this topic in a week or so. In the meantime, I ask you to ask yourself: How important is fact, is science, when it challenges your “isms?”