Bioethics Blogs

Are Arguments about GMO Safety Really About Something Else?

The scientific consensus that food containing genetically modified organisms is safe seems ever stronger, yet the social controversy about GMOs seems only to grow as well. “Unhealthy Fixation,” a long article published this summer in Slate and reporting on what author Will Saletan says was close to a year’s worth of research, argues very strongly that GMOs are generally safe for human consumption and that GMOs designed to be insect resistant are good for the environment because they reduce the use of insecticides. (GMOs designed to be herbicide tolerant lead to increased use of herbicides, however, raising environmental and public health concerns.) The essay reminded me of a series of essays by Nathanael Johnson, published in 2013 and 2014 in Grist, that found — to Johnson’s own surprise — that GMOs are safe and that their environmental impact is probably mixed.

Saletan also claims that many of the opponents of GMOs are basically uninterested in whether the research on GMOs shows them to be safe; instead of basing their position on the research, they use and misuse the research in whatever ways they can to advance their position. The tagline for Saletan’s article: “The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud.” Greenpeace comes out particularly badly in Saletan’s reportage. Time and time again, Saletan finds, it ignored research that suggested GMOs are safe and misleadingly deployed other research to argue that they’re dangerous.

As Saletan’s examples pile up, one can’t help but wonder just what the issue at stake really is.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.