GMOs: Science vs. Values

Departments - Viewpoint

August 2, 2017

Lisa Lupo

Did you know ... In May, FDA was given $3 million for “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology,” which is to include communication on the positive aspects — “the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts” — of GMO foods. Why am I asking if you know about a May event in August? Because, with the little coverage it received, I missed the news of this interesting Congressional move myself, until conducting a search on GMOs the other day.

As explained by The Washington Post — one of the few publications that I found to have run an article — the funding was a part of the bipartisan agreement to keep the government funded through the end of September, and “specifies only that the initiative be developed in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, and include the ‘publication and distribution of science-based educational information.’” 

While the action is certainly to be applauded given the amount of misinformation there is on GMOs, the fact that it is to be science-based may, in fact, be its downfall.

Like veganism and vegetarianism, (many) gluten-free diets, and even kosher tenets, the consumption of only GMO-free foods is a value decision; it is a choice based on one’s ideals, emotions, and personal beliefs. With those beliefs able to be reinforced by numerous articles, experts, and even regulation — no matter which side of the debate one favors, it can be difficult for science to dissuade or supplant intransigent values.

As New York Journalist Keith Kloor states in his review of the film Food Evolution, while it is clear that the documentary is argument-driven, attempting to prove that GMOs are safe, “it ought to have admitted that what it is facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.” In fact, his headline really says it all: “Food Evolution Is Scientifically Accurate. Too Bad It Won’t Convince Anyone.” And when anti-GMO-ists always have “What about Monsanto?” as an unarguable fallback, it can be difficult for even the most well-informed, science-reasoning person to serve up a comeback.

All that said, we need to continue to communicate the realities of GMOs, acknowledging the negatives while presenting the positives; debating the naysayers; and focusing on both values and facts that bring the story home to consumers. For example, not only is 92% of the corn planted in the U.S. genetically engineered, but nearly every food we eat includes corn in some form — from chips to sodas, burgers, fries, salad dressing, cereals, and even meats, such as poultry and burgers. In fact, it would be easier to name foods that have no corn than to list those that do. And if it doesn’t have corn, it probably has soy: 93% of which is genetically modified.

So, not only is it nearly impossible to avoid GMO foods, but there is still no substantiated evidence that GMO foods are any less safe than non-GMO foods.

It will be interesting to see what FDA does with its $3 million, when and how the campaign is rolled out, and if its “publication and distribution of science-based educational information” is able to have an impact.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at