It’s Time to Re-Focus the GMO Debate

Posted on April 20, 2013


Dear friends (anti-GMO and pro-GMO),

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the debate over genetically modified crops and food. Tired of the constant claim and counter-claim, the hyperbole, the exaggerations, the fear-mongering, the mis-quotes, the lack of context, the narrow perspectives, the sniping and snarking, the name-calling, the disrespect – all of it. (I generally try to stay polite, but I’ve engaged in some of it, too, I’ll admit – very few of us can claim to be immune, I believe).

It’s getting to the point where it’s almost impossible to broach the subject with someone new without needing to peel back layer after layer of assumed prejudices before a reasonable conversation can take place. Too many people have come to a place, it appears, where they’ll only pay attention to information that supports their own viewpoint – anything that is slightly off-script is immediately considered propaganda from “the other side.” A perfect illustration – at the peak of the debate over California’s Prop 37 on GMO-labelling, I attempted to correct a clearly false claim from an anti-GMO Twitter account, and the immediate response was a reference to “you and Monsanto.” Despite clear and consistent evidence to the contrary, I was “the enemy” for daring to contradict the “gospel” according to the campaign this person was waging.

Please, let’s all take a deep breath and a step back. Somewhere along the way, the loudest voices on both sides have decided that this is a battle between good and evil, science and superstition, progressiveness and backwardness, control and choice. But at its heart, it really isn’t: it’s really about two different ways of seeing the world, two different paradigms concerning our relationship with nature and our approaches to agriculture. Because of that, both sides demonstrate elements from the each of the extremes I’ve listed (and more). As a result, when seen from within the paradigms, the arguments of both sides make sense; but seen from the other paradigm, they’re sheer folly and madness.

How do we bridge the gap? The first step is to pause, recognize our own biases, and seek to understand where the other side is “coming from.”  Once that’s been accomplished, we can engage in a meaningful discussion and make effective arguments that help the other side expand their horizons. In my experience, it works both ways – it’s hard to convince someone else to shed their prejudices without having some of your own eroded at the same time. That can be a downright scary proposition. But unless we do it, I think this whole debate is going nowhere fast. Are you ready?

Posted in: Agriculture