A day after I wrote my post comparing anti-GMO and anti-eBook silliness a much more famous blogger wrote another post denouncing anti-GMO crowd and it’s interesting to read the comments. Now, for the most part, I agree with much of what is said in that blog, but as usual I also find myself reacting negatively to the extreme tone of the comments that, despite admitting there is no scientific case against GMO and more importantly that no food is “natural” and really all food is GM, the consensus one could extract is that the crowd is still hostile to agriculture as practiced today. And while one can certainly have some complaints about industrial farming still the crowd drifts a long way from science and into standard lefty anti-corporate diatribes.
Long ago, in the dark ages before the Web and only with text Usenet as a discussion forum I learned not to get involved in comments. Many/most of the people just want to fight and use silly techniques of arguing, mostly nitpicking some minor typo while neglecting the main points one makes. And PZ’s blog is pretty doctrinaire, despite being part of FreeThought blogs which are anything but free thinker. Conformity is as strong there as some religinut blog and I find that even more irritating as supposedly these discussions are supposed to be based on science, but are long in opinion and short of facts. Since I don’t want to get banned there by expressing any free thoughts I’ll use my own little soapbox, fully believing none of that crowd will track me down (feel free to do so, I’ll approve your comments and not ban you).
Anyway the crowd there, coming, in general, from the scientific POV quickly dismisses the anti-GMO arguments based on technology fear. In general I think there are two crowds of lefties – those that tend to depend on facts and reality (with their dose of dogma) and those that ignore facts and only spout dogma. Most of the anti-GMO crowd is the latter.
But this crowd still, essentially, ends up denouncing GMO, but in the big picture of denouncing industrial agriculture, particularly being exercised at Monsanto, which sometimes they admit is not the only villain, but Monsanto is a convenient villain they love to abuse. One contributor actually admits working for Monsanto and presents some interesting arguments, mostly ignored by the other commenters.
So what is their beef?
- corporations exist only to make profits and therefore are evil. Yep, corporations exist for the purpose of making money and their stockholders will get rather mad at corporate officials who forget that. But if we’re to denounce profit-making and corporations we have to denounce all of food, even the warm and fuzzy local community gardens, who like any human activity alter the natural landscape just as much as GPS controlled tractors do. So forget that. Especially as it is irrelevant to the GMO issue since somebody, somehow is going to make food and make money doing it and they’re going to convert natural landscape into farmland. And lots of environmental damage along the way. And sorry being vegan or vegetarian doesn’t help much – 7 billion of us can do a lot of environmental damage no matter what we eat.
- monoculture is bad. Well, maybe. First of all, as some of the brave commenters willing to risk group conformity condemnation point out, monoculture will exist in farming whether there is GMO (and this group is smart enough to distinguish the new gene technology GMing of plants as not really different than what our ancestors did with cruder technologies 10,000 years ago when they first began to alter plants and animals for agriculture). So, where is the scientific/fact-based argument against monoculture? Just saying a word, implying it is evil, doesn’t make it so. Now, for sure, monoculture has a risk, both economic and quite possibly as a matter of survival, as Ireland once found out. Yep, grow one kind of crop with mostly identical genomes and if something goes wrong (and nature always finds a way to make something go wrong) and you could end up with a lot of barren fields and a food shortage. But so what? First, again, GMO has little to do with that. And second, what else are you going to do? Where is the evidence you could actually have an agricultural system to feed 7B people based on some huge variety of crops, especially with enough genetic difference (even without ‘monoculture’) to survive the threats of an angry nature or hungry bugs. Denouncing monoculture, without proof, is just using a scary word, no different than the anti-GMOers love to say frankenfood. I actually think this is a spillover from the general lefty trend, especially strong from PZ, to denounce cultural conformity, i.e. rule of the world by old white males. Fine, I’m enough of a lefty to denounce lack of diversity and embrace multiculturalism, but that’s a sociopolitical stance, not a biological, or especially agricultural one.
- GMO, or really agribusiness, is just peddling chemicals and thus altering the landscape and killing all those pretty butterflies. Again, yes, but so what? You think some other herbicides are going to be any less damaging than Roundup? You think we can grow food with a bunch of hippies picking bugs off plants and hoeing weeds for gazillions of acres needed to make enough food for humanity. The Whole Foods, organic (or worse, the fake “natural”), local food crowd needs to use some basic math, plus have a little empathy for the billions of people who can’t afford Whole Foods (or trendy local farmer’s markets). Human beings do damage to the environment. And growing food is one of the main ways we do this. Exactly how, in a scientifically valid way do you expect to feed the world without altering “natural”? So is GMO is a net-win or a net-loss – that’s a relevant question, but not the one being argued, at least with any facts or proof.
So I find all this enormously frustrating. It would be nice if only the other side, the religinuts, the racist baggers, the greedy WallStreeters were the only bad guys, the only ones who ignore facts and/or spout opinions without evidence. But, unfortunately, the left, except a better educated and more scientific crowd, can easily drift into the same thing.
When one argues any point, from dogma, this is not communication or healthy discussion. It’s just soapbox.