Fighting against science and the human good

Jay Ambrose
Jay Ambrose

It’s the right wing that is anti-scientific, it is often said. But for plentiful examples of utterly irrational, even life-threatening disregard of methodically conducted research and solid empirical evidence, look to your left. More specifically, look to zany environmentalist politicians and, right now, especially in Europe, look at what’s being done to ban the blessing of genetically altered foods.

Here’s the story, starting first with the fact that, in one way or another, genes of one kind of plant have been introduced into other plants through nature and then for centuries at the hands of farmers. A consequence can be crops that are cheaper to grow with such other benefits as a greater abundance of food that can be life-saving not just as a matter of speculation but of verifiable fact.

The 20th century’s Norman Borlaug, maybe the single greatest man who is barely known, used genetic engineering to help make wheat sturdier and more resistant to disease, thereby affording far more to eat and counteracting famine in developing countries. He saved as many as a billion lives. It’s true. Maybe a billion or more and certainly hundreds of millions.

The current version of creating genetically modified organisms, often referred to as GMOs, is carried out with different, far more precise techniques than in the past. And, yes, as in so much else in human life, caution is needed. But, in fact, caution is assiduously exercised and scientists confirm that the process and its results are safe for consumers and the environment.

In the European Union, where loopy scare tactics about GMOs have sadly had wide-reaching public effect, an official took action to make them legal even as he also said individual nations could prohibit them without scientific legitimation.

They’ve done it. Germany, France, Italy and a batch of other nations have said science be damned, the economy be damned, other benefits be damned. The situation is hardly new, and the cost to Europe could be billions of more euros than previous bans have already cost.

In a recent Sunday New York Times opinion piece, the subject was powerfully addressed by Mark Lynas, political director of the Cornell Alliance for Science at Cornell University. Especially striking was his account of visiting families in Tanzania. It’s a country that has respectfully imitated Europe in avoiding GMO techniques even while families are malnourished because of a plant disease those techniques could fix. He said he recalls the “faces of the hungry children” he saw whenever he hears a European politician proudly proffering his anti-scientific GMO views as a way to guide the world.

America is not itself shed of such nonsense. Not a few or our politicians, for instance, have fought for GMO labeling that could scare people from using perfectly safe food products while ultimately doing a major disservice to a major boon. Well, it’s said, even if GMO foods are safe, people do have the right to know, and maybe so. But I cannot help thinking of a political trick I read about some time back and rediscovered through an Internet search that shared some details from a book called “Mudslingers” by Kevin Swint.

It seems that, something like 65 years ago, a politician attacked his campaign opponent as an “extrovert” with a “homo sapiens” brother and a “thespian” sister. The point seems to me to have been to appeal to ugly prejudices if voters were sufficiently uneducated to know what the words meant. And apparently, the site says, some voters didn’t. The public at large today is surely far more sophisticated than that, but many citizens seem clearly susceptible to belief in modernist superstitions when radical environmentalists capably enough convey them, as with labels.

The clever, misleading politician won the election. Let’s hope the clever, anti-scientific, anti-GMO politicians do not win this battle to defeat the human good.

Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.