Public confusion over genetically modified foods blamed on post truth

Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, has some thoughts on post-truth and alternative facts: He believes there is a lot of it in the “circus of public confusion” over genetically modified (GM) foods and associated weed killers.

Perrone has waded into the debate because he believes it is an excellent example of where emotional responses trump scientific truth.

And if these are the standards when big policy decisions are made in Congress and the White House, ones that fly in the face of data, then “we are going to be living in a world of chaos,” Perrone told Crop Protection News.

Perrone said there are some opponents arguing against genetically modified foods and the herbicide glyphosate – the best known is Monsanto’s Roundup – because they simply do not like the idea of, or are uncomfortable with, genetically engineered foods.

“But there are hundreds of health studies (showing) there is no health threat from genetically modified foods or glyphosates,” Perrone said.

Yet, Perrone said he fears that policy decisions are being made that fly in the face of the scientific evidence, and he blames it in part on inaccurate reporting of scientific studies in the area. Single studies are misinterpreted and, in the hypercompetitive news cycle, reporters rush to publish without checking the background science.

Perrone, in an article in the National Review, argued that genetically modified produce and glyphosate face uncertainty from every angle.

And he cited the signing in July of a law mandating GM-labeling after it passed both houses with large majorities. It gives food manufacturers two years to adopt one of three labels to inform consumers of the presence of GM ingredients in products.

“Despite White House recognition of the 'broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe,' pandering to unscientific misgivings suggests that foods containing GMs are something to be avoided.” Perrone wrote.

“In truth, glyphosate has been subjected to extensive toxicological review in the decades since its creation,” he argued. “Data from over 300 independent studies consistently fail to implicate glyphosate as a danger to human development, reproduction, hormone regulation or immunological or neurological functioning.”

The labeling law was a compromise and was designed in part to override state laws, such as one in Vermont that is arguably much stricter. Food companies were broadly supportive of the law.

But it is not clear what will happen under President Donald Trump and his pick for secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The USDA was working on a rule to implement the labeling, which was expected to be published later this year for introduction the following year. But an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, part of the public comment process, was withdrawn under the new administration.

And an executive order stating that all departments must find two regulations to eliminate before introducing a new one may also stymie, or delay, the introduction of the labeling rule.

In a statement, the American Soybean Association said it is unclear how exactly the executive order will impact the implementation of the GMO labeling law.

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