A lengthy panel discussion on the topic of genetic engineering aired Sunday (April 28) on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show. The segment, titled, “You Are What You Eat,” focused on the issue of genetically engineered foods, the question of food product labeling and of course, the idea that there remain “serious questions” about the safety of GMOs.
Surprisingly—or maybe not—the ensuing debate was loaded with misconceptions and outright misinformation, not to mention that several guests just couldn’t help bull-rushing Monsanto as the culprit liable for perceived flaws with the entire process of genetic engineering.
Interestingly, Monsanto tweeted a response to the criticism in real time:
“Our primary focus is on enabling both small-holder and large –scale farmers to produce more from their land, while conserving more of the world’s natural resources, such as water, and energy,” its statement read.
Pretty innocuous (and not all that effective, honestly), but enough to set off one of the panelists, Ricardo Salvador of the anti-GMO Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Boosting productivity, making plants more drought-tolerant—in every case, they don’t bear up to scrutiny,” Salvador said. “GMO [varieties] have only proven to be resistant to mild drought, which does not solve the problem, because what we have to deal with is severe drought.”
With that the group was off and running on an industry- bashing agenda focused on three key problems with GMOs:
› Profits. They’re an abomination, of course, for many critics opposed to modern food production. Melissa Harris-Perry, the host, stated it bluntly: “The profit-driven aspect of [biotechnology] and the kinds of profits Monsanto is earning from GMOs, make me nervous right away that this is not some ‘feed the world’ project.”
Tom Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants and a prominent chef and author, noted that “society puts profits ahead of public health.” He cited the example of a UC-Davis plant geneticist who developed a blight-resistant rice variety that—despite widespread devastation of the world’s rice crops—has not been deployed. “There’s no profit in it,” he explained.
True enough, and a valid criticism of public-sector priorities, one with which I happen to agree: We should be investing more in research to address food productivity, and the world would be better served if that research were publicly funded and thus available to all who might benefit from it.