Punditry: Grist, Pollan and Harmon
A certain segment of the American public looks to Michael Pollan for guidance in framing their own views of food and agriculture, and he’s had a great run as a leading thinker for our nation on the huge subject of food.
In my recently popular piece, titled The Editors of Scientific American Take a Stance Against GMO Food Labeling, I criticized his position as being anti-science.
I want to follow-up today, in a brief post, to add a few important points.
First, one commenter under my article requested a link to studies about the safety of GMOs. Here is a link to an infographic which lists quotes from 10 prominent global international science organizations about their conclusion of the safety of biotechnology.
Next, I’d like to comment on a new piece up at Grist by Nathanael Johnson, their new writer hired to debate the GM issue to a mindset of readers who are overwhelmingly anti-GM. In today’s piece, Johnson interviews Michael Pollan and also, Amy Harmon. Harmon wrote a very popular piece for the NYTs recently about the potential for genetic engineering technology to save orange growers in the U.S. from the difficult bacterium pest that causes the citrus greening disease.
It seems that Michael Pollan offended Amy Harmon in a Tweet which caused a “Twitstorm” between anti-GM people and the pro-GM science people. Johnson interviewed each of them to try to help resolve the situation and add light to the debate.
I slogged through the whole post which was 6,370 words long. Johnson clearly shows his biases in this interview. He admits early on that he is a friend of Pollan’s, and later, that he was a student of Pollan’s. Johnson interviews Pollan first, and since that takes 3,000+ words, one wonders how many of Johnson’s readers even get to the interview of Harmon. Harmon’s answers are more powerful and centered than Pollan’s, who confuses the issues of GM labeling, Monsanto, and monocultures, with the science of biotechnology.
In summing up his views, Pollan admits, “My problem has been less about health and safety of the technology than it has been about the political economy of GM and what it has done to American agriculture, to competition in the seed business, and to the size and sustainability of our commodity crop monocultures.”
Is that credible journalism, Professor Pollan? You are a widely revered spokesperson on a scientific subject and you oppose it for reasons other than the subject itself?
Amy Harmon comes back at him by saying (about big companies controlling food sources), “But I don’t think you can figure out how to fix that problem if you haven’t identified its real source. And I think the idea that GMOs are scary — because they involve moving around genes and messing with the natural order of things — is an easy way to get people up in arms about a problem that is both misleading about the technology and also not the true source of the problem. So I think he does a disservice to his larger critique.”
And, still, I haven’t heard one other writer mention the fact that Scientific American editors have opposed GM labeling in their current issue, a pretty big deal since it is on ballots in 20 states. How I wish Johnson had posed that to Pollan, who is an outspoken advocate for GM labeling.
Enough said on this subject, dear reader. I prefer real developments over punditry any day, and I think Ms. Harmon does, too.