GMO or GM-NO? A Plea for Civility

I know that even as I write this post it is a waste of my time and effort.  Minds deeply entrenched in one thought pattern don’t change easily — if ever.  However, I have observed over and over again the hostility that comes with the GMO discussion.  The point that led me to write this is the request for agricultural scientists to turn over emails via the FOIA.  This has the appearance of an attempt to make mountains out of molehills (if those even exist).  Several scientists are involved, although most of their names are unknown to me.  The one I do know is Dr. Kevin Folta.  I don’t know him well — we shared dinner with another colleague one night in Gainesville a few years ago (although he may or may not remember this).  He seemed to me like a decent fellow and appeared to genuinely like meeting me (and I can’t say that for everyone else on that particular visit).  At any rate, I am friends with one of his former students and know several of his colleagues.  None of them has had anything negative to say about him.  So, I find it difficult to believe he is hiding a massive pile of corporate money just to enrage those folks who don’t like GMOs.  Now, I don’t always agree with the way he approaches a topic or how he says something, but overall I believe he tries to be civil.  However, for others the same cannot be said.  I won’t mention any more names here, but the name-calling should stop on both sides of the argument.

Belittling others with childish affronts does none of us any good.  My plea is for civility in the discussion of GMOs.  It is very apparent that the education process will take some time.  Some minds will never be changed for one reason or another.  I see discussion on Twitter everyday that disturbs me greatly on this topic.  I should state that I am not for or against all GMO technologies.  I am a scientist, so I base my decisions on evidence — in this case, is there scientific evidence that GMO technology is harmful?  Right now, I see no evidence of that, but that could change in the future if more scientific evidence to the contrary becomes known.  I have no problem with those opposed to GMOs, if they have substantive reasoning behind it.  Don’t like GMOs because corporations have too much control?  OK, I can buy that.  Don’t like GMOs because it is against your religious, moral, or ethical beliefs?  OK, I’m good with that. Don’t like GMOs because they are harmful to the health of humans?  Hmm, I can’t back that one, not without more evidence.  But what about the increase in herbicides used?  Again, no.  And in fact, that is not a GMO issue, that is an herbicide application issue.  The GMO technology in an of itself does not increase use of herbicides.  Any GMO crop can be grown without any herbicide application if so desired, so that argument doesn’t hold water with me as the issues are being conflated.

I don’t work with GMOs and may never have that opportunity as most of the crops I work with have no such technology on the foreseeable horizon.  Yet, I am interested in the discussion and how it all plays out in the arenas of science and public opinion.  We all need to be more civil and try to appreciate where the thoughts about the technology derive from.  It could be religion, coercion, fear, politics, or many other bases.  Let’s all take a breath and move on toward a discussion that leads somewhere enlightened, because right now, we are all being dragged through the mud and it is unseemly on many levels.  No more “shill”, no more “eco-celebrities”, no more “ideologues”, no more endless comment streams that do nothing more than demean in aggressive and sometimes vulgar ways.  Please, just stop and think before doing these things.  We all are much better than that.