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GMO critic NY Times foodie Mark Bittman says dangers of crop biotechnology “overrated”

| May 8, 2014

The ever-increasing number of people working to improve the growing, processing, transporting, marketing, distributing and eating of food must think through our messages more thoroughly and get them across more clearly. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I can say that a couple
of buzzwords represent issues that are far more nuanced than we often make them appear. These are “organic” and “G.M.O.’s” (genetically modified organisms).

I think we — forward-thinking media, progressives in general, activist farmers, think-tank types, nonprofiteers, everyone who’s battling to create a better food system — often send the wrong message on both of these. If we understand and explain them better it’ll be more difficult for us to be discredited (or, worse, dismissed out of hand), and we’ll have more success moving intelligent comments on these important issues into the mainstream.

Let’s start with “organic.” The struggle to raise more food in more sustainable ways is as important as any, including the fight to slow climate change. (They’re related, of course.) But more sustainable does not mean “pure,” and organic often generates unreasonable expectations. We can improve industrial agriculture more quickly and easily than we can convert the whole system to “organic,” which is never going to happen.

Furthermore, there’s a very real difference between eating better and growing better. I can eat better starting right now, and it has nothing — zero — to do with shopping at Whole Foods or eating organically. It has to do with eating less junk, hyperprocessed food and industrially raised animal products. The word “organic” need not cross my lips.

Then there are G.M.O.’s: OMG (the palindrome is irresistible). Someone recently said to me, “The important issues are food policy, sustainability and G.M.O.’s.” That’s like saying, “The important issues are poverty, war and dynamite.” G.M.O.’s are cogs in industrial agriculture, the way dynamite is in war; take either away, and you have solved virtually nothing.

Related article:  What's behind knee jerk concerns about glyphosate, GMOs?

Let’s be clear: Biotech in agriculture has been overrated both in its benefits and in its dangers. And by overrating its dangers, the otherwise generally rational “food movement” allows itself to be framed as “anti-science.” If anti-G.M.O. activists were successful in banning G.M.O.’s, we’d still have industrial agriculture, along with its wholesale environmental degradation and pollution, labor abuse and overproduction of ingredients for the junk food diet.

There are two important struggles in food: One is for sustainable agriculture and all that it implies — more respect for the earth and those who live on it (including workers), more care in the use of natural resources in general, more consideration for future generations. The other is for healthier eating: a limit to outright lies in marketing “food” to children, a limit on the sales of food-like substances, a general encouragement for the eating of real food.

Both sustainability and healthier eating affect us. Very few people can avoid struggling daily with the avalanche of bad food and the culture and propaganda surrounding it. Near-hysteria or simple answers lead to unachievable situations and nonsolutions. More effective would be shifting the food culture, the relevant business models and public policies — a gradual and concerted movement toward making production and consumption simply “better.” That is what the good food movement should be about.

Read the full, original article: Leave ‘Organic’ Out of It

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The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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