Podcast with Dr. Paul Offit: Striking similarities between anti-biotech and anti-vaccine activism

| December 6, 2018
paul offit colbert
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

In the late 1990s, after the first transgenic crops hit the market, critics of biotechnology argued that we didn’t know how “GMOs” affect human health. Nonetheless, the critics said, “Big Ag” managed to sneak these experimental crops into our food supply.

Twenty years and over 1,000 studies later, the argument hasn’t changed. “What impact do GM foods have on our health? The answer is, no one really knows,” the pro-organic group Just Label It claims. Gary Ruskin, co-director of  the anti-GMO outfit U.S. Right to Know, says this is because “[s]cience is for sale. Powerful corporations …. can have a powerful effect on what is known and what is not known. That appears especially true for the agrichemical industry.”

Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

These claims are of course false, but they bear a striking resemblance to the arguments made by anti-vaccine activists. The only difference is that vaccine skeptics aim their anger at the pharmaceutical industry, which has allegedly failed to show that vaccines are safe. This similarity between the two movements hasn’t escaped the attention of the scientific community. As science writer Mark Lynas noted in November 2017,

It is too early to claim that the anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements are fully merging, but there seems little doubt that the circles of followers in their Venn diagrams driven by similar conspiracist fears about big corporations, ideological preference for ‘natural’ alternatives and opposition to modern science generally are increasingly overlapping.

The question worth asking, then, is why do these activist movements share so much in common? Dr. Paul Offit joins me to discuss the similarity between anti-biotech and anti-vaccine activism, and how the fear-based messaging central to both movements impacts the public’s understanding of science.

Related article:  FDA plan to regulate a gene-edited animal as a 'drug' will 'choke' research, experts say

Paul Offit is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology. He has written 10 popular books and more than 160 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety.

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. He is a science writer and podcast host. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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.

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
a a b b a f ac a

Video: Death by COVID: The projected grim toll in historical context

The latest statistics, as of July 10, show COVID-19-related deaths in U.S. are just under 1,000 per day nationally, which is ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
types of oak trees

Infographic: Power of evolution? How oak trees came to dominate North American forests

Over the course of some 56 million years, oaks, which all belong to the genus Quercus, evolved from a single undifferentiated ...
biotechnology worker x

Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops?

Some scientists and ecologists argue that humans are in the midst of an "extinction crisis" — the sixth wave of ...
food globe x

Are GMOs necessary to feed the world?

Experts estimate that agricultural production needs to roughly double in the coming decades. How can that be achieved? ...
eating gmo corn on the cob x

Are GMOs safe?

In 2015, 15 scientists and activists issued a statement, "No Scientific consensus on GMO safety," in the journal Environmental Sciences ...
Screen Shot at PM

Charles Benbrook: Agricultural economist and consultant for the organic industry and anti-biotechnology advocacy groups

Independent scientists rip Benbrook's co-authored commentary in New England Journal calling for reassessment of dangers of all GMO crops and herbicides ...
Screen Shot at PM

ETC Group: ‘Extreme’ biotechnology critic campaigns against synthetic biology and other forms of ‘extreme genetic engineering’

The ETC Group is an international environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada whose stated purpose is to monitor "the impact of emerging technologies and ...
Share via
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend