Podcast: Covid conspiracies; Cuba embraces GMOs; biotech vs. nature’s ‘mindless dangers’

hand

A fearful public accepts conspiracy theories because they offer a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation, says a young physician working to educate his patients about COVID-19. Cuba has opened its borders to GM crops after decades of communist rule forbade the use of such ‘capitalistic’ technologies. And genetically engineered mosquitoes illustrate why we have to let scientists combat nature’s ‘mindless dangers.’

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

As the COVID-19 pandemic proceeds, many American are embracing coronavirus conspiracy theories to make sense of a chaotic situation over which they have no control. The problem is compounded by the fact that people with conspiratorial leanings already distrust government and believe politicians are weaponizing the virus for ideological reasons. Communicating sound science to a skeptical public under these conditions is a trying task, but newly minted physician Yoo Jung Kim says its doable if people’s concerns are validated and their values respected.

px fidel castro mats terminal washington cropped
Fidel Castro. Credit: Warren K. Leffler

Under Fidel Castro’s iron rule Cuba expressly outlawed genetically engineered seeds, a technology the deceased dictator viewed as the product of America’s corrupt capitalist system. But times have changed on the tiny island nation. Facing food shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Cuba’s leadership in July established a commission to encourage farmers, who have long been unable to grow enough food for the country, to embrace biotechnology. The story painfully illustrates what happens when “a nation [scrambles] to make up for the shortcomings of a command-and-control economic system,” says New Jersey farmer John Rigolizzo, Jr.

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

Blood-sucking mosquitoes that vector deadly pathogens like Zika, West Nile, dengue and malaria may be the most dangerous animals that have ever existed. In 2018, for example, malaria alone killed more than 400,000 people. Scientists have genetically engineered mosquitoes that can breed with their disease-spreading relatives and crash their populations, preventing all sorts of human suffering as a result. Yet biotech skeptics vehemently oppose the release of GM mosquitoes on the grounds that they’re unnatural.

While the engineered bugs are indeed laboratory creations, “the back-to-nature crowd tends to forget that ‘nature’ isn’t some benevolent caretaker that keeps our best interests at heart,” writes St. Louis Post Dispatch contributor Kevin McDermott. Nature, though the source of much beauty, is also the creator of many “mindless dangers” that can and should be confronted by the latest scientific advances.

Related article:  Why are some people still afraid of GMOs?

Subscribe to the Science Facts and Fallacies Podcast on iTunes and Spotify.

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s managing editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
ft covidresponseus feature

Video: Viewpoint: The US wrote the global playbook on the coronavirus and then ignored it

A year ago, the United States was regarded as the country best prepared for a pandemic. Our government had spent ...
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 ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend