Joanna Sax, PhD, JD, is the Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and a Professor of Law at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, and we are very pleased to share a guest post of hers on the disconnect between public opinion and the scientific community when it comes to GMOs:
GMO foods are fighting a hard battle with the public. Some concerns by the public may be warranted, other concerns have no factual basis.
We have a problem with our food supply. Children are dying of starvation. Not only do we need more food, but we need healthy food. Novel technology is a promising way to increase and improve our food supply.
But, there is public resistance to GMO food – or the type of food that utilizes molecular biology. This concern exists even though our entire food supply is full of genetically modified foods, usually accomplished through traditional husbandry techniques. The use of molecular biology techniques to enhance food faces strong public opposition. Not as much public opposition is targeted towards traditional husbandry techniques. But, it’s unclear why, especially when almost our entire food supply is mutated forms of wild-type varieties.
Agriculture is not inherently environmentally-friendly. It may be that GMO foods will provide a novel way to contribute to sustainable farming, it may not. It’s worth it to ask whether we can use molecular biology to be eco-friendly.
While we learn more about the promise of GMO food – we may have some hiccups along the way. Some types of crops may be less eco-friendly, some may be less tasty. Each hiccup should not stymie an entire area of research, especially here, where people are dying of hunger.
This isn’t the first time that novel technologies have faced public scrutiny. Other examples include vaccinations, embryonic stem cell research, fluoridated water, and anti-smoking research. The list can go on. Scientists often do a terrible job explaining the technology and the benefits that flow therefrom. Instead, parties opposed to the science get the message out first. The public hasn’t even had a chance to learn what the technology is to make informed opinions.
If scientists want to stop facing such strong opposition to major advances, they must present their work in a public-friendly manner. The science is complicated, but it can be disseminated in non-technical terms. Here, GMO foods might provide a way to alleviate human suffering and improve our food supply. The contours of this area – that is, can it live up to the potential, must be explored, questioned, and evaluated. But, the science needs a little space to breathe. If there is opposition, let it be on the science, not on inchoate fear.