The science of genetically engineered foods is clear: they are not harmful to our health. Despite this consensus, lifestyle magazines and political pundits continue to report alarming stories of “frankenfoods,” health risks, and “super weeds.” In this same spirit, Whole Foods recently announced that, within five years, it will require labeling of all foods in its stores containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). What passes for public debate on the topic—as with climate change and childhood vaccines—too often rests on a dangerous dismissal of science. This needs to change.
In our forum on “The Truth About GMOs,” plant geneticist Pamela Ronald presents the science of GMOs. She describes the benefits that GMOs can deliver to American farmers and how they might help feed the world’s growing population, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where millions of people remain at risk for starvation. She also describes the fierce campaigns against GMOs, the organizations that sustain those campaigns, and the misinformation that guides them. And while she acknowledges that some anti-GMO activism is driven by a reasonable fear of corporate power (directed largely at Monsanto), she points out that many other corporations—such as Whole Foods—benefit from spreading GMO alarmism. She calls for a better conversation, informed by genuine understanding.
In the forum, a wide range of scientists, farmers, and other experts respond to Ronald. Though they don’t agree with all her claims about the potential benefits of GMOs, they all acknowledge that there are no confirmed adverse affects. Some suggest that research has not be adequetly pursued. With that as a common point of departure, they consider the government’s role in easing public fears; technology’s place in sustainable agriculture; and what a serious debate on GMOs, based on the facts, might look like. We hope this is a start.
Also in this issue, Archon Fung (“Citizen Snowden”) considers a different kind of truth telling. Focusing on Edward Snowden’s release of secret information on NSA surveillance practices, Fung affirms a crucial place for whistle-blowing in a democracy, as a check on discretionary power. To be sure, leaks must not be indiscriminate or too common. But they are important, and meeting them with sharp repression will only push leakers to go to foreign media as their outlet. Fung writes: “We should demand that . . . whistleblowers be able to bring their concerns to a dogged and unbowed system of journalism and, costly as it may be, expect justice when they
answer for their disclosures.”