Washington Post Dons Mantle of Objectivity on GMOs: The Annals of Intellectual Self-Congratulation



The Washington Post has hired Tamar Haspel to write a monthly column called Unearthed on the politics of food. Well, good. For her first foray, "Genetically modified foods: What is and isn't true," Haspel decides to tell her readers what's what about the safety of biotech crops. Well, good again.

What's irritating about Haspel's column is the way she lectures readers about how to find objective evidence and warns against being misled by groups that have an agenda. Her advice is to seek out views from impartial organizations. So she bravely does that and reports:

The organizations I found that pass, though, form a compelling coalition. The National Academies, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Royal Society and the European Commission are all on the same side. Although it's impossible to prove anything absolutely safe, and all of those groups warn that vigilance on GMOs and health is vital, they all agree that there's no evidence that it's dangerous to eat genetically modified foods. Even the Center for Science in the Public Interest is on board, and it has never been accused of being sanguine about food risks.

She then adds:

I'm not the first journalist to notice the consensus.

No, really? How about:

Every independent scientific body that has ever evaluated the safety of biotech crops has found them to be safe for humans to eat.

A 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that "no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population." In 2003 the International Council for Science, representing 111 national academies of science and 29 scientific unions, found "no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients." The World Health Organization flatly states, "No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."

In 2010, a European Commission review of 50 studies on the safety of biotech crops found "no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms." At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report concluded that "Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature."

I wonder what objective reporter wrote that? See also, a 2007 column, "A Tale of Two Scientific Consensuses."

Perhaps I'm being a bit churlish. A new voice trying to get it right is always welcome. Of course, one of the more insightful writers on the politics of food is Baylen Linnekin at Keep Food Legal. I highly recommend his great weekly column at Reason.