GMO Food

Los Angeles Abandons Silly, Anti-Scientific, GMO Ban Plans. Blame Lobbyists!


Mendel was a menace!
Credit: smith_cl9 / photo on flickr

The Los Angeles City Council was seriously considering a ban on growing genetically modified crops (GMOs) within the city limits. The good news is that it has backed off, not that it would have mattered, because it's not an actual issue within the city limits of Los Angeles. The disquieting news is that the Los Angeles Times coverage of the conflict is treating the matter as a victory for lobbyists, not for science, progress, or common sense.

Here's the opening of the L.A. Times story:

Three days before Los Angeles lawmakers voted on a proposal to ban genetically modified crops, the world's largest biotechnology trade group hired three top City Hall lobbyists to stop it.

The matter had sailed through a meeting weeks before with only one City Council member expressing doubt.

But when a council committee sat down to vote again this month, three of the five members came out strongly against it — though they said lobbyists had nothing to do with it.

The action shocked Councilman Paul Koretz, who co-authored the proposal and expected his colleagues to rubber-stamp it as they had many times before.

"Since nothing else had changed it clearly was heavy lobbying," Koretz said later.

If lobbyists did convince City Council members to change their minds, well, congratulations to the city of Los Angeles for making lobbyists look like heroes. Here is the entire and sole paragraph in Soumya Karlamangla's report that speaks to the science of the conflict:

Koretz's ordinance sought to prohibit the growth of genetically modified organisms — plants or animals whose genetic material has been altered to make them bigger or resistant to pests and herbicides. GMO supporters say such crops are needed to boost food production, while opponents say not enough research has been done to tell if the products are harmful to humans.

That's it. The opposition to GMO crops is based on an appeal to the precautionary principle, not actual science that indicates there's harm (because there isn't any). And GMOs do a lot more than boost food production, too. The rest of the reporting is about the city's rules and regulations on lobbying guidelines.  

Karlamangla ends the story with an industry representative saying that members want to make sure lawmakers are "aware of how damaging a policy like this could be." But strangely, the story is so caught up in discussing regulations about lobbying that it neglects to actually let the representative explain why the law would be damaging. It's possible Karlamangla included more from the representative, and it was edited out. But what we're left with is a story about a proposed law that is more interested in the sausage-making process of the law's creation instead of the law's meaning and impact. It's a trap municipal reporters sometimes fall into when they spend so much time at City Hall that they get caught up in narratives produced by the people there and not the audience they're writing for.  

I don't know if that's what happened with this piece, but it's weird how little this story is about the actual story. There's a little more about the story earlier in December when members of City Council started rethinking their plan, but it is still fairly disengaged from the actual issues at hand.